St. Edward’s campaign nears $100 million goal

A major St. Edward’s University fundraising campaign is near its goal.

The campaign, announced in February, has raised $75.3 million toward its goal of $100 million, according to University Advancement.

“You tend not to announce to a lot of people until you have a certain degree of confidence that you will succeed,” Vice President for University Advancement Michael Larkin said, explaining why the university chose to announce the campaign seven years after they began it.

The campaign began in 2007 when the Office of University Advancement actually started counting toward this goal. 

The campaign has three major fundraising portions: annual operating support, capital projects and endowment growth.

Larkin and Joe DeMederios, the associate vice president of University Development, are the heads of University Advancement at St. Edward’s, where they work specifically to grow the university’s endowment. Despite misconceptions, the donors they work with aren’t just writing checks.

“The biggest myth is people think that we call somebody on the phone and ask them to write a check. We have phone-a-thon students who, in fact, do that. That’s not what we do,” Larkin said.

Phone-a-thon students call potential donors and generally receive donations of up to $200 that go toward the annual operating support portion of the campaign, which has already exceeded its goal of $15 million. Unrestricted annual operating gifts immediately impact the St. Edward’s community in various ways, from providing funding for campus-wide community service projects to purchasing new laboratory equipment.

The next portion of the campaign, which goes toward capital projects on the St. Edward’s campus, has a goal of $25 million. Capital projects include the renovations done to the University Federal Credit Union Alumni Gym, the Our Lady Queen of Peace chapel, the new Munday Library and the John Brooks Williams Sciences Center South, all of which were completed this year. The campaign is continuing to raise money in this area in order to repair the roof of Main Building.

Because all the major capital enhancements have been funded, the remainder of the campaign is focusing on growing the university’s endowment, which makes up the largest portion of the campaign’s goals at $60 million. As of now, the campaign has raised $38.1 million in endowment donations, although the university’s total endowment is valued at $95 million.

An endowment is a fund that is made up of gifts and donations that are subject to a legal requirement that the principal be kept intact and invested in order to create a lasting source of income for a nonprofit or university. In the case of St. Edward’s, 95 percent of the endowment is saved and invested, and around five percent is spent in the university’s operating budget every year.

When an agreement is signed between a donor and the university, “you’re making a promise that has multiple pieces to it,” Larkin said. “One is that you won’t spend the principal; the other is that you will do your best to invest it so that it grows. You do have an obligation to spend something.”

When endowment grows, this amount that can be spent every year to support the university grows. Because endowment is a long-term investment in the university’s future, and a majority of it is not spent, it helps not only current students, but students that attend St. Edward’s 50 years later.

Although endowment does not affect tuition costs, a significant amount of money donated toward endowment is specifically directed to students who receive financial aid, effectively lowering the cost of attendance for a high percentage of students who attend St. Edward’s.

“There is a direct correlation between endowment going up and financing students,” Larkin said. “The more endowment grows and the more grant money becomes available, the more funded scholarship there is.”

Endowment provides not only institutional grants and endowed scholarships for students, but also provides long-term support for faculty, furthers research and provides funding for programs such as CAMP.

DeMederios and Larkin focus on building relationships with people who want to invest in the school, not only with donations but also with their energy and time, and guiding them toward what the school needs.

“We put together a list of needs that the institution has and we map that against the interest of donors, and donors direct money toward fulfilling certain needs,” Larkin said.

The two travel, sometimes across the world, to visit with donors in person to understand their interest and explain the university’s priorities. Donors tend to be individuals, particularly alumni of St. Edward’s, but also include people who attended but did not graduate from the university, parents of current students and graduates and former and current faculty members. Foundations and corporations also donate towards the endowment, but to a lesser degree.

The donors that DeMederios and Larkin work with generally take anywhere between one month to a couple of years to make the decision to donate large sums of money toward endowment.

“They see this as an investment in the institution,” DeMederios said.

Once the money is donated, Larkin and DeMederios can make recommendations regarding investment but are not involved in the process of how the money is invested.

“The board of trustees sets the policy on how the money should be invested and then managers are hired to actually invest it,” Larkin said.

Larkin realizes how complicated this issue is.

“It’s confusing; we’re raising money in three different buckets, using different timelines. Before we did this for a living, we didn’t know what it was about,” Larkin said. “We are facilitating the donor to have a relationship with as many or as few people as they want, to understand as much as they need, to help them decide where to make an investment.”