UK wants to raise rate of alumni giving

alumni giving has grown, but more sought

ctruman@herald-leader.comApril 3, 2011 

  • University alumni giving

    Less than 13 percent of University of Kentucky alumni donated to their alma mater in fiscal 2010. Other universities that serve as UK benchmarks are tapping into alumni giving at a much higher rate.

    Institution Percentage of alumni giving in 2010

    Georgia Institute of Technology 19.8

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 18.9

    University of Virginia 18.1

    University of Washington 16

    Ohio State University 15.2

    University of Florida 14.8

    Pennsylvania State University 13.7

    University of Kentucky 12.6

    University of Michigan 12

    University of Wisconsin, Madison 11.3

    Source: Council on Aid to Education

The University of Kentucky has an army of 95 people working throughout the school's empire of colleges to raise money.

What it hopes to have in the future is a lot more money coming in from the efforts of those development specialists.

As state support continues to shrivel, UK officials realize that fund-raising will have to take on a much bigger role in the school's $2.5 billion budget.

The university raised $64.4 million from more than 36,000 individual gifts during the last nine months. The Athletic Association received the most, with $12.7 million in gifts, while engineering pulled in the largest amount among academic departments, with $3.7 million. Medicine received $1.8 million, while the graduate school took in $770.

During the tenure of retiring president Lee T. Todd Jr., who took office in 2001, the school has received nearly $816 million in cash and commitments.

UK officials are taking a page from the playbook of private colleges, where budgets are much more dependent on private giving. At Centre College in Danville, for example, 53 percent of alumni give money to the college, according to its most recent survey. At Transylvania University, it's 41 percent.

"There will be great expectations put on the university, alumni and friends," said Mike Richey, UK's vice president for development.

UK's alumni giving rate is 12.6 percent. It has increased steadily since 2002, when it was 8.9 percent. That compares well with, say, the University of Minnesota at 9.4 percent, but is less than the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where 18.9 percent of alumni give to the school.

One problem is that UK officials don't know where a lot of their alumni are, so they can't routinely solicit money from them. While services to locate alumni and to identify possible donors are available, UK has relied heavily on the one-to-one development model, in which fund-raisers travel the country to solicit gifts from well-to-do alumni.

Many of those gifts are large commitments that yield annual income for a particular cause or that can be matched to bring in even more money.

Take the 2006 donation from Dr. C. Vernon Smith, a native of Greenup County who graduated from UK in 1937 and lives in Cincinnati.

Smith gave UK more than $5 million for research and professorships, mostly for macular degeneration and Alzheimer's disease. His wife, Eloise, died of Alzheimer's in 1997, about the time that Smith began to suffer from macular degeneration.

Parts of Smith's donations were leveraged for an additional $5.2 million match from the state's Bucks for Brains program.

But Todd said that UK needs cash from smaller alumni gifts as well.

"We really are looking at getting our annual giving up, too," Todd said last week. "We aren't where we need to be."

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