Davidson gearing for new campaign

Elizabeth Kiser
Elizabeth Kiser

Todd Cohen

DAVIDSON, N.C. — On July 1, 2010, on the heels of its best fundraising year ever, Davidson College began the quiet phase of a new comprehensive fundraising campaign.

Less than two months later, Tom Ross, who had served as the school’s president since August 2007, was named president of the University of North Carolina system.

While planning and fundraising for the campaign continue, scheduling the launch of its public phase will need to wait until the school’s board of trustees selects a new president, says Elizabeth Kiser, associate vice president for development.

And a goal for the campaign will depend on feedback during the quiet phase from prospective donors and, ultimately, the board of trustees, Kiser says.

The goal likely will be more than was raised in Davidson’s last campaign, which ended June 30, 2008, and raised $272 million over seven years, exceeding its goal by $22 million.

The biggest individual gift in that campaign was $28 million from former Charlotte Mayor John Belk to create the Belk Scholarship, a four-year, merit-based full scholarship plus a generous stipend.

While the last campaign focused on Davidson’s physical plant, including buildings and grounds, the new campaign will focus on scholarships based on need, academic merit and athletic merit.

Annual giving also will be key to the campaign, Kiser says.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010, giving to the annual fund totaled nearly $10.8 million, the most ever and over $1.5 million more than the annual-fund goal.

A record-high 10,055 of Davidson’s 16,497 active alumni were donors, representing a 61 percent “participation” rate, the highest of any college or university in the U.S. that year and marking the eighth straight year that 60 percent or more of alumni contributed.

Giving to the annual fund also helped propel overall giving for the year to $55.3 million in cash and commitments, more than double the total the previous year and the most ever in the history of the college, which was established in 1837 by Presbyterians.

The totals for last year’s annual fund are the direct result of a strategy Davidson adopted after the financial markets capsized in September 2008, Kiser says.

The strategy included talking to donors about the immediate impact a gift could have, asking them to combine annual gifts with multi-year gifts, and focusing on the Davidson Trust, the school’s signature effort to meet students’ demonstrated financial need.

When they visit donors, for example, in addition to talking about a possible major gift, the school’s major-gift officers also offer additional options.

Those include a multi-year scholarship gift that can begin immediately if the donor also includes an annual gift that is equivalent to the annual support the scholarship would provide once it was fully funded.

And the aggressive effort to market The Davidson Trust also has paid off: Last year, donors to the annual fund designated $5.3 million, or nearly half their giving, to The Davidson Trust.

In gearing up for the campaign, which already has raised $40 million, the development office plans to add eight employees to its staff of about 40 people.

It also plans to increase its effort to generate planned gifts and step up its online and social-media fundraising, while continuing its efforts to cultivate annual giving by young alumni,

“We really pay attention to our annual-fund donors,” Kiser says. “They are the lifeblood of this school.”

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