Fundraising in focus at High Point University

Beth Braxton
Beth Braxton

Todd Cohen

HIGH POINT, N.C. — In the six years since Nido Qubein has been its president, High Point University has raised $130 million, including four $10 million gifts pledged in April by four High Point families, including his own.

But for the past five years, when it has generated $20 million to $30 million in cash a year, including annual giving totaling $1 million to $1.5 million, the school has been without a chief development officer.

“Dr. Qubein and the board of trustees have been taking most of the responsibility of getting out and soliciting and securing gifts,” says Beth Braxton, who joined the school June 20 as vice president for institutional advancement after serving as director of annual giving at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Braxton, who at UNC oversaw an increase of 92 percent in annual giving to $7 million over seven years, has a laundry-list of tasks to build High Point’s fundraising office, which now employs two other fundraising professionals.

Her top priority, she says, will be to “create a parents program that will rival any of the best parents programs in the country.”

That will require volunteers who are “great communicators in their communities about their children’s experience, and about really supporting the priorities of the university.”

The school has been booming under Qubein.

Its staff has grown to nearly 1,000 employees from 400, and its enrollment has grown to a freshman class of 1,280 students this fall from 370 in fall 2005, with the average SAT score for incoming freshmen growing 100 points to roughly 1,100, Braxton says.

The school has built 28 buildings in the last six years, or over 1 million square feet, and its endowment has grown to $35 million from $30 million.

It also has undertaken a handful of informal mini-campaigns to raise money for new facilities for its School of Education and School of Undergraduate Science, and for its new School of Health Sciences.

The campaign for the School of Education, for example, has raised $5 million.

“Our biggest priority is expanding campus facilities, including residences and classroom space,” Braxton says.

She says the advancement office needs stronger infrastructure, research capabilities, database support and back-office services, including stewardship of donors.

The fundraising effort, for example, could use three new major-gift officers in addition to Braxton, she says, as well as a second staff member to handle alumni affairs.

In five to seven years, she says, young alumni, or those who graduated in the last 10 years, will account for 40 percent of the alumni base, which now totals 11,000 day students and 9,000 evening students, with 60 percent of all alumni living in North Carolina.

And with 75 percent of current students from outside the state, Braxton says, the office will need additional resources to keep them engaged with the school as alumni.

She also plans to strengthen efforts in annual giving, planned giving and student-giving opportunities.

She expects to double annual giving in five years, in part by improving the database on alumni so the school can better engage them.

Braxton also plans to create a “consecutive-giving society” to recognize donors who give in consecutive years, and to better “segment” donors by their age and giving habits.

While adding a planned-giving officer is a longer-term priority, Braxton says, she initially plans to revive the school’s Sterling Society, a group that recognizes people who have made bequests to the school or indicated they plan to make estate gifts.

The school currently expects 20 planned gifts, worth an estimated $50 million, for which it has documentation.

And Braxton plans to strengthen meetings of High Point’s board of visitors, a group of 90 members who serve as ambassadors for the school, promoting it in their communities, helping to raise money, and identifying possible internships and jobs for students.

When the board meets, she says, they will have more opportunities to learn about what is happening on campus and to meet students and faculty.

What fuels the school’s fundraising, Braxton says, is Qubein and his focus on making sure the university provides an “extraordinary education.”

“He knows more about finance and marketing and branding and academics than anyone I’ve ever met in my life,” she says. “He’s always thinking about the culture here, how to get better, how to help the students each and every day. He’s a force of nature.”

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