Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2014

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Question for Rogers: Where are donors?

One major reason regents hired university system Chancellor Jim Rogers in 2005 was to tap the media mogul's influence with lawmakers and business leaders.

In addition to pouring his own money into higher education, he had a strong fundraising track record, having worked on several major campaigns for private and public universities.

But three years into the job, even Rogers is frustrated by how few big fish he has landed.

He's had some successes, raising nearly $8 million in pledges for Nevada State College in a few months in 2004 - $2 million of it was his own - and in talking several companies into coughing up $25,000 a pop to come make fun of him at a roast, raking in $1.6 million in pledges in one event last September.

The last multimillion - dollar gifts Rogers helped land were in the works before he was chancellor, and were announced more than two years ago. The $100 million donor he's been seeking for health sciences has yet to materialize.

The lack of progress has several regents mumbling that they want to see a little less talk from Rogers on the fundraising front and a lot more action.

Rogers is so frustrated with the excuses he's getting from Las Vegas' most wealthy that he called for a state income tax to help pay for education. He's still positive that he'll be able to raise the roughly $38 million match he promised state lawmakers in exchange for $88.7 million in construction dollars for the health science system, but things have not moved as quickly as he'd like.

Rogers said he's telling people that if they don't start giving voluntarily, the state will "have to tax it out of you." One way or another, he said, the state's needs will have to be met.

The main excuse he hears for not giving is that government is inefficient, so there's no point throwing good money after bad. But he's also heard about the prospective donor who wouldn't give to the medical school because he had experienced a bad doctor, and the donor who wouldn't give to the law school because he had been cheated by a lawyer. Excuses that defy logic, Rogers says, are difficult to counter.

Fundraising for the health science system has been a chicken-and-egg scenario, said Marcia Turner, interim vice chancellor for the project. Although system officials initially had hoped to raise private money to leverage legislators for state funds, they learned that donors wanted assurance of state support before they contributed their money.

In the end, lawmakers approved money for three renovation projects and two buildings for medical training contingent on the 30 percent match Rogers promised.

Recognizing that it will take time to raise the $38 million match, state lawmakers did approve using the state money on the renovation projects to get things started.

Rogers, Turner and health science system development officer Brian Campbell have spent the past several months developing marketing materials for the project, fine-tuning the partnership among the state's institutions, and identifying prospective donors. With UNLV needing to raise $160 million in the next 18 months to cap a $500 million fundraising campaign, there was concern about "fishing in the same pool," Campbell said.

Rogers says he is confident that, before year's end, some big fish will be caught.

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