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September 16, 2014

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UNLV fundraising campaign falls short, so deadline extended

Beyond the Sun

The UNLV Foundation will extend its $500 million fundraising campaign for up to another year.

The extension announced Wednesday confirmed the fears of some staff and faculty members who had worried, as the original deadline of Dec. 31 approached, that the young university would fail to meet its goal.

Numbers the foundation released Thursday show that the fundraising drive, dubbed "Invent the Future," has raised more than $450 million. The new deadline will be Dec. 31, 2009, making the campaign an eight-year effort.

"As we approach the conclusion date that was charted almost seven years ago, we remain in advanced discussion with several prominent benefactors regarding very generous gifts to the university," Invent the Future co-chairmen Don Snyder and Terry Wright wrote Thursday to UNLV President David Ashley. "Because of the current economic climate and a myriad of timing issues, these donors are unsure they can conclude their efforts in the coming few weeks, and they have asked us for a little more time."

In a telephone interview, Snyder, former president of Boyd Gaming, said no major donors considering gifts have pulled out.

Snyder, Ashley and Bill Boldt, vice president for university advancement, said they believed extending the campaign timeline would not damage UNLV's reputation.

"I think people will certainly understand, because this is the most difficult economy we've had since the depression," Boldt said.

From the start, $500 million was a lofty goal for a 50-year-old university with a small alumni base.

Before UNLV began the fundraising drive, consultants cautioned that the foundation lacked key organizational structures that could help it raise big money, such as departments targeting major givers, alumni and estate planning.

As Invent the Future progressed, some members of the campus community grumbled that the campaign had failed to drum up excitement on campus and in Las Vegas.

In summer, when the foundation reported it had amassed $425 million in donations and pledges, some people on campus speculated that UNLV would come up short.

The last time the university made a public announcement about a major gift was in September 2007, when it held a news conference to tout a $30 million contribution from the Harrah’s Foundation to the hotel college. The gift included $25 million for a new academic building.

Speaking at the start of fall semester, Bob Ackerman, an associate professor of educational leadership and a former UNLV vice president, said, “It just doesn’t seem to me that the campaign is moving along ... My perception is that it’s struggling because I don’t hear anything about it.”

In November, the foundation announced several gifts of more than $1 million at its annual dinner, which drew over 500 invited guests, Boldt said.

He said the next campaign, which will likely begin by the end of 2010, will involve the university community more, including goals for deans and individual colleges. That sort of grassroots effort could generate more excitement.

For now, Ashley, Boldt and Snyder say they are confident the university will be able to reach its $500 million target before the end of next year.

Only a few months ago, however, Boldt said he was optimistic the campaign would meet its goal this month.

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