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August 21, 2014

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HIGHER EDUCATION:

UNLV fundraisers fighting to the finish

Foundation has just four months to amass $75 million

Beyond the Sun

UNLV has until Dec. 31 to meet its 7-year-old goal of raising $500 million.

The good news: At least eight philanthropists are reviewing or will be reviewing within a month written proposals for multimillion-dollar gifts.

The other news: The latest numbers available show that as of June 30, the school had amassed about $425 million in donations and pledges. That left it six months to reel in $75 million, more than one-seventh of the campaign total, in a poor economy.

With the year-end deadline approaching, some staff and faculty members are getting a little anxious about whether UNLV will be able to make that mad dash to the finish line.

“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,” said Bob Ackerman, an associate professor of educational psychology who has worked at UNLV for more than 20 years, 14 of those as a vice president.

The UNLV Foundation, the school’s fundraising arm, has posted updates on its Web site documenting the campaign’s progress.

That’s a start, but “the foundation Web site is kind of an in-house thing,” Ackerman said. “I don’t know that it’s promoted, and I don’t know that the nonfoundation members know that they’re supposed to look at the Web site.”

The campaign “is a remarkable thing for the institution to undertake ... There should be something that’s kind of front and center to promote it,” Ackerman said.

Foundation officials are working on that.

The last time the foundation announced a major gift was last September, when it held a news conference about a $30 million contribution from the Harrah’s Foundation to the hotel college, the bulk of which is contingent on UNLV’s coming up with matching funds. In January, the University of Nevada Health Sciences System announced a $500,000 donation from local businessman Bruce Layne for research on neurodegenerative disorders, money the UNLV Foundation will manage.

Universities and nonprofits often drum up excitement about their fundraising efforts by recognizing donors publicly. The UCLA Foundation, for example, has news releases on its Web site about three multimillion-dollar donations the university has announced since May.

Bill Boldt, UNLV’s vice president of university advancement, told the Sun shortly before he started at UNLV last September that the university’s failure to advertise many gifts was something he wanted to work with donors to change.

But when he arrived in Las Vegas, he found many philanthropists wanted to remain anonymous, some because they didn’t want other organizations approaching them for money.

Still, Boldt plans to announce several large gifts — donors’ names attached — in conjunction with a donor recognition dinner in November to “help with the final push for the campaign.”

He said in the past year, the university secured several multimillion-dollar gifts, including one worth $15 million. He is optimistic UNLV will reach its $500 million target. If it doesn’t, it could extend the campaign.

Meeting the goal would help UNLV polish its image, showing that the university with a middling reputation is serious about becoming an important research institution.

“It shows the community is invested in the university. It shows that we’re emerging as a top-notch research university worthy of private support,” said Boldt, who will lose his shot at a $25,000 bonus if the campaign misses its target. Former UNLV President Carol Harter, who launched the campaign, stands to earn a $250,000 bonus if it is successful.

Falling short in a major fundraising drive could send the message that UNLV lacks the community support officials thought it had. That could be a blow to morale at the institution at a time when deep budget cuts are causing grief.

These days, besides excellent academic and sports programs, the nation’s top public colleges and universities share something else: They launch, manage and successfully complete multiyear fundraising campaigns, with elite schools setting multibillion-dollar goals.

But for a 50-year-old university with fewer alumni than many other large schools, hitting the $500 million mark “was a stretch goal right from the beginning,” Boldt said.

“This was much more than people ever thought UNLV could raise.”

And indeed, before UNLV began its campaign, consultants cautioned that its foundation lacked key organizational structures that could help it raise big money, such as departments targeting major givers, alumni and estate planning.

In 2006, the Sun reported the university was inflating fundraising totals by including revocable bequests that arrive after donors die, going against national guidelines set by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

The university was also counting

$8.5 million in verbal pledges and bequests.

Over the past two years, a lot has changed.

In April, CASE announced it had updated its guidelines to allow institutions to include revocable bequests in campaign totals.

Boldt said the foundation will get written confirmation of all verbal pledges — about $3 million worth remain — or remove those pledges from the final campaign tally, to be announced in late January.

In the next campaign, which will likely begin by the end of 2010, UNLV will not count any verbal pledges, Boldt said.

The next big drive will also involve the university community more, including goals for deans and individual colleges, a sign that UNLV’s fundraising machine is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

“If you don’t have the entire campus community involved, you miss opportunities,” Boldt said. “It’s very important for our donors to understand the impact of our academic and research programs. And when you involve faculty and department chairs and deans in setting priorities, communicating what they do, it’s much more compelling for a donor to make an investment in that area.“Does it happen overnight? I wish. But that is the vision, and we’re doing our best to implement that.”

And of course, next time around, Boldt is hoping to include more publicity about donations to help build fundraising momentum.

He and foundation staffers are planning a media blitz to advertise how the money raised in this campaign is helping UNLV.

Of the Harrah’s donation announced last September, $25 million is to go toward a new hotel college building. Other contributors have endowed scholarships or new faculty positions.

And at a time when the state can’t afford to pay for everything UNLV wants to accomplish, the school’s ability to raise private money will be paramount to its success.

“The investments will enrich the research and the academic programs,” Boldt said.

And if UNLV does meet its deadline, “$500 million for a public university that is just 50 years old is a real milestone.”

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