Money talks, and in Louisiana higher education, there never seems to be enough of it.
Budget cuts and special legislative sessions on TOPS aside, funding and private fundraising remain critical to the University’s success as the state’s flagship institution. The push to ramp up University funding is seen through the new strategies and increased alumni participation powering the LSU Foundation’s efforts.
The foundation’s fundraising totals for 2017-18 surpassed previous target goals. Foundation fundraising amounted to over $56 million, surpassing this year’s $55 million goal.
The effort is a 10 percent increase from 2016-17, which raised $50.9 million. Eighty percent of this year’s donations were $250 or less. Additionally, the University received $47.1 million through direct donations.
“The only reason we exist is to raise money for LSU,” said LSU Foundation Senior Director of Communications and Marketing Sara Whittaker. “We don’t have fundraising priorities of our own. Our priorities are the University’s.”
The foundation implemented a strategic plan in 2016 to increase University fundraising to $100 million annually, a figure that includes both direct donations to the University and the LSU Foundation. The strategy sought to maximize support of the University through expanding younger alumni outreach and focusing on academic priorities. In the past two years, the foundation welcomed 3,200 and 4,585 donors respectively, elevating the University’s alumni giving rate from No. 13 to No. 6 in the Southeastern Conference.
The foundation spreads money throughout the University in the form of scholarships, museum maintenance and research projects, among other things. Renovations of Patrick F. Taylor Hall and the Business Education Complex exemplify efforts in recent years. Currently, the foundation is funding the effort to renovate the campus’ iconic Memorial Tower.
“There is honestly no area of campus untouched by philanthropy,” Whittaker said.
Whittaker said 99 percent of the University’s gifts are restricted to desired projects or departments. Unrestricted gifts enter the LSU Fund, which provides deans the ability to deploy money and resources to students and programs within their respective colleges.
The University’s total endowment value stands at $464.1 million, a drastic growth from $330 million in 2014. Whittaker compared endowments to savings accounts, as the endowments accrue interest revenue to fund annual scholarships and professorships. The University has 82 endowed department chairs and 750 endowed professorships.
“It’s important for LSU to attract and retain staff,” Whittaker said. “One of the ways we can do that is to provide them with additional support for their research and things of interest. Those are the things deans are able to fund through our unrestricted fundraising.”
In its outreach to alumni, the foundation targets younger alumni through numerous emails and letters. The idea is to convert younger alumni into annual donors for decades to come. Another focus of the foundation is to highlight the opportunities provided to students through donations, such as supporting study abroad programs or annual scholarships.
“When we talk to donors, we talk about the opportunity they have to change a life [and] to help students,” Whittaker said. “We are not going to talk about keeping the lights on. People don’t get excited about keeping the lights on. They’re excited about making an impact.”
The fundraising successes this year bode well for the University. With increased donation totals and a steady flow of new donors, the foundation and the University have the ability to pursue their aligned interests, such as the Campus Master Plan and the LSU Strategic Plan 2025.