Stephanie Casenza, MS, APR, is Associate Vice-President & Chief Operating Officer, Campaign Communications and Donor Relations, San Diego State University, and a member of the Higher Education Management Group (Linked In).

KH: According to a report published by the New York Times (Jan. 26), the value of university endowments fell by 23 percent on average in the five months ended Nov. 30. How are your colleagues in the university development offices responding to these extraordinary economic conditions?
Stephanie is

SC: In times such as these, stewardship of our donors is more important than ever.  Donors want to know that their gifts, no matter what size, make a difference and that we are using those funds wisely and as intended.  Applications for scholarships and other financial aid have increased dramatically, and we are encouraging those who can make gifts to consider scholarships.  We are also promoting planned gifts, such as bequests and annuities, as options.

KH: Historically, what impact have economic downturns had on higher education philanthropy?

SC: The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Giving USA and other organizations have examined philanthropy over the past 40 years and found that giving to educational institutions has either leveled off or declined slightly, despite several eonomic downturns.  Donors are more likely to provide annual or current use gifts for operating support than to support capital projects, such as buildings, during stock market declines.

KH: Although I’ve been in higher education for more than a decade, fund-raising strikes me as a rather mysterious part of college operations. What are the more common misconceptions about fund-raising in higher education held by outsiders like myself?

SC: Fundraising or development is about relationships, and it takes time to establish and then maintain relationships.  Rarely can we ask for a gift during a first meeting.  Some of the largest gifts made to universities have been from friends of the institution, not alumni.  Also, these so-called mega-gifts are usually multi-year pledges that combine cash, and planned gifts.  We usually have gift acceptance policies and committees, because we don’t accept every gift that is offered to our institution. Formal written agreements are prepared to detail how the donor and the university agree the gift will be used.

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