Money’s many variables

Anthrax scares left citizens suspicious of their mail and the economy’s downfall had them watching their budgets.

Both had a small effect on USF’s donations, as well, said Vicki Mitchell, associate vice president for USF Foundations, the office responsible for raising money for the university.

Mitchell said the controversial issue with tenured professor Sami Al-Arian isn’t, however, a large part of that equation. She said Al-Arian’s case cannot fully be blamed for the decrease in direct mail donations and alumni renewal rates.

“We had an impact felt, but the magnitude of impact was created by reporters who don’t understand fund raising,” Mitchell said. “No major donor declined a gift or failed to pay a pledge.”

Mitchell said direct mail was affected because they had to hold donation requests that were scheduled to be mailed after Sept. 11.

Mitchell said after Al-Arian’s Sept. 26 appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, USF’s telefund received some phone calls from alumni who expressed disappointment and asked questions about the situation. Mitchell said some alumni called to say they would not contribute this year, and mail requests for donations were returned, as well.

“You would assume gifts decline and that fund raising overall is down, but telefunds and direct mail account for 1 percent of the total (donations),” Mitchell said. “We have had donors with questions, but reporters have extrapolated this into a much larger story.”

Mitchell said money donated to USF was not significantly affected and has increased since last year.

Mitchell said last year’s donations were about $22 million, and now the donations are about $28 million, with about three months left in the fiscal year. Donations generally made from alumni or businesses include stocks, property and funds collected from the telefund and direct mail, which go toward scholarships, facilities and research programs.

Mitchell said those who chose not to give money to the university this year can’t be blamed on only the controversy with Al-Arian.

There was feedback from alumni to the dismissal of Al-Arian from both sides, said Lisa Lewis, associate vice president and executive director for USF’s Alumni Association.

“Just like in a community there are different views,” Lewis said, “the alumni have responded more to this issue than any other issue in 12 years.”

Lewis said there were about a handful of people who said they were never going to be a member again, and some said they were going to take their degree off their walls.

Lewis said the renewal rate two years ago was 82 percent, and at the end of 2001, the rate had dropped to 68 percent.

“Some is due to (Al-Arian), but not that much,” Lewis said. “When Sept. 11 hit, people predicted the economy would go down, and that affects membership.”

Lewis said the Alumni Association wants to have a long-term relationship with its members because they help build recognition for USF by promoting the university to friends or at the legislature.Among the disruptions were donations to the university, said Michael Reich, director for media relations.

“He presented a big picture of disruptions throughout the university,” Reich said. “Some media focused more on donations as if that is the central issue.”

“What people say about the institution creates the institution,” Lewis said. “We want our alumni in the legislature to be vocal and visible for USF.”

Contact Grace Agostinat