University surpasses Foundation’s fundraising goal

Despite the souring economy, the University surpassed its fundraising goal for the year, with the largest percentage going toward building facilities for USF Polytechnic’s new campus.

The second-largest percentage, totaling $7 million, went toward scholarships for students.

The University’s fundraising goal for the fiscal year of July 2007 to June 2008 was $80 million. With the aid of more than 36,000 donors, the USF Foundation, a non-profit corporation responsible for raising, investing and distributing private donations made to the University, collected $81,551,355.

The foundation does not determine where that money goes, Associate Vice President for Central Development Rodney Grabowski said. Approximately 99 percent of the money is donor-designated, and the money raised is not necessarily readily available for the University’s use.

“We can’t say that $81 million is sitting in a bank,” he said.

That money includes pledged or planned gifts that the University is expecting but does not yet have. Regardless, Grabowski said he believes meeting the fundraising goal was an accomplishment to be acknowledged.

“We hit our goal this past year — many universities did not,” he said.

Grabowski attributes meeting the goal in part to President Judy Genshaft’s influence in the community.

“I think our president has done a very good job helping individuals in the community understand the importance of USF,” he said.

The success of the football program, he said, also aids in bringing positive exposure to the University, even in difficult economic times.

Economic conditions do not completely discourage donors from supporting the University, but they may reduce the amount donors decide to give, Grabowski said.

This year, USF Polytechnic accumulated the largest amount of fundraising dollars as a result of two $5-million donations. One, paid in full, was from the Central Florida Development Council. The other was from the Lakeland Economic Development Council, which paid $3 million at once and will stagger $2 million over the next two years.

“The reason USF Lakeland has raised so much is they need money for a new campus,” Grabowski said. “The community is stepping up to build a new campus for USF Polytechnic.”

USF Polytechnic Director of University Advancement David Steele agreed.

“Our community and donors are excited for us to move forward as quickly as possible,” Steele said. “I think it’s very important for people to realize the incredible potential when the president, Board of Trustees and campus CEO are on the same page. It’s an irresistible appeal to the community. That’s what’s happening here.”

Fundraising is not ultimately about money, Steele said. It’s about relationships and visions — and when those two things are aligned, fundraising almost takes care of itself.

Matching by the state also aided in raising funds for the new campus. Florida has various fund-matching programs to further enhance donations to the University. As long as the donation supports academics — including facilities where classes are taught, though not student centers or athletic facilities — the state will match it dollar for dollar.

“The matching is applied for by the USF Foundation in cooperation with the State University System Board of Governors in Tallahassee,” Steele said.

The next largest contributions to USF went toward financial aid. The Helios Foundation gave $2 million and an anonymous donor gave $5 million, which was paid at once, to USF for scholarships. The $5 million was designated by the donor to be given to students of diverse and underrepresented cultures, preferably women and minorities.

“That person is very passionate about finding scholarships for students,” Grabowski said of the anonymous donor.

Caitie Dawson, a sophomore majoring in nursing, said she has directly felt the benefit of scholarships.

“I have a scholarship, and a few of my friends wouldn’t be here without the money from USF,” she said. “It’s good that the community cares about USF and they’re willing to help us out.”

John Sushko, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said he thinks the donation is a good thing if it’s allocated fairly.

“I think it’s great a lot of financial aid is going to lower-income kids, but there are kids who are not in the lower-income category but need the money too,” he said.

The foundation does not intend to slow down because of the country’s poor economic situation. Instead, it intends to work harder to maximize funds for the University.

“We are out there telling our story even in these tough economic times, (and) it’s even more critical now to have private support to help the University in the areas it needs assistance,” Grabowski said. “We’re not slowing down on what we need to do — we’re picking up focus.”