Unstoppable: the art and science of fundraising

USF is well on its way to having raised $1 billion for its eight-year-long Unstoppable campaign. To put that in perspective, if one were to spend $1 million every day for two years, he would still not have spent $1 billion. 

To date, the USF Foundation has raised over $860 million for the campaign, and Foundation CEO Joel Momberg said there is an art and science to this kind of fundraising.

The science:

“In our case, we have a central staff that handles the donor base, the computer system, (and) the prospect management — in other words, who the potential donors are,” Momberg said. “You categorize those by a lot of different factors you put into the computer to see their amount of wealth, their habits, their propensity to give, and so on.”

The art side is actually reaching out to potential donors. Momberg said each college has a certain number of “development officers,” individuals who reach out to donors. 

“That officer will put them in their portfolio, and they’ll call on those particular donors and take them out to lunch, take them on tours, introduce them to students, introduce them to the deans, take them to football games,” he said. “There are a number of different ways you would court a donor to tell them about the university.”

According to Momberg, one of the best places to attract donors is through the university’s athletics department. Naturally, this method is most effective when a school’s teams are doing well.

“Usually, athletics are the first place (some donors will) donate to a university. They come in, see a football game, buy tickets … and they might participate in a couple events,” Momberg said. “Then they get more involved in the university and they learn about what’s going on.”

But fundraising isn’t just a matter of courting donors and then dropping them after the first gift. 

“Chances are, donors who give once will give repeatedly throughout their lifetime,” he said. “So there’s a big stewardship piece to fundraising.”

In other words, the development officers continue to maintain a relationship with the donor in order to foster the possibility of further donations. What’s more, the continued relationship is not just beneficial for the university. USF hosts scholarship dinners and lunches where those who have donated are able to see how their gift has been received and meet the scholarship recipients.

In this way, Momberg said USF will continue to raise funds for the campaign. Thus far, the campaign has functioned in this way to collect historic donations for the university. 

In just a six-month span, the university received $10 million in September to create the Kate Tiedemann College of Business on the USF St. Pete campus, $25 million from Les and Pam Muma to create the Muma College of Business on the Tampa campus, and $10 million from alumna Lynn Pippenger to rename the School of Accountancy. 

Most recently, in March, USF alumnus and advertising mogul Jordan Zimmerman donated $10 million to rename the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications.

Since its start five years ago, the campaign has surpassed its early $600 million goal and works to raise money for scholarships, fellowships, building upkeep, program maintenance and other university needs.

“When they first came up with the campaign number, all of the deans got together with the Provost and looked at all the needs that they had across the board. And then they looked at realistically how much could be raised,” Momberg said.

Originally, the deans came up with a figure close to today’s $1 billion goal, but the university deemed the number too ambitious for a five-year campaign. To confirm the number, the university hired a consulting group that conferred with individual donors. 

In 2013, the university raised just over $620 million with donations from alumni and community partners, surpassing its original goal and expanded its view to $1 billion, which, if achieved, would be one of the largest fundraisers in state history for a public university.

USF’s alumni donor base, Momberg said, is still fairly young, but some are now at a point in their lives and careers that making considerable donations to the university is possible. The Mumas and Pippenger, for example, are USF alumni and substantial donors.

However, alumni are not the only donors to the Unstoppable campaign. In fact, most of the donations come from non-alumni, Momberg said. According to the Foundation’s 2013-2014 performance report, only about 37 percent of donors are alumni.

“Most are corporations and individuals who really have invested in USF as a big economic engine for this area,” Momberg said. “Corporations will give money because they feel that this is their workforce, and they’re investing in their future employees.

“Or they have a special feeling for USF because they’ve seen the growth and development and they want to participate in that. You see a number of different kinds of folks who will invest.”

According to the 2013-2014 report, the largest group of donors was parents and friends of the university, coming in at 55.6 percent of donors, or 26,145. Alumni ranked second with 17,485 donors, employees came in third with 2,000 donors and corporations ranked fourth highest with 1,055.

Regarding the allocation of the money, Momberg said the funds are directly connected to benefiting the university. 

Of the approximately $113 million raised last year, about $108.7 million went to program enhancements, scholarships, fellowships, chairs and professorships. Additionally, $393,281 went to improved facilities and equipment.

“It directly helps students in one way or another. Much of that is scholarship dollars, which directly impact a lot of the students, … facility dollars, … program support, … endowed chairs,” he said. “It all enhances USF — it brings us along.”