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SG seeks to create student foundation

The day USF students have a bigger say in university projects may be on the horizon.

Members of Student Government (SG) have been developing the framework for a student-operated fund aimed at allowing students to submit applications for on-campus projects they want to see brought to life. A group of elected students would also evaluate project applications and raise money for the fund.

The proposal for a student fund was part of the campaign platform of student body President Andy Rodriguez and student body Vice President Michael Malanga. There is a department within SG dedicated to developing the fund, Rodriguez said.

Tentatively referred to as the USF Student Foundation, the fund would help pay for projects using the interest accrued from student, alumni and possible corporate donations. SG hopes to make the foundation an endowment fund from which regular withdrawals would be made to fund student projects, Rodriguez said. 

“(The endowment would) empower students to be able to fund different projects and initiatives across campus that (Activity and Service) fees couldn’t,” Rodriguez said. “It’s also a really good experience for students. There aren’t many students who are going to get to say they helped raise money for an endowment and say they got to sit on the board that actually allocates the money for the endowment.”

Potential fundraising ideas for the endowment include a student-funding society in which students who donate are recognized for their contributions with a shirt, a membership to the society or a graduation sash, Rodriguez said.  Other possible funding sources through the endowment include philanthropy focused on raising money for USF and general donations from USF students and the community.

Though donating to the foundation is completely optional, he hopes students will realize the importance of giving back to USF, Rodriguez said. 

Potential project ideas include a scholarship or down payment on an on-campus feature or amenity, ranging from a statue to a bowling alley, he said.

“Hopefully, as the foundation progresses, (board members) will have more and more money, and they can take on more and more projects or initiatives across campus,” Rodriguez said.

Concerning management, he said the proposed endowment board would consist of 14 individuals, with nine voting and five non-voting members. Each board member would be elected and serve a term of two years, or until he or she graduates, and the number of board vacancies would be the number of board positions up for election each year.

Board members would receive project proposals exclusively from students, and voting members would vote on projects they want funded. Each member would have a specific responsibility within the endowment, and one or two members would focus on improving fundraising, Rodriguez said.

To obtain the status of “endowment,” however, Rodriguez said the USF Student Foundation would need to raise at least $25,000 — the point at which student scholarship and program support endowments can be established.

While he’d like to have the money raised within the first year of starting the fund — if the fund is created — raising $25,000 through the mentioned fundraising methods is a sizeable task, Rodriguez said. 

“If it doesn’t happen within the first year, hopefully it’ll happen within the first couple years of the foundation,” he said. “That would be the first goal.”

SG plans to raise awareness of the fund and encourage students to run for board positions through social media advertising beginning December and tabling beginning Jan. 11 — the first day of the spring 2016 semester, said Jessie Poen, the USF Student Foundation’s current student director.

Campaigning will last until the first week of March, which will be the beginning of SG student body elections. Fund board member elections that will run alongside the student body elections will be open to the entire student body and follow SG election guidelines, Poen said.

Though SG has developed a basic structure for how the endowment could be run, the specifics of many processes — including the online application process for submitting proposals, the process for funding a project and the management of the endowment’s funding — are still being hashed out, she said.

“By the end of my term (as student director), we will hopefully have an up-and-running student foundation, or at least a really good framework and structure,” Poen said.

To get ideas for how to best structure the endowment, SG met with students from FSU’s Student Foundation and officials from the USF Foundation, including FSU Student Foundation Chairman Evan Roman, Rodriguez said.

A 2009 fundraising campaign to retain FSU professors who planned to leave the university due to budget cuts led to the founding of FSU’s Student Foundation in April 2010, Roman said.  FSU students raised $140,000 for the Protect Our Professors campaign, and the foundation has since raised over $400,000 for university projects and initiatives including $450,000 and counting for FSU’s Garnet and Gold Scholar Society.

The FSU Student Foundation receives 99 to 100 percent of its donations directly from students, with occasional donations from alumni who have served on the foundation’s board, Roman said. He said donations made by students during course registration make up the majority of the foundation’s funds, amounting to about $50,000 per year.

“A popup comes up (during registration) asking if a student would like to give a $10 gift to the student foundation,” Roman said. “We’re not concerned with the amount students are giving but more so the frequency (at which) students are giving. We’re trying to develop the habit (of) giving as a student because when they transition into a career and start making a sustainable income, we hope … they start giving back to the university as a greater level.”

The USF Foundation is a non-profit organization separate from the university that financially supports USF with fundraising and donations. The foundation has raised more than $880 million in five years as a part of the university’s Unstoppable fundraising campaign.

The USF Student Foundation is looking to start out as a subset of the current USF Foundation before possibly becoming a private entity separate from the university years later, Rodriguez said. 

Student Government is currently working toward creating a student foundation relying on student donations in order to fund campus projects that cannot use Activity and Service fees. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

One concern with separate private university support organizations like the USF Foundation is that, unlike the university itself, the private support entity can be exempt from public records requests under certain circumstances.

As reported by The Oracle in December, the USF Foundation cited a state statute passed by Florida Legislature in 1975 as an exemption from a public records request inquiring about who the corporation contracts to invest university funds, as well as the schedule and travel expenses of USF Foundation CEO Joel Momberg, a public USF employee.

When asked what would prevent the USF Student Foundation from refusing to divulge any information on its investment practices if it became a separate private entity, Rodriguez said this responsibility would fall on the students in charge of the foundation. He hopes those involved would create policies for maintaining transparency to students, he said.

“The only people who would sit on (the board of the foundation) would be students,” Rodriguez said. “Personally, as a student, I think it’s important to surround myself with students who are aware of what I’m doing and my role and in decisions I’m making. … I don’t know why they would want to hide their records.”

In an interview with the Oracle, USF Foundation CFO Robert Fischman said there would be no need for the USF Student Foundation to become a subsection of the USF Foundation, as the USF Foundation is to be involved in all USF fundraising efforts by university policy.

“I think it’s great that there are students interested in philanthropy, and … (The USF Foundation is) obviously here to help in any way we can,” Fischman said. “We just talked about the next steps where we could maybe help them out and help things get set up, but that’s not with any formality or any kind of agreement. That kind of stuff just isn’t required.”

Rodriguez said he is not sure how the USF Student Foundation will develop if it does not become a subsection of the USF Foundation and said this would be up to the team within SG developing the foundation’s framework.

“We’ve been working with not only others from other universities but people within our own university who have dealt with creating similar bodies,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll have to discuss it and figure out what our best options are.”