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June 27, 2002

On a billion-dollar roll: University meets goal early, extends fundraising efforts

Buoyed by the fact that Pitt exceeded its $500 million capital campaign goal a year ahead of schedule — and by a consultant's upbeat findings about the University's fundraising potential — the Board of Trustees has voted to extend the campaign.

Pitt's new goal: raising $1 billion by June 2007.

"A billion dollars is a number that grabs attention. It is a number today that seems to define what is the highest level of fund raising within American higher education," Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said at a news conference following the board's June 20 annual meeting.

Among the 160-plus U.S. colleges and universities currently engaged in fundraising campaigns, only 16 are pursuing goals of $1 billion or more, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education: Pitt, Duke, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern, Penn State, Stanford, the University of Arizona, the University of California at San Francisco, UCLA, the University of Chicago, the University of Minnesota system, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Since publicly launching its most ambitious fundraising campaign 20 months ago, Pitt has raised more than $510 million in gifts and pledges.

Nordenberg said the decision to extend the campaign and double the original goal was based on "careful planning and assessment," including a study by unnamed consultants.

Carol Carter, Pitt vice chancellor for Institutional Development, acknowledged that "the slope will be a little tougher in the second phase of the campaign" now that Pitt has picked most of the "low-hanging fruit" — fundraising jargon for obvious potential contributors who are fairly easily convinced to give.

The keys to meeting the $1 billion goal will be raising funds from corporations and foundations nationwide, and increasing alumni giving, Carter said.

Currently, 17 percent of Pitt alumni contribute to the University, up from 12 percent five years ago, she said.

To date, 80,209 donors have contributed 233,109 gifts and pledges to Pitt. That includes 99 gifts of $1 million or more. Those contributions "have pushed this campaign farther and faster than we ever believed could be the case," Nordenberg said.

During the board meeting, Pitt campaign chairperson Thomas J. Usher recalled: "Those of you who have been involved from the start know that we were not exactly racing ahead at the beginning. In some ways, we were almost starting from scratch" without an organized network of campaign volunteers.

"In fact," Usher said, "if we had followed the conventional wisdom, we probably would still be planning this effort. But we concluded that this campaign was too important for the University, and the many constituents it serves, for us to delay. We decided that some of our planning would have to occur even as we were moving forward.

"This aggressive approach worked."

Usher — who is board chairman, CEO and president of U.S. Steel Corp., and who holds three degrees (including a doctorate) from Pitt — added during the post-meeting news conference: "To sell anything, you need sales people and you need a product. When we began this venture a few years ago, we really didn't have that good a product.

"The product has improved measurably over the last five or six years," he said, citing accomplishments such as increases between 1995 and 2002 in the percentage of Pittsburgh campus freshmen who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes (up from 21 percent to 41 percent) and in Pitt's sponsored research funding (from $233 million to $425 million).

"While the fruit may have been a little lower [during the campaign's first phase], we are now going out there with a very charged-up, dedicated bunch of volunteers, and also with a better product to sell," Usher said. "There's still a lot of fruit in the tree."

Pitt trustees and administrators vowed that the sluggish economy won't derail the campaign. "We have the advantage of tremendous momentum from the first phase of this campaign," said board chairperson William S. Dietrich II.

But with Pennsylvania facing a recession-related deficit of $1.3 billion, state appropriations to Pitt and other state-related universities are expected to be cut by at least 3.6 percent for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Because lawmakers had not yet approved a state budget for the next fiscal year, Pitt trustees did not consider the University's own FY 2003 budget at last week's board meeting.

The board's budget and executive committees are scheduled to meet on July 15 to approve the Pitt budget. In the meantime, Pitt officials won't speculate publicly about possible tuition increases or salary increases.

Private fund raising becomes even more crucial as state subsidies fail to keep pace with inflation, Nordenberg said.

— Bruce Steele

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