The fiscal year ending on the last day of June could go down in the history books as a record fundraising year for the University of Montana, with donors showing more confidence in the economy and a new school campaign rooted in student success.
The university recently announced a $5 million gift from an anonymous donor to establish a scholarship fund for students with financial need. The donation was the latest in a flurry of gifts, bringing to $36.2 million the amount of funds raised since July 1, 2013.
“We’ve got some momentum going and we’re really happy with it,” said Beth Hammock, associate vice president of marketing and communications with the UM Foundation. “People understand the call to action and they’re responding to it.”
That call to action began in earnest last July, shortly after Shane Giese took the helm as president and CEO of the UM Foundation, the university’s fundraising arm. His arrival nearly coincided with the launch of the school’s Invest in Student Success Initiative.
The initiative looks to raise money for student scholarships, in effect giving UM more recruiting power and helping students pay for school. The foundation set out to raise $45 million for the initiative in three years, but has brought in more than $20 million in the first nine months.
UM President Royce Engstrom said the initiative was unanimously endorsed by the foundation’s board of trustees last summer.
“To have specific fundraising targets helps concentrate our efforts,” said Engstrom. “To have that focus on student success – it’s a topic that’s resonating with people very well.”
Along with the university’s new initiative, Engstrom also credited students and faculty at UM for building a strong reputation that’s getting noticed. A cohesive fundraising team has helped focus on outcomes, he said, and the economy has improved, placing donors in a position to give to the school.
Engstrom described it as a convergence of factors that’s generating renewed interest in the university.
“I think there’s a high level of excitement on campus right now that’s being communicated across the board,” Engstrom said. “People are getting more and more excited about making an investment in the university. Our students and faculty are accomplishing great things.”
Contributions remain strong across a variety of areas, including support for the Davidson Honors College, the Global Leadership Initiative and athletics. Hammock said the school’s new brand has also helped.
Hammock also credited university officials for staying on message. Engstrom and other school leaders have launched the “We Are Montana” tour, selling the university’s wares to communities and prospective students across the state.
“Engstrom has been in his position for nearly four years,” Hammock said. “It takes time to develop relationships with major donors, and he’s got some momentum going. They feel good about giving to the university.”
Recent gifts to the university have included $11 million from UM alum Tom Cotter, a $1.5 million gift from alum Earle Layser, and $2.4 million from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.
Last month, former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus contributed what remained of his campaign funds – $850,000 – to the school, and Alexander Blewett gave $800,000 in February. The Flathead Lake Biological Station has raised $600,000 in grants.
“We almost certainly will break the record,” said Hammock, citing the school’s $36.9 million record set in 2008 during its Invest in Discovery Campaign. “There’s just a lot of targeted fundraising going on.”
Engstrom said the pieces are coming together.
“We have put together a tremendous team that’s focused on fundraising,” he said. “By team, I mean people at the university, the foundation and the foundation’s board of trustees. It’s a group that’s working very well together, very effectively together.”