During the campaign planning period, what surprised you the most, and what emerged as the biggest challenges you would face?
Completing the typical review of donors and building a pyramid of giving levels, several surprises and challenges surfaced. The first surprise: 70% of the key leadership donors to TC’s last campaign were first-time donors and only one-time donors to TC. While their generosity played a central role in the success of that campaign, their affiliation with the institution was impermanent. However, we knew we could count on a number of our most devoted, longstanding trustees whose support was unwavering. And of course, they all came through.
[Read a full report on the Campaign's impact, including final totals raised overall and for each priority.]
But the greatest challenge was that once you looked beyond our steadfast trustees, a handful of friends, and productivity from our Centers and Institutes, the donor pool was quite shallow. The development program literally had been built by the previous president, was still fairly immature, and had a specific focus on the very top donors. It lacked breadth and depth, so expanding the donor pool was a critical objective. That said, we were still optimistic in the early stages of campaign planning because (President) Susan Fuhrman and I both felt that we hadn’t really scratched the surface of our giving potential.
How did you go about “scratching that surface”?
As alumni who spanned different generations, we were convinced that, contrary to understandable, conventional wisdom, that our alumni were a major untapped resource. We scrubbed and scoured our database and mined the results for the first time, which not only allowed the College to find and reconnect with tens of thousands of alumni, but also enabled us to determined their willingness and capacity to give. And sure enough, that untapped pool of donors proved to be deeper than we imagined, and even surprised our campaign counsel!
Ultimately, 40% of the gifts from all individuals came from our alumni in comparison to the last campaign where 15% of individual donors were alums.
While restricted giving is more prevalent at most institutions today, it seems especially prominent at TC. Why has that been the case at TC, and what challenges and opportunities has that presented?
I have thought a lot about this and I’ve lived it every day of this campaign! Prior to coming to TC, I led major fundraising campaigns at liberal arts colleges, where basically all giving coalesces around a robust annual fund and two or three other major priorities that excite and resonate with everyone. In those instances, you are building on a shared vision of the institution’s core values and purpose and a shared resolve among the alumni and donor base for the institution to grow in quality and reputation.
We were convinced that, contrary to understandable, conventional wisdom, that our alumni were a major untapped resource... and sure enough, that untapped pool of donors proved to be deeper than we imagined, and even surprised our campaign counsel!”
TC Trustees, alumni and friends also have a shared commitment to strengthening TC’s impact and reputation as a unique, research-focused graduate school of education that encompasses disciplines in psychology education and health. In TC’s case, however, many of our supporters enter the donor community with the same passion, drive and focus they brought to TC – either as students to pursue a professional passion, or as incoming Board members, often with a particular vision or idea about how to improve or at least contribute toward improving society. In many cases, it’s exciting when a donor sees a complex issue at play and immediately turns to TC because of our depth and breadth of expertise in creating solutions.
We’re known for our research and our track record of putting our research to work with partners and practitioners in schools, NGOs, cultural organizations, and in communities near and far. It’s that work that feeds, excites, and motivates our donor base to take a focused and informed approach to giving. We ended up coining this inclination to focused with an explicit call to action: “Fund Your passion!” And, given that such a substantial portion of the money raised is from faculty-sponsored research and/or from productive Centers and Institutes, restricted giving is a matter of course and pays dividends in multifaceted ways beyond the campaign.
Donors were also drawn to the big idea around university-community partnership, with a specific objective of improving neighboring public schools, which we saw as a moral imperative. That effort was anchored by our creation of the Teachers College Community School, a preK-8 public school in West Harlem.
We also recognized that it’s harder for leadership to dictate funding priorities to determined donors. For example, we had significant capital needs, but our campaign feasibility study suggested that we steer away from capital improvements as part of a comprehensive campaign. If we insisted on taking it on, we needed to keep those fundraising efforts small and strategically focused. Collectively, the campaign leadership and our team decided that because the need was so great we would include capital improvement as a fundraising priority. While we went much further than originally predicted by our counsel, raising those funds proved to be the most challenging task of the campaign. As a result, we decreased our goal about halfway through the campaign.
In addition to building a more sustainable, traditional annual fund that would consist of gifts at any level, there was an important need for larger investments in our academic initiatives, and as a result we created an academic seed fund to promote innovation and interdisciplinary academic work. The results exceeded all of our expectations.”
However, we were still able to accomplish a lot. Come by and see our beautiful new spaces! We will have three new floors of state of the art classrooms and a gorgeous Learning Theater in our library. Thompson Hall has been completely transformed with a beautifully renovated auditorium; ICCCR has a wonderful new renovated home with inviting offices, suites and conference areas. And the Rita Gold Early Childhood Center will also soon be renovated!
How and why did planned giving become a major focus of the campaign?
During our planning phase, our campaign consultant underscored that our donor base -- at all levels of giving -- skewed substantially older, and identified that group as most inclined to participate in the campaign as legacy donors. We also saw this as an opportunity to build a blended giving program – where donors made both outright and planned gifts, which is considered the ultimate gift. Furthermore, given that over the years TC has received a significant and steady stream of legacy gifts, we felt that with a more strategic and focused effort, we could greatly accelerate a planned giving program that would benefit TC for years to come.
And while some of my colleagues lament that planned giving is not given enough play in their efforts, this certainly was not the case at Teachers College. I’m 100% behind building a strong planned giving program, especially if your donor pool is readied to make such a commitment as it was at TC. But I also had an ideal ambassador in Bill Rueckert, who is TC’s chair of the board, a descendant of TC’s founder, Grace Dodge, and chair of the Grade Dodge Society.
Bill recognized the value and importance of planned giving. Frequently citing Grace’s bequest to TC, realized at her death in 1915, as an example of the long-term impact of planned giving, Bill enthusiastically supported our efforts to increase membership in the Grace Dodge Society. Ultimately, he worked very closely with us on a blended giving program where donors gave both an outright gift now and included TC in their estate plans.
We generated enthusiasm and encouraged participation, engagement and have built an even more strategic and comprehensive Development program that positions the College for further growth.”
A perfect illustration of this program is when, thanks to Bill’s stewardship, an inspired donor and trustee created a fellowship program to support aspiring New York City teachers. With the initial seed gift, faculty had the opportunity to shape the fellowship and to provide feedback to the donor and her family, and the success of the pilot program resulted in our visionary trustee leaving a $10 million bequest to expand the fellowship in perpetuity.
The bequest has recently been realized, the donor’s wishes are being implemented and students are being supported. Soon NYC will have a new crop of well-prepared teachers committed to teach in New York City, free of debt, and able to focus on their dreams.
Other Grace Dodge Society members were motivated through our “pay it forward” campaign to seed their planned gifts to experience the joy and satisfaction of supporting TC students today. Almost 10% of our new Grace Dodge Society members decided to participate in that program, resulting in many new scholarship funds that are supporting students today, and will receive guaranteed infusions in the future.
What was your strategy for raising unrestricted funds?
Historically, the Annual Fund operation generated a small fraction of the College’s yearly fundraising revenue - which is not unusual for a graduate school of education - and basically served as a catchall for any unrestricted gifts that came into the college. We decided that during the campaign, we primarily would focus on building a traditional Annual Fund, which (as defined by industry standards) is one that relies on renewable and replaceable gifts – gifts that you hope for people to give this year and every year. Everyone was realistic about its impact, but determined to come out stronger and larger at the other side of the campaign, with an annual fund that would continue to feed our pipeline of leadership donors.
In addition to building a more sustainable, traditional annual fund that would consist of gifts at any level, there was an important need for larger investments in our academic initiatives, and as a result we created an academic seed fund to promote innovation and interdisciplinary academic work.
The results exceeded all of our expectations. In terms of the annual fund, we increased the dollars raised by 76%. Dewey Circle Membership (gifts of $1,000+) increased by 57%, with a 47% increase at the $1,000 level and a 156% increase at the $2,500 level. The overall retention rate of donors to the annual fund increased by 18% and the number of annual donors increased by 20%. Based on these results, we are poised to maintain that trajectory. In addition, we met our goal and raised over $12.2 million in the academic seed fund, instrumental in building and expanding priority academic initiatives.
Purely from a Development perspective, what is the big success with this campaign - what is the headline- beyond raising the most of any other graduate school of education in the country!?
Simple: We hit a home run in building a growing a sustainable donor pipeline that will nourish TC for decades to come. We went from a having 135 major donors in the prior campaign to 859 in this campaign, more than five times as many! Some of our largest donations were from newly found and cultivated alumni. We expanded our donor base at every giving level, we have recruited a terrific new group of generous trustees who are being groomed by our most tenured ones, and we have enjoyed particular success with the mid-level major gifts donors, which I would say a sweet spot for TC alumni. The other lead campaign story from a development perspective is: We generated enthusiasm and encouraged participation, engagement and have built an even more strategic and comprehensive Development program that positions the College for further growth.
Another big story beyond those headlines was the impact of building effective, integrated operations in Donor Relations, Alumni Relations, and External Affairs. Their efforts were crucial to every aspect of the campaign, from telling the story of TC and the impact of the campaign in words, pictures, and videos, to developing close and deep relationships with our donors, to converting thousands of TC graduates into proud, committed alumni and friends for life. In short, these operations were and continue to be major resource development assets for the College.