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Emory Launches Its Broadest Fund-Raising Effort

By Salvador Rizzo Posted: 09/25/2008
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Eighteen acrobats, dancers, performers and musicians presented guests with an original Cirque du Soleil-style performance, called Enquérir, Thursday night. The black-tie gala kicked off Emory’s Capital Campaign, a $1.6 billion fund-raising effort that ends at the end of 2012.
After three years of setting the foundations for the largest fund-raising effort in its history, the University officially launched Campaign Emory, a $1.6 billion capital campaign, by celebrating at a black-tie gala featuring world-class acrobats yesterday.

The campaign is a crucial part of Emory’s roadmap for the future, designed to bankroll the broad investment goals outlined in the University’s Strategic Plan, from construction projects to funds for research and professorships across the University. Its success, which University officials are confident about, would transform the face of campus and dramatically enhance the University’s already sprawling health-care arm and other units.

University President James W. Wagner said Emory has already collected $838 million during the campaign’s so-called silent phase, a three-year period during which each major University division mapped out its funding priorities while Emory scouted out donors and collected some initial donations, including a headline-grabbing $261.5 million donation from the Woodruff Foundation in 2006.

The $1.6 billion goal is actually the sum of individual targets from each major University division. The School of Medicine, for instance, hopes to reach $500 million in donations; those gifts will help establish 75 chairs and professorships, fund medical research and increase scholarship funds. The College is aiming for $110 million, with which it plans to address a shortage of office, classroom and research space. The College also plans to increase research and scholarship funds with the donations. Oxford College would build a new science and mathematics building; Emory’s libraries would get the funds for a permanent home for its renowned special collections, which have been cramped on the 10th floor of the Woodruff Library.

In addition, Wagner said $75 million would enhance the University’s new financial aid initiative, the Emory Advantage program, which caps tuition and loans for students whose families fall under certain income brackets.

“The fun question to imagine is what Emory will look like when it’s done,” Wagner said. “The student body will look different, the faculty will look different and we can change health care to actual, preventive health care — not just disease care.”

Wagner said it’s unfortunate that the campaign’s launch comes at the heels of a major economic crisis that has crippled major financial institutions as well as average Americans’ spending, but he said the crisis did not prompt the campaign’s launch, which has been in the works for several years.

“It might appear that we’re rolling this out to compensate, but that’s totally not the case,” Wagner said. “We would risk the campaign if donors thought we were taking their money to keep the lights on and the water running in a financial crisis.”

Instead, Wagner and Campaign Chairman Sonny Deriso (’68C, ’72L) emphasized that giving to Emory represents a nobler kind of investment, one which makes donors a part of the positive changes Emory’s community produces.

“They are investors in some of their own passions,” Wagner said. “They are investing in Emory and they can expect a return on their investment based on the way we contribute to society.”

“That rings with a lot of people,” said Deriso, who is also a University trustee.

Deriso, a banker by profession who coordinates a group of campaign directors, said the second half of any capital campaign is usually more difficult than the first, but he said the University is riding on good momentum from its successful silent phase.

Wagner said they don’t expect the economic downturn to affect giving; he said research indicates that charitable contributions do not correlate with the country’s economic health. And Deriso noted that charitable giving hasn’t declined since the late 1960s.

Ben Johnson (’65C), chairman of the University Board of Trustees, said he was also confident the campaign would succeed despite the financial atmosphere.

“Earlier this week, Warren Buffett invested $5 billion in Goldman Sachs. If it’s a good week to invest $5 billion in Goldman Sachs, it’s another great week to invest $800 million in Emory,” he said.

“In any campaign, you’re going to have some days that are better than others,” Johnson said. But if that happens, “there’s another four years and four months to ask for what we need.”

The University suffered in the last fiscal year due to the overall economic slowdown. The endowment, according to top Emory financial officials, is likely to lose around 2 percent of its value, and as a result some divisions’ budgets could be straitened, and construction projects could be delayed this year.

But Campaign Emory’s end date is Dec. 31, 2012, and top administrators said that timeframe allows for the endowment to grow and for expansions and renovations to be completed.

Around 25 percent of the $1.6 billion is designated for capital investments, 34 percent will be destined for the endowment, another 34 percent will be expendable and 7 percent will be used for discretionary spending as the need arises.

Wagner said the donor pool that Emory has been cultivating for the last three years includes alumni, foundations such as the Woodruff and Gates foundations, non-alumni philanthropists and other individual donors. Wagner said Emory has already received, for instance, two $10 million donations from non-alumni, a signal that similar gifts could follow.

“Some people discover Emory and say, ‘This is what we want to do,’” Wagner said.

Wagner explained that donors increasingly designate their gifts to specific programs or departments. One philanthropist might favor cancer research and give to the University’s health-care arm; another might favor the University’s liberal arts programs or libraries.

The endowment, Wagner said, is currently made up of 14,000 such accounts, but he and Deriso said the campaign could benefit from such a culture of giving.

They explained that the donor base, like the campaign’s target amount, is segmented by affinities, and that working under such a structure helps bring in donations that resonate with the University’s benefactors.

“The opportunity is so deep and rich at Emory, folks realize a hope or wish to make a difference in the world,” Deriso said.

Wagner said that the divisions would have liked to aim for twice the $1.6 billion amount, but he said that part of the purpose of the silent phase was to determine realistic fund-raising possibilities and prioritizing.

And, as Johnson says, once Campaign Emory is done, the donor base will be set for a subsequent one.

— Contact Salvador Rizzo.

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