Going Places

The Columbia Campaign sets an Ivy League record, allowing the University to break new ground.

Published Spring 2014
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Photograph by Eileen Barroso

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When Columbia officials announced in 2006 that they were embarking on a University-wide fundraising campaign, they set a remarkably ambitious goal: to raise $4 billion by the end of 2011. At the time, no university had ever attempted to raise so large a sum in a single campaign. When, in 2008, the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression began, observers might have assumed that would-be donors would tighten their purse strings and the whole effort would fizzle.

Instead, the Columbia Campaign was a triumph. It hit its goal of $4 billion a year ahead of schedule and was extended to run through the end of 2013. This past January, University officials announced the campaign’s final tally: $6.1 billion. That total, they say, represents the largest sum ever raised in an Ivy League campaign and the second largest raised by any university.

“Even the bare statistics underlying the campaign total are amazing and should give us heart for Columbia’s future,” wrote President Lee C. Bollinger ’71LAW in a letter to alumni on January 30. “More than $1 billion has been raised for student financial aid across our schools. Close to $1 billion in capital funding has been dedicated to 40 different facilities projects ... More than 260 endowed professorships will enhance Columbia’s world-class faculty. All this and more, remarkably, has been made possible by Columbia supporters residing in 141 countries, with 128,000 new donors.”

To compare the success of one university’s fundraising campaign to those of its peers is tricky, given that campaigns last for different lengths of time, but the fact that Columbia has entered the top echelon of nonprofit institutions in terms of fundraising is indisputable. Last year, Columbia raised approximately $647 million, which was fourth highest among all US universities, behind only Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Southern California.

“Donors and alumni have clearly been inspired by the sense of a historic transformation at Columbia in recent years,” says Fred Van Sickle, who has led the University’s development and alumni-relations office since 2011, and played a key role in planning the Columbia Campaign from the time of its inception, when he served as vice president for development. “None of us began this effort imagining we would exceed $6 billion.”

Susan K. Feagin ’74GS, who previously oversaw the development and alumni-relations office and who was also among the campaign’s chief architects, says the Columbia Campaign coincided with, and benefited from, an unprecedented effort on the part of the University to connect with its alumni. Historically, she says, Columbia had provided its graduates too few opportunities to engage with one another and to get involved in University activities.

“There was an urban myth that Columbia alumni didn’t feel the same kind of school spirit that alumni of other Ivies felt,” says Feagin, who had been Bollinger’s top fundraiser when he was president of the University of Michigan and who followed him to Columbia in 2002. “We’d soon discover this wasn’t the case. But I think the perpetuation of this myth had caused Columbia to do too little in reaching out to its alumni in the past.”

It became clear that alumni were eager to participate in the life of the University, Feagin says, when tens of thousands turned out for celebratory events held around the world for Columbia’s 250th anniversary in 2003 and 2004. To keep the momentum going, the Columbia Board of Trustees soon worked with Feagin’s office to oversee the creation of the Columbia Alumni Association, a worldwide umbrella organization for alumni that has since helped to launch dozens of new regional clubs and interest groups; open the Columbia Alumni Center at West 113th Street; and roll out many new services and programs for alumni — as varied as enhanced library privileges, online job-search tools, and cultural and intellectual events organized specifically for them.

“We invited people to reconnect with Columbia in whatever ways worked for them,” says Feagin. “We hoped that people would choose to express their pride in the University by donating money, obviously. But Lee and I shared a belief that we needed to start by doing right by alumni. We wanted to nurture a real sense of community among them. We knew that our outreach couldn’t be a fakey-fake gesture. It had to be authentic. We trusted that good things would follow from that.”

Big Ideas

Since opening in Lerner Hall in 2010, the Center for Student Advising has brought together many undergraduate support services under one roof. It is funded partly by the Austin E. Quigley Endowment for Student Success. / Photograph by Michael MoranWhile members of Feagin’s team and their partners at Columbia’s individual schools were establishing new points of contact with alumni, Bollinger, still early in his presidency, was articulating a bold vision for the University’s future. He said that Columbia, whose reputation had been rising steadily for two decades, was poised to enter a new era of accomplishment that would match, in grandeur and excitement, its mid-twentieth-century heyday, and that would be characterized by grand new interdisciplinary research projects, an expanded global presence, and a deeper integration into the fabric of New York City. At the same time, Bollinger said he was committed to maintaining the best aspects of the university he was inheriting, such as its commitment to giving students from all financial backgrounds equal access to a Columbia education.

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