The Chippewa Valley’s universities and technical colleges are a boon for the area’s businesses, as they interface with local companies to graduate students with the skills needed for immediate, productive, and profitable employment. The Valley’s businesses are also able to hire energetic students and are also patronized by students in restaurants, bars, housing rentals, and shops. In turn, the schools have their own boons in their foundations, which enable them to update infrastructure, from housing to labs to landscaping, fund key elements of a school, such as a marching band, and provide scholarships that increase enrollment, enhance scholarship, and lessen student debt. Foundations also benefit the Valley via their artistic offerings, those shows, plays, and performances open to all.
The satellite that launched thousands of foundations
Surprisingly, Sputnik was the impetus for UW-Eau Claire’s foundation and thousands of similar foundations across the country. That tiny Soviet satellite, aloft for a mere 93 minutes, so rattled Washington that President Eisenhower pledged matching dollars to all universities willing and able to fund additional scientific research. UW-Eau Claire was willing, but not financially able. Thus, the UW-Eau Claire Foundation was launched to help counter the launch of Sputnik, proving that big things can come from small beginnings, as Sputnik was no bigger than a beach ball and UW-EC’s foundation today has 12,000 donors and more than 1,000 endowed funds. The Wisconsin State College at Eau Claire Foundation was formally incorporated in November 1958.
Kimera M. Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation and executive director of University Advancement, said, “The initial purpose of the foundation was to raise matching funds required by the National Defense Education Act, which provided student loans that required a local match on a 1:9 basis. Between 1959 and 1963, the foundation invested nearly $20,000 in matching monies, making available more than $200,000 to be used for students.”
The growth has been exponential since then, from the first campaign goal of $15,000 in 1959 to the foundation’s goal of $50,000,000 in its 2001 first major fundraising campaign, a goal that was exceeded by the end in 2007. 2012 saw the launch of a new campaing, the Power of Possible Centennial Campaign, with a $60 million goal. By the end of 2016, the official close of the campaign, it had generated more than $75 million in private support for the university’s people, programs and places.
Challenges within the university
Way oversees this behemoth of giving, which is a little like managing the Amazon River at its mouth, where it splits into thousands of tributaries, all of which must be monitored to determine whether they’re flowing just the right way, as decided by the donors and the university.
“Around 85 percent of the gifts we receive are designated for a specific purpose by the donor. All of our fundraising activity is guided by the university’s strategic plan, Campus Master Plan, and other priority needs articulated by the university. The foundation is governed by a volunteer board who has a fiduciary responsibility to receive, manage, invest and disburse the gifts following donor intent.”
Of course, there are forever other entities within the university calling for some of that current of cash.
“I sometimes feel like the Woman who Lived in a Shoe — where there are a lot of hungry mouths to feed — a lot of needs and tremendous projects — and so little funding and resources to go around.”
The endowed funds also require tending.
“We have more than 1,000 endowed funds with the initial gift invested, and we only spend income per a board-dictated spending policy. Each year in the fall, I send letters to all of the donors and/or designated fund contacts with information about investment returns, donations received by the fund, and recipients. Additionally, our annual audit randomly selects funds to review the spending criteria for a fund to determine if spending adheres to the criteria agreed upon with the donor or directed by the fund agreement.”
Challenges beyond the university
There are further challenges in a changing world. Annual giving, Telefund and direct mail once generated more connections and donations than they do today. The reasons for less success via these mechanisms are manifold, such as landlines being less common and workforce more fluid.
“It’s more challenging now to reach people who have not been actively engaged in the life of the university. If we don’t connect with people with phones or emails before they leave, it’s very challenging to connect with them later.”
The end result is that fewer alumni give more.
“A few years ago, we used to talk about the 80/20 rule, where you would say that 80 percent of the gifts would come from 20 percent of the people. Now it’s more like 90 percent of the gifts come from 10 percent of the people. There used to be a giving pyramid that really looked like a pyramid — now it’s very flat on the bottom and narrow on top.”
Looking over the horizon, there might be further challenges.
“Any changes in the federal tax law that reduce the ability for donors who make larger gifts to deduct their gifts might reduce giving. A charitable deduction is helpful and a good motivator.”
However, current tax laws are used as an incentive to give.
“One of the big pushes now is talking to older donors about using their IRA rollover, where they can use their required minimum distribution to make a gift — they don’t get a charitable deduction for their gift, but they avoid the tax liability of the distribution.”
However, there is one unexpected change that’s greasing the giving wheels.
“We are seeing a growing number of younger donors. Traditional wisdom said that you focused more effort on older donors because they had accumulated their resources and were more likely in a position to make larger gifts. Seeing younger donors making more substantial gifts is very encouraging.”
There are numerous rewards for Way beyond seeing an uptick in younger donors, such as connecting givers to needs.
“What I love about this is every day we get the opportunity to make a difference. Our work helps people with a charitable heart to accomplish their goals. I use the analogy of Yenta the Matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof” — I’m the matchmaker where I’m bringing people with capacity and desire to do something with programs/people/projects, etc., of need.”
Way is thrilled to nurture such far-reaching magnanimity.
“It’s not very often where you get to work day in and day out on things that are bigger than you. The best experience is working with a donor who funds something and the donor is thanking me for creating the opportunity for them to give money. We have amazingly generous alumni and friends of the university.”
Two of those “amazingly generous alumni” are Marilyn and David Karlgaard, who met at UW-Eau Claire in the 1960s and married in Marilyn’s junior year. David, a Rice Lake native, graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1967 with a degree in mathematics and physics and co-founded PEC Solutions Inc., an Internet technology consulting firm headquartered in Fairfax, Va., becoming its CEO and president. Marilyn, a Viroqua native, attended UW-Eau Claire from 1965-68, and became a human resources administrator. They live in Great Falls, Virginia, but their giving continues with the financial support for their alma mater exceeding $6 million.
They’ve provided some of the largest UW-Eau Claire Foundation scholarships to more than 130 students in computer science and mathematics and physics. The Karlgaards have also matched external faculty grants for computer science labs and Towers Hall, where Marilyn once resided, has been renamed Karlgaard Towers.
The Stout University Foundation Inc.
Down I-94, the Stout University Foundation Inc. girds another UW campus. It was established in 1962 by a group of alumni, friends, and faculty who saw a need for student scholarships. Since the founding, 9,000 students have benefited from $12.3 million in scholarship support. The foundation’s scholarship program has diversified the student body, drawing from the spectrum of economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. $790,000 in scholarship support has happened in the current year with 21 new scholarships established, many endowed.
Mark Parsons, vice chancellor for University Advancement and Marketing at UW-Stout, said, “The foundation cultivates philanthropic relationships between UW-Stout and its various constituencies to advance the mission and goals of UW-Stout through the acquisition and stewardship of resources.”
Those philanthropic relationships have grown the foundation’s assets to more than $58 million, and another $6.6 million was raised in the current year with more than 500 new donors. The philanthropic relationships are cultivated both electronically and personally.
“Our development team, which includes annual, major and planned giving officers, solicit gifts through a variety of approaches. Face to face visits are the most impactful, for both the benefactor and UW-Stout. New technologies and social media platforms are great ways to connect with and keep alumni and friends current on university news,” Parsons said.
The work has profound rewards for the foundation’s development team.
“I’ve worked in higher education fundraising for 20-plus years, and it’s exciting and inspiring. Our work has transformative impact on students’ lives.”
The foundation’s development team is comprised of major gift officers, with a focus on corporate, leadership and estate gifts, as well as an annual fund team. The total team has recently grown.
“Chancellor (Bob) Meyer has challenged us to enhance our fundraising efforts, so we added two major gift officers and a position in stewardship and donor relations,” Parsons said.
Whatever the gift, the entire team treasures every bit of it.
“Every gift counts. Each gift has a tremendous impact on our students, our campus community, and the future of our unique programs.”
And the Foundation team solicits gifts in both old and new school ways.
“Face-to-face are most impactful, for both the benefactor and UW-Stout, but new technologies and social platforms are great ways to connect with alumni and keep them current on university news.”
The development team’s guiding directive is making sure the Foundation honors the givers’ intents. This is achieved via ongoing relationships.
“Our development officers, faculty and university leadership work very closely with our benefactors to ensure the gifts are utilized as the benefactors wish. Not only does the Foundation staff report back to the benefactor on the impact of their gifts, so do the students and faculty that have benefited from the gift. Scholarship recipients write thank you letters to their donors, many continue to provide updates of their college career to the individuals or companies who supported their educational experience with a scholarship,” Parsons said.
Corporate giving becomes ever more important in an age of decreasing support from state resources. Philanthropic support keeps tuition affordable and upgrades laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment. An example of a laboratory upgrade came from Rajiv and Sawti Lall, owners of Vet’s Plus. The Lalls’ donation supported upgrades to the university’s microbiology laboratory and came with an endowment to provide ongoing lab support and maintenance.
Rajiv Lall said, “We are fortunate to employ a large number of UW-Stout graduates who have contributed to the success of our company and the communities we reside in.”
It isn’t just the decreasing state resources that challenge UW-Stout. Stout’s focus on expensive laboratories versus traditional classrooms requires considerable cash. UW-Stout had three times as many laboratories as traditional classrooms, enabling a curriculum that is hands-on and graduating students with the requisite skills to immediately excel in their professions.
Parsons said, “It is critical to have state-of-the-art equipment in our learning environments.”
Corporations understand this critical need for their future employers and some have stepped up to the plate, hitting it out of the ballpark. Dell EMC is one of them.
“A recent gift of equipment, installation, software and technical support from Dell EMC provides the students the most cutting-edge emerging technology, giving the students a leg-up when entering the workforce.”
Dell EMC’s gift includes new computer storage units with about 65 terabytes of space, servers, fiber channel switches and ethernet switches, as well as Dell staff providing the installation, training and continued support. Chancellor Bob Meyer said the public-private partnership with Dell EMC is the wave of the future for public universities like UW-Stout during an era of tight state budgets.
Meyer said, “The generosity of Dell — and other companies — is very important. It’s a partnership that’s working well. Students really need state-of-the-art technology. It’s all about our students and the talent we put out on the street. The Dell EMC and Vet’s Plus Gifts are ideal in many ways. With cutting-edge labs and our extraordinary faculty, graduates can plug right into the workforce.”
Of course, it is the generosity of both foundations’ donors, big and small, that enable UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout to push their students to achieve their potentials and graduate an ever more skilled workforce. Philanthropy is the wind beneath the two schools’ wings.