“A Greater Penn State” is proving to be pretty great so far.
The university’s five-year fundraising campaign has just closed out its first year. With 20 percent of the effort in the bag, officials say it is ahead of schedule. In fact, it has already eclipsed the $300 million raised in the 1986-90 “The Campaign for Penn State.”
With a $320 million annual goal, the campaign’s first year progress is $350.4 million. Of that, $304.6 million is specifically noted as being raised in the 2016-17 fiscal year. According to university President Eric Barron, the remainder comes from prior gifts that were specifically designated by the donors to be counted toward the campaign.
Some of the gifts were big.
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“NCIS” creator and Hollywood producer Donald P. Bellisario certainly helped his alma mater toward its $1.6 billion goal with the $30 million gift that renamed the College of Communications. So did the $10 million Jack and Jeanette McWhirter gave to the Department of Chemical Engineering’s graduate program.
But Barron says what is making a real difference is the smaller gifts coming from record numbers of givers, and that proves the university’s new kind of campaign is resonating with more and more of Penn State’s 600,000 or so alumni. The 2016-17 donors topped 2015-16 by more than 50,000.
The campaign is focused around three themes — letting donors, even small donors, plan specific ways their money can benefit the university beyond the stereotypical building wings and endowed chairs. Many are aimed at directly affecting the lives of students and communities.
All three are even further ahead of schedule than the overall campaign.
“Open Doors,” with a goal of $500 million that will go to getting students into classrooms and helping them stay there until they graduate as quickly as possible, has raised the most, with $123.3 million or 24.6 percent of the objective.
“Create Transformative Experiences” is the furthest along toward its goal, with $61.2 million, 27.2 percent of the way toward the $225 million planned for helping students do things like spend a semester abroad or participate in other programs that might be financially out of reach.
“That is the strongest start,” said Richard Bundy, vice president of development and alumni relations.
“Impact the World” is focused on innovative ways the university’s research and outreach can solve problems outside of its campuses. It has raised $119.2 million, 25.1 percent of the $475 million goal.
Bundy said the year’s progress is the third-best fundraising in the university’s history and only the third time Penn State has passed the $300 million mark, something that has never happened in consecutive years.
“Part of the objective is to have annual numbers every year reach new heights,” Barron said.
There is one area of the campaign that is lagging behind, and it’s the things that aren’t tied to the themes. They term it “strategic additional philanthropy,” and it covers things that don’t easily shoe-horn into the other three areas, but are still important to the university.
An example? McCoy Natatorium. It is one of the first things that needs to be done under changes to athletic facilities, but with donations being directed toward specific areas, the undirected funds for a project like this are at just 12 percent.
In addition to athletics, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and engineering are priorities moving forward.
Barron is encouraged by the first year and the reception the new kind of campaign has received.
“This is not the way the rest of the world does it,” he said.