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Columbia Campaign Sets New Fundraising Mark, Funds Used to Meet Needs and Enhance Core Strengths

Stephen Friedman, chair of the Trustees, and President George Rupp.

In a campaign that spanned a decade and toppled its own records year after year, Columbia University has raised $2.8-billion, including $261.4 million for Presbyterian Hospital, in the largest fundraising effort to date by any university. The Campaign for Columbia, which does not officially end until Dec. 31, has exceeded its goal of $2.2 billion by more than $500 million with weeks still to go.

The campaign was launched in 1990 with the aim of raising $1.15 billion over five years, then was extended another five years with a combined goal of $2.2 billion. The second half of the campaign alone would rank as one of the top university fundraising efforts of all time. As the campaign nears its finish, Columbia has raised $440 million in cash and pledges or an average of about $9 million a week.

Columbia's record fundraising effort was celebrated at a campus dinner on Dec. 1.

"Doubling both the length of the campaign and its goal was, to say the least, ambitious," said Richard K. Naum, Columbia's vice president for development and alumni relations. "We knew the potential was there, and the need certainly was, too. There were arguments to be made on both sides of an extension, but Columbia's new president, George Rupp, was determined to seize the opportunity, and after that, there was no turning back."

Anne M. McSweeney, deputy vice president and special advisor to the president for development, with David Stern, vice chairman of Board of Trustees, phase 2 campaign chairman.

On the one hand, extending the campaign beyond its planned conclusion in December 1995 seemed a particular challenge, given that conventional wisdom holds it is difficult for an incoming president to ask for significant gifts in his first year - and the University was entering the home stretch with a new leader in Rupp, who arrived on campus in the summer of 1993. In addition, there would be no opportunity for a "silent phase" for accumulating a nucleus fund, when an organization typically raises as much as 25 to 40 percent of its total goal before going public.

On the other hand, the University had by that time built up considerable fundraising momentum, dating back to its accomplishments under Michael I. Sovern, who was Rupp's predecessor. In 1987, the University completed a five-year effort totaling $600 million, 50 percent over its goal. The first phase of the current campaign added to those strong foundations when, under Sovern and Rupp, the University surpassed its original goal 10 months ahead of schedule.

The decision to plunge straight ahead with the extended campaign helped set the pace for the entire undertaking, according to Anne M. McSweeney, the deputy vice president and special advisor to the president for development who served as Columbia's principal liaison with major donors while Naum oversaw planning for the development operation. "It should not come as news to anyone that everything happens faster these days," she pointed out, "and that's true in fundraising as it is in the corporate and dot.com worlds."

While maintaining this accelerated pace, the campaign also targeted gifts as efficiently as possible and sought to make the most effective use of alumni and volunteers working on behalf of the University. "Not only has the campaign succeeded in generating more dollars for Columbia," noted McSweeney, "it has also managed to attract 'better' dollars, ones that help reach academic objectives. And given the limited time University trustees and volunteers have to devote to fundraising, we took an approach that, with President Rupp's support, was far more staff-driven than most."

By every measure, the approach was a success. In addition to attracting an unprecedented sum of gifts and pledges over its 10-year run, the campaign put the University on a trajectory that enabled it to set new records for cash receipts over each of the past seven years, with last year's $292.2 million in cash marking an increase of 151 percent over gift levels when Rupp took office. Columbia has also climbed to fifth place among all universities in fundraising, and most important, it is now closing in on its goal of raising more than $300 million in cash on an annual basis.

The success of the campaign means more than impressive numbers on a fundraising chart. The past decade has been a time of transformation and growth for Columbia, and initiatives undertaken through the generosity of alumni and friends have helped spur significant progress across the institution.

During the period of the campaign, Columbia consolidated its place among the world's top universities, making significant strides on every front: recruiting top senior and junior faculty, launching new education and research programs, increasing student applications and selectivity, expanding both the University's international dimensions and its links to New York City, enhancing student and faculty services, and revitalizing its historic McKim, Mead and White campus in Morningside Heights.

"The extraordinary success of the Campaign for Columbia is a testament to the dedication of Dick Naum, Anne McSweeney and their staff, of phase 2 campaign chairman David Stern and our other trustees and volunteers, and of our deans and faculty," said Rupp. "The generosity of the University's alumni and friends has enabled us to build upon Columbia's strengths."

The three core strengths that Rupp identified are:

  • The University's extraordinary academic quality -- characterized by enormous intellectual intensity in undergraduate as well as graduate and professional programs and pioneering research conducted by outstanding scholars;
  • Columbia's New York City location, which offers unparalleled resources for students and faculty alike, in particular for putting into practice what has been learned in the classroom and through research;
  • And the history of involvement in the international arena that has secured Columbia's reputation as a place where transnational influences intersect and as a generator of new discoveries with a global impact.

Major accomplishments during the Campaign for Columbia include:

  • More than 200 new named professorships were established, and top senior and junior faculty were recruited.
  • New multidisciplinary centers, including the Columbia Earth Institute, the Columbia Genome Center, the Center for Biomedical Engineering and the Center for New Media, were created.
  • A number of new academic programs were created with institutions abroad including the Law School's faculty exchange program with Tokyo University and its four-year double-degree program with the University of Paris; the first American undergraduate program with the Free University of Berlin; and the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation's programs with universities in Brazil, Indonesia and Belize.
  • Columbia College became one of the most selective schools in the country, ranking just behind Harvard and Princeton in the Ivy League. The SAT scores of both Columbia College applicants and matriculants have increased an average of 20 points over a five-year period. Applications for admission to the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science are at all-time highs, and the number of students applying to the School of General Studies has increased substantially. Nearly every graduate and professional school has had a dramatic increase in applications, and Columbia College has set records for applications for seven consecutive years.
  • Columbia, beginning in the 1994-95 fiscal year, has implemented consecutive capital spending plans amounting to more than $1.5 billion over 10 years. Twenty-five buildings were either constructed or renovated. Projects include The new $28-million Audubon Research Building and a second $66-million research facility in Audubon Park; the new $85-million Alfred Lerner Hall Student Center; and the $74-million renovation of Butler Library.

In the community Columbia helped develop the proposal for the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and opened the first biomedical research and development park in New York City. The University also has established programs to hire and help train community residents, and it offers "forgivable" loans to employees as an incentive for home buying within the Empowerment Zone. The University reaffirmed its long-term commitment to help meet the health needs of the Harlem community through its academic affiliation with Harlem Hospital, and enlarged its Community Impact program, through which nearly 1,000 students volunteer in community service organizations to help thousands of New Yorkers.

Published: Dec 04, 2000
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002


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