By Todd Cohen
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — At a meeting early in 2008, the board of trustees of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill talked about when the school might begin the quiet phase of a comprehensive campaign that would aim to raise $3.5 billion to $4 billion.
Spirits were running high: In December 2007, UNC had wrapped up an eight-year campaign that raised $2.38 billion, which at the time was the fifth-largest campaign completed by any university in the U.S.
In fall 2008, however, the capital markets collapsed, triggering a recession and prompting the school to put its campaign plans on hold.
With the economy sinking and individuals’ net worth dropping, “donors would have been extremely cautious and we didn’t think we would be able to generate any kind of momentum for a campaign,” says Matt Kupec, UNC’s vice chancellor for university advancement.
“The timing just wasn’t right,” he says.
Still, UNC pursued an aggressive strategy for it ongoing fundraising, he says, “continuing to meet with people and to share the vision of the institution, and to talk about ways donors’ giving could make an impact.”
The effort paid off: In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011, UNC raised $277 million in cash gifts, its second-best annual total ever, eclipsed only by the $301 million it raised in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2008, just before the economy crashed.
Now, Kupec says, UNC has resumed internal discussions about launching a new campaign.
While no decisions have been made, he says, the quiet phase of the campaign could begin within 12 months with a goal that likely would exceed the total raised in the last campaign but fall shy of the range anticipated before the plans for a new campaign were put on hold.
“It’s all very, very early,” he says.
The time between campaigns at colleges and universities has become shorter in the past 20 years, and it has now been over four years since UNC ended its last campaign, he says.
And while UNC receives a recurring annual state appropriation of $470 million, or about 18 percent of its annual budget, he says, private support increasingly is taking on a more important role.
“There’s a whole discussion around scholarships and financial aid and financial need,” he says.
UNC meets 100 percent of its students’ demonstrated financial need, for example, yet “there are increasing pressures on money provided by the state,” and on federal Pell grants for students, Kupec says.
The main priorities for a campaign likely will be supporting students and faculty, including funds to boost the school’s $2.2 billion endowment.
A campaign also might require increasing the university’s fundraising staff, which now totals the equivalent of 211 full-time employees.
In its most recent fiscal year, UNC spent about 9.7 cents for every dollar it raised, a rate the school has maintained for at least 20 years, Kupec says.
While the cost of fundraising likely will not increase in a campaign, he says, the staff likely will.
UNC, which is installing a new software system for its alumni development, also expects new commitments by donors to grow by about $50 million to $100 million a year during the next campaign, Kupec says.
In fiscal 1992, the year he joined UNC as associate vice chancellor for development, he says, annual cash giving totaled $53 million.
With Baby Boomers beginning to retire, efforts to secure major gifts and deferred gifts will take on increasing importance, he says, as will the use of social media and other technology to communicate with donors and keep them informed about the impact of their gifts.
The school also will be connecting donors with opportunities to support strategic initiatives at the school that focus on water and energy, as well as innovation and entrepreneurship, efforts that will give donors the opportunity to have a big impact on critical issues, Kupec says.
“We truly can have a significant role,” he says, “in helping to solve the world’s problems.”