In 1891, Kansas University Chancellor Frank Snow and about a dozen other people gathered in the office of a Topeka attorney to discuss the creation of an organization that would accept monetary gifts to KU.
Now, 100 years and thousands of gifts later, the Kansas University Endowment Association has spent close to $400 million in behalf of KU and at the same time built its permanent asset base to approximately $305 million. During the past fiscal year, the association provided approximately $30 million for the university.
That astonishing success, say KU and endowment leaders, is crucial to giving KU the support that makes the difference between good and great.
Endowment President Todd Seymour notes the purpose of the association is expressed in its motto since 1920: "To build a greater university than the state alone can build."
"The association was set up with the idea that the state bakes the cake and the endowment association puts the icing on it," Seymour said, borrowing an analogy used by former KU Chancellor Franklin Murphy.
Those university enhancements provided via the endowment association include: the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art; about 130 current distinguished professorships; the Sprague Apartments for retired KU faculty; more than $7 million in scholarships and fellowships last school year; and the $14.5 million Lied Center for the Performing Arts, now under construction on West Campus.
WHILE THOSE enhancements were made possible through the generosity of the association's donors, they might not have been possible without the creation of the endowment association.
Back in 1891, and up through the mid-1960s, Kansas statutes required that any gift from an individual to a state university go to the state treasurer, and only the interest earnings on that gift were allowed to go the university.
The formation of an endowment association through which individuals could route their gifts helped KU get the full benefit of gifts.
One of the first gifts made to KU through the endowment association was a pipe organ, which was installed in the Fraser Hall chapel in 1898.
John Scarffe, director of public relations for the association, said a turning point in the association's history came in 1939, when Elizabeth M. Watkins left the association 25,000 acres of western Kansas farmland upon her death.
Scarffe said earnings from that land have been so great, "it has allowed us to say that if you give a gift to the endowment association, we don't have to use any of your funds for operating expenses."
Seymour said it's great that the endowment association can apply 100 percent of every gift toward KU.
``The important thing is what we're able to turn around and do for the university with those gifts," he said.
SEYMOUR SAID that during the first 11 months of the last fiscal year, the association received $63.5 million in the form of gifts and income from investments, a 17.1 percent increase over the same period the previous year.
In that same time period, the association provided $31.5 million in direct support to the university, including: $7.1 million in scholarships, fellowships and awards; $3.1 million for new construction; $11.3 million for professorships and enhancement of salaries; $4 million for equipment and supplies; and $290,000 for lectures and honorariums.
Seymour said several things have contributed to the association's success.
"We have been happy victims of two terribly successful gift campaigns," he said.
The Program for Progress campaign, which ran from 1966-1969 under the leadership of the association, raised $21 million. The campaign surpassed the original $18.9 million goal and at that time represented the second-largest private-support campaign at any state university in the country.
The current Campaign Kansas drive, a fund-raising campaign that ends next year, already has drawn $210 million in gifts. That's well above the goal of $177 million established in 1989 and the original goal of $150 million.
SEYMOUR SAID another important moment in the association's history was the establishment of the Greater University Fund in 1953. The program encourages people to make unrestricted gifts that the university can use at its own discretion, rather than gifts that are earmarked for a particular purpose.
Seymour added that unrestricted gifts are a top priority of the association.
In 1959, Seymour joined the association staff and began a calling campaign for the Greater University Fund. About 1,400 donors made $41,000 in gifts in 1953. Last school year, about 36,000 donors gave $2 million to KU.
The association once had offices in KU's Strong Hall. Now its offices are located in Youngberg Hall on West Campus.
The endowment association plans to mark its 100th anniversary by publishing about 5,000 copies of a book highlighting the history of the association.