KU Endowment ahead of schedule on $1.2 billion campaign

In the past year, Kansas University’s $1.2 billion fundraising campaign has taken officials and volunteers around the country to make their pitch to potential donors.

But during the coming year, the campaign will have a new focus: the KU campus itself.

Starting with a promotion at the Sept. 7 KU football game against South Dakota, the KU Endowment Association will kick off the portion of the campaign that will target faculty, staff and students on campus.

“There will be greater visibility on campus throughout the year,” said Dale Seuferling, the Endowment’s president.

The campaign, dubbed “Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas,” is five years along, and more than a year into its public phase. It is set to run for eight years total, with a goal of raising $1.2 billion by 2016 to fund student scholarships, professorships, research programs and building projects, among other things.

And it’s doing well: Fundraising had totaled $854 million as of July, Seuferling said.

“We’re actually ahead of schedule,” Seuferling said.

Of that total, $612 million was raised during the campaign’s first four years, before a public kickoff event at Allen Fieldhouse in April 2012. Since then, $242 million in new gifts has been added, and the kickoff has been followed with 18 different campaign events held around Kansas and the United States.

In spots varying from Salina and Wichita to New York and San Francisco, officials and volunteers have traveled to send the campaign’s message to donors and alumni in the area. Making many of the trips have been Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, Seuferling and Kurt and Sue Watson, an Andover couple serving as the campaign’s chairs.

The message they’ve sent, Kurt Watson said, is that KU can only grow its education and research capabilities to a new level if it has help from donors. This year’s state budget cuts, he said, make that even more apparent.

“If we’re going to continue to build on the already solid reputation of the university and keep it amongst the national leaders of public research universities, we’re going to have to do that through private dollars,” said Watson, a 1975 KU alumnus and president of the IMA Financial Group.

But these events are only the first step of a process, Seuferling said. After potential donors are introduced to the campaign at an event, Endowment staff and perhaps a KU dean or director will work with them individually to encourage a personalized gift.

That should mean that gifts resulting from this networking will continue to roll in over the coming years.

“It’s not sending a card and saying, ‘Sign up here,’ ” Seuferling said.

And now the campaign will begin to reach out to faculty, staff and students on campus this year, as well, Seuferling said.

Indeed, when it comes to current KU students, the current campaign may pay off not just in a few years but in several decades.

Students may not be the most lucrative source of gifts while they’re in college, naturally. But if this campaign plants the idea of giving to KU in their heads, that could pay off for the university when they’re at later stages in their lives, Seuferling said.

“A key to it is educating students about the impact of philanthropy at KU: as they are here and present and participating intimately in the university, that they learn that philanthropy had an impact on their own educations,” Seuferling said.

A big reason to mount fundraising campaigns every 10 years or so, he said, is that it presents an opportunity to check in with potential donors at different points in their lives. A donor making a small annual donation a decade ago could now be ready to make a five- or six-figure gift, for example.

And the messages a campaign sends can stick with a donor for years to come, Seuferling said.

“Many donors do comment to us that they recall reading about or seeing or knowing the example of what a donor had done 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.

As those connections result in more and more gifts, both Seuferling and Watson said things look good at this stage in the campaign.

“We’re not done yet,” Watson said, “but we’re off to a fantastic, fantastic start.”