Queen’s tries to make a buck

University office of Advancement pulls out all the stops to recover donor dollars lost in the economic downturn

Queen’s Telefundraising phoning alumni and parents. Alumni donations have declined with the recession, but Queen’s is faring better than other universities, says Vice-Principal (Advancement) Sean Conway.
Queen’s Telefundraising phoning alumni and parents. Alumni donations have declined with the recession, but Queen’s is faring better than other universities, says Vice-Principal (Advancement) Sean Conway.
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Vice-Principal (Advancement) Sean Conway says he hopes the Queen’s Centre, set to open in late fall, will bring in more dollars as alumni and the Kingston community see it come to life.
Vice-Principal (Advancement) Sean Conway says he hopes the Queen’s Centre, set to open in late fall, will bring in more dollars as alumni and the Kingston community see it come to life.
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In 2007-08, the Queen’s Advancement office had their most successful year ever, receiving over $65 million in alumni donations, including a $17 million Rembrandt painting from distinguished alumnus Alfred Bader.

That all changed last fall, as the downturn in stock markets sent alumni donors into total financial retreat, chief advancement officer, Jennifer Marr said.

“With the meltdown, where we saw our biggest effect was our major giving program,” she said.

Marr said major gifts are defined as targeted donations given to the University for a specific purpose in mind. It’s one of the three types of alumni donations. The other two are “planned gifts” given to the University posthumously according to the donor’s will and the annual fund, which is made up of smaller financial gifts incorporated into the school’s annual operating budget.

Marr said gifts of business shares is another area where Queen’s saw a dramatic decline in cash flow during the last year due to declining share values.

“What happens is that they give Queen’s their shares, Queen’s immediately sells them and uses the proceeds to go wherever the University wants it to go,” she said. “There’s a tax incentive for donors to donate shares. During the meltdown, that dried right up because now their shares were in loss situations. We’re just starting to see that pick up again.”

The office of Advancement said more than a 50 per cent decline in money raised over the last fiscal year from May 2008 to May 2009, but Marr said this year her office has already started to see a signs that the tide is turning.

“Last year we raised $30 million. So far this fiscal year, starting in May we have raised over $20 million, with an overall goal of $40 million dollars.”

Marr said Queen’s Annual Fund is projected to raise $7 million towards the annual operating budget.

Acting Vice-Principal (Advancement) Sean Conway said he’s also noticed alumni have begun to be more forthcoming with donations this current fiscal year than would be expected after the economic downturn.

He said the University’s in good shape financially for two major capital projects the medical school and the Isabel Bader Performing Arts Centre.

He said 90 per cent of the medical school’s funding is committed and about 85 per cent of the performing arts centre funding is accounted for.

Conway also cited four examples of major gifts as signs that the school is banking on more alumni financial support in the near future.

“A few short weeks ago, one of our alums, Robert Buchan gave the University $10 million to be focused on the department of mining. Alfred Bader has pledged an additional $4 million for the performing arts centre. We’ve had Imperial Oil give the faculty of Education $600,000. We also had one of our alums, Steven Smith give us a half million dollars for a student support bursary. That half a million dollars will be matched by the Ontario government through their matching student aid program.”

Conway said he hopes the Queen’s Centre opening later this fall will be an incentive for alumni to donate.

“We’re very hopeful that when the facility opens, it’s going to give us an enhanced opportunity,” he said.

The overall operating budget projected to run an $8.3 million deficit for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Conway said he acknowledges the pressures on the school to increase its endowment funding, but Queen’s is not an anomaly in the academic community.

“I can tell you the big Ivy League schools—I’ve been reading a lot about Harvard and Yale—and they’ve seen their endowments are off by 30 per cent. Harvard takes 36 per cent of its operating money from its endowments, Yale takes 44. So big Ivy League schools in the United States have been hit and quite frankly, American schools are more dependent on alumni giving than any of the Canadian universities.”

Conway said Queen’s can expect some funding setbacks in the near future, but there have been signs of improvement since January of this year when he first took up office.

“The capital markets have been improving over the last three to four months. We’re certainly not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination because quite frankly, there have been investment losses for everybody from the period of September ’08 onwards.”

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