$34.7 Million and Counting: College’s fundraising in past decade has been off the charts
Jan. 6, 2011 (by Chris Dickey, "Gunnison Country Times") -- Raising money was one of the aspects of the job that Jay Helman said most worried him when he became president of Western State College in Feb. 2002, primarily because he had such little experience in that arena.
It seems he got the hang of it.
A recent analysis revealed that Western has raised more money in the past 10 years — $34.7 million — than it had in its previous 90 years of existence, by a factor of 10.
“I was dumbfounded by that figure,” he said.
Helman acknowledges that a big part of this explanation lies in the fact that the world of public higher education has changed dramatically over the years — mainly, in the diminishing level of public assistance colleges and universities have received.
In other words, for most of its 100 years in operation, Western did not have much need to raise private funds to support its mission of providing a personalized liberal arts education in the spectacular, yet remote, setting of the Gunnison Valley.
But those days are gone, and Helman doesn’t anticipate them coming back.
“I certainly don’t see a miracle coming,” he said, in reference to a dramatic reversal in state funding. “I think the whole country is on a steady track drifting away from traditional public support. So the public institutions have got to continue to raise more private dollars.”
Perhaps Kaye Howe saw that handwriting on the wall during her stint as WSC president from 1990-96. Helman credits her with building the infrastructure that’s enabled the WSC Foundation — the college’s prime fundraising arm — to flourish in recent years.
Harry Peterson, who succeeded Howe, picked up where she left off, according to Helman.
“I think Kaye built the engine and Harry refined it, so when I became president the table was set,” he said.
It’s helped that through most of this time Tom Burggraf, who Helman calls a “master” at fundraising, has led the foundation.
“The level of private support distinguishes Western from its peers, especially during Jay’s tenure, and will be one of the key factors that ensures Western’s continued health and strength,” said Burggraf, who has been the director of the WSC Foundation since December 1997.
The majority of private funds funneled to the college are for scholarships, he explained. They make up 177 of the more than 300 distinct funds that the WSC Foundation manages.
Both Burggraf and Helman are quick to heap praise and thanks to those who’ve made this fundraising possible: namely, donors. From those who’ve given a few bucks a year to the 14 individuals who have contributed $1 million or more to WSC, it’s their generosity that is most remarkable, they say.
This “surge of philanthropy” is beyond what many would have imagined possible, according to Burggraf. “And the trajectory and potential continue to be stunning,” he said.
As for what’s next, the foundation remains in the middle of a $17 million fundraising campaign to pay off its new College Center. Helman said the college is also “pushing hard” to generate more private funding for its athletic programs, especially football.
“The future there has got to be private money,” he said, noting how a major financial pledge transformed the Colorado School of Mines’ football team from a perennial league push-over into a powerhouse.
“Private money has just turned that program around,” he said.