Private donations on the rise, driving funds for University

By Taylor Odisho

With federal funding in the state of Illinois decreasing, the University has seen an increase in private donations in recent years, which helps to fund expenses.

Some of these expenses include student recruitment and retention, said Marlah McDuffie, associate dean for advancement in the College of Media.

“We are increasingly relying on private funding to handle very basic needs from scholarships, internships and faculty support,” McDuffie said. 

Cuts from the federal budget may cause long-term harm to research, and universities must think creatively about how they will fill those gaps in the budget, said Melissa Edwards, director of research communications in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. 

“The problems facing society aren’t going away, and as a land grant, research intensive university, we have an obligation to create knowledge for a diverse and complex world,” Edwards said.

Private donations, which come from individuals and corporations, provide funding to find answers to issues in society. This private funding is critical to higher education, especially in public education, which tends to rely on federal funding. 

Most of these private donations come from University alumni and private donors. These donations have helped the University set records in regards to how much has been raised.

“We also established a new record raising, in what we call new business, $434.9 million,” said Don Kojich, vice president for marketing and communications at the University of Illinois Foundation. 

New business includes new gifts, grants, pledges and deferred commitments, which come from a donor’s last will and testament, but does not necessarily include donors who haven’t previously donated.

At the end of December 2011, the University completed the eight-and-a-half year Brilliant Futures Campaign, which includes the entire University of Illinois system. During that time, the University was able to raise $2.43 billion in gifts, commitments and pledges, Kojich said. 

“Fundraising is all about developing and building relationships and cultivating those relationships,” Kojich said. “The gifts don’t happen overnight, so you’re always looking to develop and build upon those.” 

In order to gain the most from their private donations, UIF administers to the passions of its donors. For example, it will approach alumni from the College of Media for a gift specific to that college because the alum has ties to it and is more likely to make a donation.

“You’re trying to take the University’s strategic vision and priorities and match that up with the interests and passion of the donor to come together,” Kojich said.

In the next seven to ten years, the foundation’s goal is to raise $450 million in cash per year.  

The University has also made partnerships with companies and foundations, like the Grainger Foundation, that have resulted in large donations.

“State Farm is a great example of a company the University had a great partnership with for a long time, and not just for athletics,” Kojich said. “They’ve had a great presence for Research Park, funding scholarships and internships, and that’s just one example.”

These donations drive the reputation the University has built as a global brand and as a top university in the nation.

“In order to attract great students, you have to have a great faculty,” Kojich said. “The University has the faculty and a long history of excellence with Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, graduates who have gone on to become CEOs and successful in their field, whatever field they have.”

Taylor can be reached at [email protected]