UVM Taps Its Natural Resources

During the Homecoming Weekend festivities at the University of Vermont, President Dan Fogel made his historic announcement that his fund raising campaign for UVM had reached $115 million. The shock value of such a large number was enormous but after that wore off, many wondered how Fogel could possibly acquire such a grand amount of money with such relative anonymity. More than often a capital campaign, like the one Fogel is spearheading, is not nearly as successful at a state institution such as UVM where the state population of Vermont is just over 600,000. But the answer lies within the generous donations of the alumni who once walked the green and relaxed in the North Lounge as many of us do today. The Campaign for the University of Vermont is part of Fogel’s vision to help UVM become one of the preeminent institutions in the country. A large portion of the money that is being raised will go to student scholarships and will lower tuition costs overall, which by in large will raise the academic standard at the university. Fogel’s vision hopes to restore UVM to the “public ivy” tag that it so proudly held throughout the mid-80’s but was shed due to leadership changes, a hockey hazing scandal, and budget cuts, among other things.

The Process
Fogel’s vision, says vice president for development and alumni relations, Ian deGroot, is what has the alumni so excited about the direction the university is going which makes them want to become more involved in that process. While Fogel’s goals are a large part of the increased giving to UVM, a force which lurks in the shadows plays an equally large part in the fund raising process. The office of the development and alumni relations are the people who research and seek out donors who have the potential to donate money to the university. They are involved in reconnecting those who have been away from the university to pursue their professional lives of whatever the reason. Alumni relations seeks out these people and begins to build a relationship with them by reassociating them to UVM in nearly 50 different ways. Increased involvement on the part of the alumni is encouraged through school boards, reunion committees, chairs at the Flemming Museum, and career advisors to students. All of this brings the potential donor closer to the university giving them a strong, and sometimes stronger connection than while they were a student. With the closer connection, they are then able to see Fogel’s leadership first-hand which is something they have not seen in with the past presidents. “These people are seeing the merits in making an investment in the institution’s future,” says deGroot. Establishing this connection is where the office of the development and alumni relations comes in. The department has 75 people on their team who contact 75,000 people annually. They solicit every alumnus who has an address and work on reconnecting them in hopes of one day having them make a donation of any kind.
The Act of Doing
Many of the larger gifts that have been given such as the Rubenstein donation of $15 million was given because of a long term relationship that had been established with UVM many years before Dan Fogel set foot in his office in Waterman. Steve Rubenstein (Class of 1961) is now the chief executive officer of Rubenstein properties and feels the state of Vermont is one of the most pristine states in the country. It should be fitting that such a state should have an institution to help support research and upkeep of such environmental work. Fogel also has a strong desire to make UVM one of the best environmental schools in the country which was a perfect segway to Rubenstein’s generous donation which will go to the soon to be names Rubenstein School of Environmental and Natural Resources. Along with the Rubenstein donation, in 2001 Gordon and Lillie Gund gave a $7.5 million gift which allowed UVM to acquire a new institute and eight professors from the University of Maryland. The money will go to bring the entire Institute of Ecological Economics to become a part of the School of Natural Resources. Gordon is a venture capitalist and investor, owns the Cleveland Cavaliers and had two grandsons graduate from UVM in the 1990’s. When the Gund’s asked the university where their donation would be most helpful, they were directed towards the strength of the university in the natural resources department. While more and more of the gifts that are being given are being directed in a certain direction, more are also coming in as a result of personal earnings instead of inheritance. “The dynamics is changing with intellectual property and personal business,” says deGroot. “While a lot of the money that was being donated used to be inherited it is now being earned. Some of this is because of the dot-com boom that happened a few years ago, but nationwide people are giving more money than they were five to ten years ago.” One of Fogel’s long-term goals is to also increase the university’s endowment from less than $200 million to $1 billion within a decade. This will give UVM the financial strength it needs to climb the ranks of state universities across the country. Past UVM fund raising efforts were not nearly as successful as the current one. In 1987, then president Lattie Coor began the first fund raising campaign which lasted through five presidents and interim presidents until 1993. The campaign reached its goal of $100 million and set the course for future giving to UVM.
Looking Back
Of course UVM hasn’t always had such generous donors. Since being founded in 1791, after only Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and Brown, UVM had no major donations of any kind until 1929. A man by the name of James Wilbur, a wealthy Vermont businessman, believed in the ideals of then president Guy Bailey who served until his death in 1940, and of Ira Allen. Wilbur erected a statue of Allen on the University Green and funded a chapel in his name. In his will, Wilbur left $3 million for future scholarships. As a result of the increasing budget for UVM, the depression, and Guy Bailey’s death, a million-dollar deficit was left for the university. A special session of legislation gave UVM $500,000 under the condition that the university would raise the rest. So, for the first time ever, despite World War II, UVM turned to its alumni for help, and found it. Since then the Wilbur Fund endowment has grown to $15 million and provides scholarships for more than 300 students annually. The fact that people haven’t been giving money in large sums can be seen as a good thing. Fogel’s vision and idealistic financial intentions have brought people out of the proverbial woodwork and back into the UVM community. As a result, whether it be one, five, or ten years down the road, this university will see changes in all the right directions.