With capital campaign, U. looks to future

Currently in a developmental phase that involves finalizing priorities, canvassing potential large donors and developing a staff, the University’s next capital campaign — expected to finance many of the goals outlined in President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan — will kick off within the next year and a half, Paxson said.

The campaign, intended to build upon former President Ruth Simmons’ seven-year Boldly Brown endeavor, is “within striking distance” of raising $200 million, the goal for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, said Patricia Watson, senior vice president for University advancement.

Paxson and members of the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, will set an exact fundraising target at the end of this developmental phase, Watson said.

Though Paxson said the priorities for the upcoming campaign are mostly in place, how much money it can be expected to raise remains up in the air — to an extent, the campaign’s goals will depend on how successful administrators and staff members are at early-round fundraising, Watson said.

Boldly Brown, which set an all-time University record, brought in $1.6 billion.

In an interview with The Herald, Paxson outlined financial aid, investments in graduate programs and hiring more faculty members as three main campaign priorities.

These aims were emphasized in Simmons’ campaign but have room for expansion and further funding, said Craig Heimark ’76 P’11 P’14 P’17, a member of Paxson’s Presidential Leadership Council, which is an advisory group of alums meant to offer Paxson an “interested outsider’s perspective.”

Much as the execution of Simmons’ signature Plan for Academic Enrichment and Boldly Brown campaign shaped her legacy, the coming capital campaign holds the potential to color the imprint Paxson leaves on Brown — though the extent to which it could remains unclear.

‘Building on Distinction’

The coming campaign, meant to fund initiatives outlined in Paxson’s recently approved strategic plan “Building on Distinction,” represents an effort to build on endeavors started during Simmons’ tenure.

The PAE and Boldly Brown, which funded it, was “more about breadth,” Heimark said. “Essentially we just needed more faculty.”

Paxson is instead putting more attention “on specific interdisciplinary investments,” he said.

But Simmons’ efforts were integral in providing a foundation for Paxson’s priorities, he said.

“If we hadn’t made the investments in our breadth, we couldn’t take this next step,” he added.

Though financial aid, faculty appointments and graduate programs will be the top fundraising priorities, Paxson did not pinpoint a cornerstone goal for the campaign.

Beyond these investments, campaign priorities will likely include improvements in athletics and campus life, Paxson said.

In recruiting donors, the University will emphasize “a culture of exploration and one of interdisciplinary collaboration,” Heimark said. “Because those are the themes that are attracting people to Brown, I think those are also the themes that are resonating with alumni and will move them to donate.”

A successful capital campaign offers donors the opportunity to envision what a university could be with their help, rather than having administrators provide a vision of what they imagine donors would like best, said higher education expert Stephen Nelson, a professor at the Bridgewater State University and senior scholar in the Leadership Alliance at Brown.

Campaign strategy

In anticipation of the broader campaign, advancement staffers have started using existing fundraising mechanisms in an effort to generate enthusiasm for donating.

The Brown Annual Fund — which contributed 15 percent of the total funds raised by Boldly Brown — plays a key role in energizing donors prior to a campaign’s public phase, said Tammie Ruda, executive director of annual giving. The fund supports programs such as financial aid, graduate school programming, seed funding for faculty research and undergraduate and teaching research awards.

The upcoming campaign will be “comprehensive,” Ruda said, meaning donors will be asked to contribute to the annual fund in addition to long-term priorities like creating an endowed chair.

Personal anecdotes and stories can be an effective means to motivate donors. Upon hearing stories, donors often identify with the campaign’s goals, said Daniel Pipkin ’14, a chair of the senior gift committee, a student-led fundraising initiative within the annual fund. The initiative has already met its stated goal of $25,000.

Peer-to-peer conversations, like those that support the senior gift, are essential to strengthening relationships between a donor and the University, Ruda said.

In these more intimate conversations, donors “realize how the annual fund has personally impacted (their) experience,” said Teal Butterworth, assistant director for student and recent graduate programs.

But when contacting older, often wealthier potential donors, conversations can take a different turn.

“You’re talking to them about the University’s mission and their personal mission and how they intersect,” Ruda said.

Nelson said controversies faced by Paxson’s administration — such as last October’s Ray Kelly protest and, more recently, sexual assault policy — will have “highly marginal” effects on the campaign, if they do factor in at all.

Legacy at stake?

University presidencies are now “defined and shaped by the campaign, and if the campaign doesn’t reach its goal they’ll be seen as a failure,” Nelson said. But he criticized such a judgment, saying that evaluating an entire presidency based on the results of a capital campaign is unfair and unfortunate.

“The president clearly matters, but it’s a huge team effort,” he said, adding that “you would like to think that these presidents — regardless of the money — would be evaluated at least in part by some other markers.”

As far as fundraising goes, “there’s an assumption that everything comes to a standstill, everything stops when a new president comes in,” Watson said, but “that hasn’t been the case at all.”