Chicago Initiative fundraising approaches $2 billion goal

By Jen Glickel

The Chicago Initiative, the University’s fundraising campaign, is approaching its $2 billion goal, with $1.48 billion raised so far. The campaign, which launched in the spring of 2002, was primarily created in an effort to boost large-scale donations, an area where the University has traditionally lagged compared to peer institutions.

The core focus of the Chicago Initiative is investment in the U of C’s human capital by concentrating on three main goals: sustaining faculty support for the University’s scholars and professors, adding to the pools for financial aid and scholarships, and working to connect the University more effectively with the Hyde Park community.

With the goal of reaching $2 billion by June 30, 2008, the Initiative is focused on attracting donors with ample financial resources.

“There is a renewed and deepened focus on principal gift fundraising, as President Randel and Vice President Schiller have discussed,” said Initiative Chairman Andy Alper (A.B. ’80, M.B.A. ’81), who is also the vice-chair of the Board of Trustees. “These gifts of $5 million or more often take years of discussion, but there are more than 30 such conversations underway at this time.”

Principal donations have increased lately, with a $25 million gift arriving on February 10 from Jules and Gwen Knapp for the construction of a 10-story medical research facility. On January 25, Gary and Frances Comer made history by donating the single largest gift ever presented to the U of C: $42 million for the creation of the Comer Center for Children and Specialty Care, which administrators hope will be a major step forward in children’s health care.

The Chicago Initiative is also aimed at alumni donations on a more general level. The University of Chicago’s current alumni giving rate is 29 percent, which ranks it 27th among universities in the most recent U.S. News and World Report college rankings. Princeton University leads the pack with a 61 percent giving rate, and other peer institutions at the top end of the list include Harvard University, Yale University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

U of C alumni have contributed over $548 million to the Chicago Initiative, according to Randy Holgate, the senior vice president for university resources.

“We are working to engage as many people as donors as we can,” Holgate said. “We are also reaching out to other friends of the University who are not alumni but who have an appreciation for the quality of students, faculty, and programs here. These friends have given $437 million of the total to date.”

Holgate added that about 95,000 donors, including individuals, foundations, and corporations, have made gifts to the Initiative so far.

But the campaign to increase U of C donations starts even before graduation, with the Senior Class Gift. Alumnus John Fyfe (A.B.’68) has agreed to donate $25,000 if half of the class of 2006 contributes to the Senior Class Gift.

“Enthusiasm is high—seniors are generally supportive, especially when they hear that participation is the goal, and that our class can bring in $25,000 to the College through the matching gift,” said Ben Walsh, fourth-year in the College and co-chair of the Senior Class Gift Committee.

“The function of the Senior Class Gift is to provide a way for our class to thank those who have given to make our experience here as great as it is and to make people aware that alumni giving has a huge impact on the life of the University,” Walsh added.