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May 7, 2009

Nearly 900 faculty, staff, retirees create endowments to support students

News and Information

Alvin Kwiram calls it a story of perseverance. Connie Kravas calls it a surprising success. Whatever it’s called, the UW now has added more than $13 million over the past 3 1/2 years to scholarships, fellowships and other endowed support for students.

The Faculty-Staff-Retiree Campaign for students, recently concluded, created 125 new scholarships, 320 graduate student fellowships, 59 professional student scholarships and 362 commitments to other funds that support students. Actual gifts and pledges totaled over $6.8 million, with institutional matching about $6.2 million. Nearly 900 individuals created endowments averaging over $15,000 including the gifts and matches.

The final report on the campaign doesn’t include unmatched gifts or pledges made by friends, family, and colleagues to these funds, so the circle of support and its impact are far, far greater than the report depicts.

Kwiram, who had served as the UW vice provost for research, presented his idea to create the campaign to Kravas, vice president for university advancement, shortly after stepping down from his administrative post. Since the mid-1990s he had been trying to drum up interest in a graduate fellowship program, but it had not yet generated a critical mass of institutional backing.

In 2004, Kwiram was asked to serve on the committee that advised the Graduate School on private fundraising opportunities, and a year later as co-chair pitched his idea to Kravas with the endorsement of the Graduate School. “Connie was immediately enthusiastic about the idea and set her staff to work,” Kwiram recalls.

The plan evolved and was finally launched in May 2005 as the Faculty-Staff-Retiree Campaign for Students. Its scope was expanded and its incentives were strengthened. The program as adopted would potentially benefit any graduate or professional student, as well as undergraduates. The typical minimum donation of $25,000 for creating an endowed fund was lowered to $10,000 to broaden the pool of potential donors. And crucially, the Office of the President agreed to provide matching funds for donations to the campaign of between $5,000 and $10,000.

Another key element of the plan was to allow donations to come not just from faculty, as in Kwiram’s original proposal, but from staff and retirees as well. Kwiram admits that he didn’t foresee the outpouring of support for students that came from members of the staff. He considers this one of the most inspiring aspects of the program.

“I totally missed this and Connie got it right,” he says. The final count shows that 141 endowments were created by UW staff. “In hindsight, that makes sense,” Kwiram adds, “given that many of them spend their entire careers at the UW, are as committed as faculty to the UW cause, may have had fellowships themselves, may have had teachers at the UW they admired. They have been outstanding in their support of this program.”

When it came to setting a goal for this campaign, Kwiram argued for setting an ambitious $10 million target. Kravas agreed, with some misgivings: ” “When Alvin had the gumption to propose that we should set a goal of $10 million [including the match],” she said, “I quietly thought, ‘I sure hate to disappoint my great colleague’…..meaning that, I thought this goal was very ambitious since we had no precedent for embarking on this kind of campaign, and our time was relatively short.”

Managing a large number of small endowments posed some information management challenges, says Walt Dryfoos, associate vice president for advancement services. “Even defining who is eligible for matching funds is not always straightforward. The definition of who is a faculty member can be tricky.” Then there was the work that went into allowing payroll deductions for individuals who had made pledges.

Growth in contributions started slowly but finished with a flurry. About one-third of all donations occurred in the final six weeks of the campaign, which concluded in December 2008.

For this campaign, the sales pitch was obvious: Faculty, staff, and retirees could create an endowed fund for students which would honor a colleague, a mentor, or even themselves. “It just seems like a nice way to give back a small portion of the good fortune we have enjoyed, thanks to those who made education possible for us,” Kwiram says. “It is possible that this campaign is unique in higher education for its grass-roots approach to tapping employee dedication that supports students.”

To learn about one example of a gift given by retired staff, click here to read our story about the Service Employees Opportunity Scholarship Fund.