University unveils $1 billion, five-year campaign
The ambitious Campaign for Boston University will go a long way to defining BU’s future. It’ll also have a positive impact on today’s students.
By Rich Barlow. Video by Alan Wong
Why, after 173 years, is Boston University mounting its first comprehensive fundraising campaign? And why the daunting target of $1 billion, a figure that no school has ever aimed for in a first campaign?
Campaign Chair Kenneth Feld (SMG’70) says he hears the answer every time he travels. “BU is now at a stage where it is breaking through,” says BU Trustee Feld, whose family business—Feld Entertainment—owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® and Disney On Ice, among other properties. “The level of fame that has come to BU internationally is extraordinary. This is the absolute right time.”
President Robert A. Brown offers a similar response: the BU community is ready. “The Board of Trustees voted in April 2010 to authorize us to explore the feasibility of a billion-dollar campaign,” says Brown. “It has become clear that our alumni and other friends are prepared to support this ambitious effort, so we are moving forward. Nothing will be more important for the future of the University than our success.”
And while the Campaign for Boston University had its official launch in September 2012 at Agganis Arena, where the Boston Pops Orchestra and other performers entertained alumni, students, parents, and guests, the groundwork was put in place shortly after Brown took office seven years ago, when he set administrators to work on a strategic plan that would describe their vision for the University. The document that emerged, Choosing To Be Great, took stock of the University’s strengths—renowned faculty, an increasingly gifted student body, healthy finances, and its international students and programs. It also identified priorities that would enhance and nurture those strengths, with the understanding that realizing those priorities would necessitate changes in the University’s funding strategy. At the same time, a disciplined budgeting process—long a BU strength—would be critical. “A vision without a budget,” Brown likes to say, “is a hallucination.”
Because BU does not have the hefty endowment that substantially supports the operating budgets of some peer institutions, the University can count on endowment income for only approximately 4 percent of its operating budget, and on fundraising income for another 5 percent. (These figures are half of what many other private universities of comparable quality, scale, and scope depend on.) And although “this distinctive business model has helped build a great university,” according to Scott Nichols, senior vice president for development and alumni relations, “it’s high time for philanthropy to play a larger role.”
For example, Boston University currently gets 53 percent of the money it needs for buildings through borrowing, with just 6 percent coming from gifts and grants. The President and Trustees hope to substantially shift this balance, says Nichols, so that in the future, 50 percent can come from gifts and just 20 percent from borrowing.
Nichols says that without a major fundraising effort, an even greater burden will have to be placed on tuition, which is something that neither Brown nor the Trustees are willing to accept. This commitment is among the many reasons BU Trustees and Overseers have personally stepped up and pledged $130 million collectively to kick-start a campaign with a $1 billion goal.
While the campaign officially opened this fall, an unofficial “quiet” period began about two years ago, and it has yielded some impressive results. They include $25 million from Trustee Rajen Kilachand (GSM’74), the largest gift in BU history, to endow the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College, and $15 million from Trustee Bahaa Hariri (SMG’90), for the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering.
Campaign for Boston University gifts have also made possible the new School of Medicine student residence, the expansion and renovation of the School of Law, and the New Balance athletic field. They fund important professorships, such as the Peter Paul Professorships for junior faculty, given by Trustee Peter Paul (GSM’71), and a $1 million gift for the Reidy Family Career Development Professorship at the College of Engineering from Trustee Richard Reidy (SMG’82). For the past two years and through to the 2017 campaign finale, Trustee Richard Cohen (CGS’67, SMG’69) has pledged $300,000 a year to help send 15 undergraduate students to BU.
One distinctive feature of the campaign is the Century Challenge, an innovative program aimed at raising support for undergraduate scholarships. The proposition works like this: if a donor contributes $100,000 or more to establish an endowed undergraduate scholarship fund, the University will use funds from its existing financial aid budget to match the payout from that fund every year for 100 years (up to a maximum of $100 million). In effect, this will double the impact of the donor’s named gift.
Where Will the $1 Billion Go?
The campaign’s overall objectives are to allocate $150 million for support for students to ensure that BU remains accessible to highly qualified candidates, and $200 million for support for faculty to help recruit and retain outstanding scholars and teachers. The University has vowed to continue its program of gradually raising faculty salaries to competitive levels; a related goal is to increase the number of endowed professorships. The campaign’s goals also include $250 million to support research; $150 million to maintain and improve facilities; $150 million for special programs such as career services, libraries, and athletics; and $100 million for unrestricted and current-use gifts.
Parents, in particular, have a tradition of making immediate-impact gifts, says Jeanne Knox, chairman of the Parents Leadership Council and mother of Merrill (COM’06) and Bobby (CGS’08, SAR’10, SPH’12). The campaign, she adds, gives parents the chance to make a gift that will help current students—and create a legacy that will endure long after their own children have graduated.
“My children have benefited greatly from their BU experiences, which is one of the many reasons my husband, Bob, and I are so dedicated to the future success of the institution,” says Knox. “By participating in the campaign, and particularly in the Century Challenge, parents have the opportunity to improve their child’s college experience while also providing for future generations of BU students.”
And, according to Nichols, the broader choices that must be made during the campaign—which schools get how much money, which buildings get built, which professorships get funded, which programs get expanded, and so on—will go a long way toward defining the future of the University.
Which is why, he says, everyone needs to play their part. “Every contribution will be important.”
A version of this article originally appeared in BU Today. Additional reporting contributed by Andrew Thurston.