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Blood Out of a Turnip

Northwestern University’s new president on fundraising in an economic downturn

By JANE AMMESON
    “People have different philosophies about giving,” says Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University since fall of this year. “Some say you should give until you hurt, but I don’t believe that. I think people should give while it feels good.”
    Even in these troubled economic times, Schapiro, an economist with a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, doesn’t believe that donors should be pushed for money.
    “In my view,” says Schapiro, who served as vice president of planning at the University of Southern California, then president of Williams College, before joining Northwestern this year, “the answer to the question of whether you should press people in a substantial downturn to give, is no. Don’t pressure. The nice thing about a business cycle is that ‘cycle’ implies that it comes around again.”
    Typically Northwestern receives about $250 million a year in donations, a number that Schapiro calls very impressive.
    “Last year we were a little over that amount,” he says. “This year we’re gearing up to be a little under. Our goal this year is $240 million.”
    These large sum donations allow Northwestern to provide tuition and scholarships to students who need help.
    The author of several books, including Keeping College Affordable: Government and Educational Opportunity, Schapiro says that Northwestern is a leader in admitting domestic students regardless of their family’s financial circumstance. It’s a movement that started in colleges and universities back in the 60s, but in the last decade, according to Schapiro, there’s been an explosion in merit aid.
    “Not a lot of institutions can afford it,” he says. “There are about 1,500 to 2,000 for-profit colleges, and only somewhere between 50 to 100 can do so. The rest don’t have the money. Access and affordability are extraordinarily important. You can’t want universities to be bastions of elitism.”
    According to Schapiro, people from lower income levels make their decision whether or not they go to college based on if they can afford it. People in the middle income bracket decide not if, but where they go based upon the college they can afford. Therefore, there’s a large segment of the population who might not be able to afford higher education under certain circumstances. That’s why a university that actively supports admitting lower income students makes a big impact, not only on personal lives, but also helping society.
    As for giving, Schapiro says that it can become addictive.
    “Smaller gifts are important, too,” he says noting that a donor might send a $1,000 check a year for 20 years and then sell their business and send a check for millions.
    There are times when Schapiro turns down donations, too.
    “If you can’t make the donor happy, it’s better to walk away,” he says. “Some of the best fundraising I did was turning down gifts. It isn’t easy, but when it’s not consistent with what the university is doing, it has to be done. I can tell stories about raising money for things I cared about, but I also can tell stories about turning down gifts. You want happy donors when they’re giving and also 10 years down the road. People should feel really good about their philanthropy, and it’s important that the donation fulfills the covenants of the gift and supports the university’s strategic vision.”


Published: December 09, 2009
Issue: Winter 2009 - Annual Philanthropy Guide

Comments

Pam Berns letters
I was about to toss my current issue when the Publishers Letter caught my eye. It nails it - Pam is right on - we need to invest more in NIH. There are two compelling reasons - maintain US leadership in science, and invest in discovering cures that will - ultimately - results in saving hundreds of billions. Cutting NIH budgets, and investment in science and discovery, seriously undermines our global eminence, and the future of our economy. Its hard to understand how Congress (though not, fortunately, Sen Dick Durbin) fails to see this. Thank you for articulating this so well and so consistently!
John Varga MD, Aug-21-2011