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Advancement Committee addresses campaigns, programming to attract donors

Fundraising involves donor engagement, significant projects

The Board of Visitors’ Advancement Committee met Thursday in the Rotunda board room to discuss the upcoming bicentennial celebration, planning a fundraising campaign and how the Data Science Institute’s recent efforts in health data analysis can attract donors.

University President Teresa Sullivan updated the board on the bicentennial celebration planned for next year. The Bicentennial Commission will meet Oct. 6, Sullivan said.

“Celebrating the past 200 years is an important part of what we’re going to do, but we also intend to set forth aspirations for the next 100 years,” she said. “The bicentennial gives us an opportunity to contact, unify, connect and inspire the global U.Va. community.”

Students will also have the chance to get involved in planning the bicentennial celebrations. The board will cater mostly to underclassmen still attending the University when the bicentennial takes place.

“We anticipate that there will be lots of other activities — big and small — both on Grounds and off Grounds,” Sullivan said. “It’s a big undertaking, but I think there will be a lot of enthusiasm for it.”

John Glier, the president and CEO of philanthropic management consulting company Grenzebach Glier and Associates, presented to the committee on how to attract and sustain donors through campaigns. In his presentation, he said an active fundraising campaign can have a threefold impact on donations.

“We believe [campaigns] really do precipitate focus and often provoke us to clearly define institutional imperatives at every level and drive great philanthropy,” Glier said. “They galvanize donor interest.”

Glier also emphasized the need to actively engage with donors regularly to sustain continuing relationships. Donors need to trust the central leadership — in the University’s case, the Board of Visitors, Glier said.

“We believe engagement with donors, and a hyper engagement of donors, drives a great deal of what happens with gifts,” Glier said. “We believe institutional leadership that inspires trust is at the center of these kinds of campaigns.”

Board member James Reyes asked Glier how much of the money donated to universities often is directed towards specific projects, versus money donated without any specific purpose in mind. Glier said a very small percentage of money donated is given without a purpose in mind.

“In terms of unrestricted giving, it’s probably 4 percent or less of all the dollars contributed,” he said. “Most big gifts come in response to large acts.”

Rector William Goodwin raised a concern regarding the University’s recent efforts to fix infrastructure and buildings on Grounds. Because the University does not have the magnitude of need it has previously had regarding infrastructure, Goodwin said donors may be less willing to give to the University.

“More than ever before, we have got to have plans for things that we can use donations for that are understandable, believable and sincere,” he said. “I’m not sure that we’ve got that prepared.”

Engineering Prof. Don Brown, who also works as the director of the Data Science Institute, presented to the committee about advancements made by the institute. Citing the institute’s data analytics and commitment to community health, Brown said the institute is in a leading position in healthcare and medicine.

“Our distinctive interdisciplinary approach, which builds on fundamentals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, has given us a real competitive advantage,” Brown said. “It has the potential to revolutionize and change how we conduct healthcare in America.”

Another significant advancement by the Data Science Institute was the development of virtual imaging. Brown said this kind of technology would allow healthcare providers to test treatments to ensure patient safety.

“This framework allows us to test new treatments without endangering the patient,” Brown said.

The advancements made by the Data Science Institute could attract donors who, although unrelated to the University, may give money based on the scientific work done by the organization, Advancement Committee Chair John Griffin said.

“We can identify donors who have an interest in this, who aren’t affiliated to U.Va.,” Griffin said. “They can play a much bigger role in this because we’re ahead, but it's such a burgeoning industry.”