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Amy Dalrymple, Published January 04 2009

University giving strong despite hesitant donors

Donations to area universities are on pace or ahead of 2007, despite the downturn in the economy.

But major donors are more hesitant to commit big gifts now that their stock portfolios have taken a hit.

And university endowments lost up to 30 percent of market value in 2008, leaving schools looking for other sources to make up for the dollars they would have earned in interest.

“We’re neither immune, nor are we unaffected by what has transpired this year,” said Tim O’Keefe, executive director of the University of North Dakota Alumni Association and Foundation.

Final figures for 2008 are not available yet because universities and their private foundations get flooded with donations at the end of the tax year.

For most schools, the fiscal year ends June 30.

The foundations at North Dakota State University and UND are ahead of last fiscal year at this time in terms of dollars collected and the number of donors.

For example, the NDSU Development Foundation collected $3.98 million through the end of November, compared to the $3.74 million that was collected at the end of November 2007.

Some major donors are holding off making donations or are spreading out their gifts over a longer timeline.

“There is some hesitation to make large commitments at this time,” said Jim Miller, executive director of the NDSU Development Foundation. “They’re not saying they won’t, they’re just being rather guarded.”

At Minnesota State University Moorhead, fundraisers have heard comments that people can’t give as much, but the foundation has received slightly more pledges than it did last fiscal year.

“We aren’t seeing a big impact yet,” said Joan Justesen, vice president of the MSUM Alumni Foundation.

In some cases, the economy has encouraged donors to make contributions, said Eric Johnson, Concordia College’s vice president for advancement.

One donor said making a gift now during these difficult times seemed more important than ever, Johnson said.

Concordia received more than 3,000 individual gifts in December, and is on track to meet or exceed a record that was set in December 2007, Johnson said.

But the total dollar amount is less than a year ago, he said.

Johnson attributes that to the fact that Concordia is not in a capital campaign right now, in addition to the economy.

Nationally, people are being more careful before they make donations, said Mark Marshall, a Minneapolis consultant who’s been assisting MSUM with fundraising.

“Just like people’s shopping habits, they’re becoming much more cautious because they’re unsure what’s going to happen next,” said Marshall, a managing associate with the firm Blentz Whaley Flessner.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590