UK hits $1 billion mark, keeps moving



By Cassidy Herrington

Most would agree $1 billion is an impressive amount for any fundraising effort, but the UK Development Office has hit that goal and has no plans on stopping.

In 2008, the Development Office reached over $1 billion in fundraising as part of the university’s 10-year capital campaign. UK President Lee Todd assigned the office the task of raising scholarships for undergraduates, medical school, law and graduate programs. The majority of donations the office accumulates go toward academic and financial aid scholarships.

D. Michael Richey, vice president for development and chief development officer, is the face of the fundraising efforts.

“It never ends as far as what we’re doing,” Richey said.

There are several campaigns on the horizon, including the Presidential Scholarship Initiative, scheduled to begin in June 2010. The project is number one on Todd’s priority list, Richey said.

The initiative aims to raise $200 million for scholarships, but the idea needs to be tested and verified whether the aim is plausible, said Susannah Denomme, director of development for Institutional Programs and head of the campaign.

“You need to have donors match the numbers, and it’s our job to stretch these goals,” Denomme said. “You want to raise a little more than you think you can.”

Richey said having money set aside for scholarships is vital for the benefit of students on a personal level.

“That tears my heart out … it tears me up when students don’t have enough money,” he said. “We’ve got to have a rescue scholarship or something to help these students as well …”

UK men’s basketball head coach John Calipari is also part of the project as co-chair of the Presidential Scholarship Initiative, and the ESPN College GameDay event will be the first massive, televised opportunity to promote the campaign.

“It’s not about just going out and raising money, it’s trying to help this university, the students and the faculty get better and have success,” Richey said.

Another massive project headed by the office is the increase of the university’s endowment.  Currently, UK’s endowment is about $819 million, whereas the average endowment for a top-20 research institution is slightly over $1 billion.

“This office is a key part of the top-20 strategy because when Dr. Todd made the appeal to the legislature to fund our ascent to top 20, he knew we needed to do a certain percentage of that ourselves,” Denomme said.

Richey said the most important element to the process is connecting with donors.

“We have to use the art of development, which is relationship building,” Richey said. “… people give nothing to people they do not know or like.”

In the last campaign, gift officers made 41,000 face-to-face visits with alumni and donors connected to the university.  The effort resulted in 131,000 gifts, Richey said.

Phone-a-thons, another important facet in fundraising, have stayed strong, even through the economic downturn. The numbers for this year are up more than 10 percent, Denomme said.

Looking ahead, the development office is preparing for several more campaigns directed toward scholarships.  A recent and growing focus for scholarships is travel funds for increased opportunities for students to study abroad, Richey said.

For now the focus is clear. The office is maintaining relationships with donors to support the two endeavors of the near future: the Presidential Scholarship Initiative and the progression toward a top-20 endowment.

“We’re pushing the noodle up the mountain with our nose on this one,” Richey said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”