LSU sets fundraising record with $193M _lowres

F. King Alexander

In the past year, LSU has shattered several major fundraising records — efforts that university leaders say will help the university grow and improve programs — even as state funding remains relatively stagnant.

Faced with the possibility of potentially catastrophic cuts to its state funding when the legislative session started a few months ago, LSU managed to take in $193 million from private donors during the budget year that wrapped up June 30 — more than double its previous fundraising record, set just a year before.

“We had a very big year,” LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander said Monday, shortly after LSU formally released the fundraising figures. “We’d like to continue this momentum and keep building from it.”

LSU got several large-scale gifts from its supporters, including the university’s largest-ever in-kind contribution in the form of geoscience and engineering software valued at $62 million. Other major donations coming into the school included a $40 million anonymous gift split between the academic endowment and the endowment that supports athletic programs, and the largest unrestricted endowed gift in the university’s history — $12 million for the LSU Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College. Alexander estimated that about $20 million of the fundraising haul this year is cash-on-hand that is more fluid, rather than the large-scale in-kind or restricted gifts.

Nationally, universities saw an uptick in fundraising in 2014, though LSU’s appears to be a significant jump, according to an analysis from the Council for Aid to Education. Harvard University had the biggest fundraising year in 2014, reporting $1.16 billion in gifts. But LSU has trailed even other SEC schools, with an endowment of about $330 million when it set out on a new strategic fundraising plan in 2012.

LSU’s previous fundraising record was $93 million total, according to the university.

In the year since, the LSU Foundation — one of the university’s three key fundraising arms — saw its largest fundraising haul, as did the Tiger Athletic Foundation, which provides financial support to the university’s athletic programs. The LSU Alumni Association, a group that mostly works to hold events for graduates and current students, set a record membership — hitting more than 15,000 alumni.

LSU Foundation President and CEO Stephen Moret, who became leader of the foundation near the end of the fundraising year, said it’s key for LSU to give people an opportunity to invest in the university in their own way.

“We envision big gifts like the ones given last year becoming the norm, not the exception,” Moret said. “They enable transformational advancements that, coupled with the collective generosity of other alumni, friends and corporations, bring life to university priorities that would not otherwise be possible.”

Fundraising has emerged as one of Alexander’s top priorities since taking the reins of LSU two years ago. He has frequently noted the previously dismal giving rates and has traveled the state to encourage donations.

“You have to work and ask,” he said. “I believe people are going to give to things they believe in. ... I think we’re as worthy as anybody else to be asking for those resources.”

He said many of the large-scale donations had been in the works for some time, but it’s possible that the threat of deep budget cuts spurred some supporters to open their pocketbooks.

“Fundraising is a funny business. It comes in waves,” Alexander said. “It didn’t hurt us that we had to be very aggressive and really make our case, as we were facing some very dire circumstances.”

Alexander said he’s also pleased that donations seem to be more diverse and not only dedicated to LSU’s athletic programs.

“It’s very nice to see that the concerns are shared on the academic and the athletic side, as well,” he said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.