Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass’ endowment, Part III: Inside the UMass Development Office

By Sam Butterfield

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Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in a series about the University of Massachusetts’ finances and changes to the University’s endowment and assets since the start of America’s recession. In this series, the Collegian will investigate where UMass’ funds come from, how they are managed and how they are then invested into the five campuses of the University system.


Most donations to the University of Massachusetts go immediately into the school’s Current Fund.


The Current Fund is the pool of gifts to the University available for use in the current fiscal year.


Donations are coordinated by the University’s Development Office, which works hands-on with potential donors to establish gifts to aid a variety of the school’s needs.


Gifts to the Current Fund are immediately deposited into the account of the department for which they are specified, with fundraising officers working with friends of the University in each department and school.


While a majority of the income the Current Fund receives comes from foundations and corporations with interest in the departments to which they donate, the University has had gifts bestowed upon it by some 30,000 individual donors during the last fiscal year, according to Vice Chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations Mike Leto.


“In the second half of FY2009 there were about 16,000 donors,” said Leto, “that would mean there would be in excess of 30,000 donors, including alumni, friends of the University, corporations and other sources.”


In terms of the distribution of gifts to the University, Leto called the blend “a big mix.”


The most funding “is probably on the foundation side,” he said, furthering that “private foundations and corporations are the biggest donors.”


The average gift among those 30,000 donors as of Dec. 31, Leto said, was around $455.


Leto said the Development Office attempts to attract potential donors by describing their needs, often seeking alumni and others who have benefitted from a particular department.


“Often times it’s us reaching out to donors and identifying a particular need to them and convincing them why we have that need and how they can help,” he said.


While Leto said that donations were down last year, he added that as of the end of Jan., gifts to UMass were up 23 percent from the same time last year.


He attributed this increase to several factors.


“I see that people think greater private investment in the University is needed,” he said. “Students have increasing need, some of that increase is for student scholarship support, and people are also feeling a little less apprehensive about their own finances.”


He added that he believes the Development Office is “being more effective in making the case of supporting public higher education’s importance.”


While donations are up this year, Leto said the school could still improve showcasing the need for superior public higher education in Massachusetts.


“I think we need to do a better job in really demonstrating the value of public higher education in the state,” he said. “If you look at the number of citizens that are educated in our public institutions, you’ll see how important public higher education is.”


To keep levels escalating, Leto said the Development Office must keep in touch with the University’s graduates and the Commonwealth’s citizens.


“We need to stay engaged with our alum, we need to let our citizens know the valuable contributions we’re making, we need to let them know how we’re excelling,” he said.


Tom Navin, Director of Annual Giving Programs, said that while last year was a rough one for fundraising, the Development Office is striving to increase awareness and enthusiasm among the University’s alumni base to give back.


“Obviously when the economy is troubled, it’s a lot more difficult to raise donations,” he said.


“We’re doing everything we can to reach out more to alumni and show them not only what kind of impact they can have by investing back in their alma mater but making sure they can provide the type of opportunities they were able to have,” he said.


Navin said he feels that often alumni have a misconception that state schools do not need private backing.


“We’re often combating the impression that the state takes care of everything,” he said.


Janet Muzzy, the Director of Stewardship at the Development Office, coordinates establishing scholarships.


“If a fundraiser [in a department] already has a donation with a donor, and that donor wants to create a scholarship, that conversation happens here,” she said.


Muzzy said the benefit of gifts to the Current Fund is that “it is immediate,” adding that she believes the school’s benefactors “are very sensitive to what students are going through in terms of a low yield on the endowment, and a lot of people have stepped up to come up with new current funds or supplemental funds to make up for what was lost in the endowment.”


Muzzy detailed one particular way donors have compensated for what was lost in the recession.


“Say a scholarship is for $1000,” she posited, “the payout for this fiscal year was much lower, and many of them [donors] supplemented it to bring it back to what the fund had been able to give out.”


Investments of more than $27,500 become endowments and are handled by the University of Massachusetts Foundation in Boston. The Development Office at UMass still works with donors to solicit these gifts, but once a gift agreement is made, the funds are turned over to the Foundation, which invests the endowment in the stock market. From there, the endowment’s proceeds are returned to the area of the University for which they are specified on an annual basis at an agreed upon spending rate, typically between four and six percent.


Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]

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