Wright hopes to complete capital campaign by June 2009

by Amita Kulkarni | 9/24/08 3:24am

Though the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience -- a seven-year capital campaign that aims to raise $1.3 billion by the end of 2009 -- is set to conclude after College President James Wright steps down next June, the ambitious fundraising endeavor will likely be regarded as one of Wright's greatest achievements during his tenure.

"When I became president 10 years ago, I knew that certainly one of my responsibilities would be to establish another capital campaign," Wright said. He acknowledged that the $1.3 billion target would not cover all the current needs of the College and its students, but noted that the goal has been made attainable by the generosity of alumni and friends of the College.

"[The campaign] is a wonderful story of how Dartmouth graduates have stepped forward," Wright said. "Sixty-seven percent of all Dartmouth alumni have participated in the overall campaign."

The campaign, which was officially launched in November 2004, is based on a plan Wright devised in 2001 and focuses on four strategic imperatives -- academic operations, residential and campus life, financial aid and annual giving.

More than half of the total $1.3 billion dollar target -- $711 million -- will support academic enterprise, which includes improving facilities and equipment, and increasing faculty retention and professorships for undergraduate and graduate programs. Additionally, there are plans to allocate $185 million towards residential and campus life, $166 million for improving financial aid packages and $244 million for annual giving, which encompasses the Dartmouth College Fund.

According to Carolyn Pelzel, Dartmouth's vice president for development, the goals of the campaign were designed to enable Wright to achieve many of his goals during his tenure. She added that each of Wright's goals have been given equal importance throughout the campaign.

"Typically in these big campaigns, some things fall short," Pelzel said. "Some donors are interested in some priorities more than others. My goal is to see if we can get to 100 percent with each and every priority."

The campaign commenced with a quiet phase in 2002, which allowed the College to test fundraising strategies with potential donors, and achieved 35 percent of its target goal in the first two years, raising $457.5 million in gifts by November 2004, when the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience was officially launched.

The campaign has received steady contributions since 2004, reaching its halfway point -- $744.2 million -- in fall 2006.

"I think we're right on track, right where we expected and hoped to be at this stage of the campaign. We've accomplished a lot," Brad Evans '98, a campaign co-chair, said in an interview with The Dartmouth in late September 2006. He added that the campaign must raise $14 million each month to meet its December 2009 goal. Pelzel said that, at the halfway mark, the campaign had hoped to receive a single gift of, or exceeding, $100 million, adding that all of the other Ivy League institutions had already reached that accomplishment. The College has yet to receive such a gift, but the campaign reached $1.1 billion on schedule in June 2008.

As the campaign gets closer to completion, its effects are already visible on campus. Pelzel noted that 18 new facilities will have been created within the context of the seven-year campaign.

According to Wright, the College has exceeded 10-percent growth with the expansion of facilities including Haldeman, Berry, Kemeny and Carson halls, and residential buildings like the McLaughlin and Fahey-McLane residence clusters. Wright also noted that renovations at the Tuck School of Business, Thayer Engineering School and on the College's athletic facilities have been made possible by the campaign.

Most importantly, Wright said, the campaign allowed for recent changes in the College's financial aid policy, announced in January 2008. These changes, according to Wright, will make Dartmouth more financially accessible to students. Although he conceded that these financial aid improvements will not come close to helping every student, he said he continues to be impressed at how young alumni have contributed to raising money for financial aid, citing the recently graduated Class of 2008 for its record-breaking 92.5 percent participation in the annual college fund drive.

Increased faculty, reduced class sizes and a lower students-to-faculty ratio have all been made possible by the capital campaign, Wright acknowledged.

Pelzel said that the Association of Alumni lawsuit likely played a role in decreased participation in annual giving this past year, although she said overall fundraising went up.

Wright stressed that Dartmouth in the long run cannot sustain programs if alumni are angry and divided.

"While I don't think [the lawsuit] had any significant effect, I don't want to minimize its impact. The debate over governance has been emotional. I have a lot of good alum friends who disagreed with the lawsuit," Wright said. "There were graduates who did not support the College last year because they were upset with the suit.

With 16 months left to achieve the last portion of the $1.3 billion target goal, the tumultuous state of the U.S. economy is certain to make fund raising more difficult, Wright and Pelzel said. They noted, however, that the campaign began during an economic downturn, and said organizers are prepared to aggressively push ahead.

"There are many people who want to make [the campaign] successful, and if you look at its progress, it is currently ahead of schedule," Pelzel said. "Based on that and number of people who care for the College, we are clearly going to make it."

Wright added that while it is not an ideal moment for a fundraising campaign, he is confident in the campaign's strength and intends to be fully engaged and committed to the cause.

Wright has been an active figure in the campaign, meeting with groups of alumni and potential donors throughout the United States and abroad. Pelzel, who called Wright "the leader of the campaign," said Wright has been an asset specifically in articulating campaign goals and explaining how the money raised will be invested. Alumni have been invited to speak with Wright about his vision for the College, which Pelzel said has been helpful in changing the minds of some alumni who may have been hesitant about donating to the College.

"He has been on road tirelessly since it began in 2002," she said. "He has made the case for the campaign, and for the College."

As Wright begins his final year as president of the College, he aims to reach $1.3 billion before he steps down on June 30, Pelzel said. She added that while this is an ambitious goal, campaign organizers are ready to work hard to help Wright.

Aside from the failing state of the economy, Wright and Pelzel do not foresee many other roadblocks that could hamper reaching the final goal.

In the coming year, construction is slated to begin on the Class of 1978 Life Sciences building and the new visual arts center, Pelzel said. Wright added that the campaign has not yet received the same level of support for projects in the libraries and the Hood Museum, compared to other campaign initiatives.

"There are lots of demands on alumni and friends to donate to many causes," Wright said. "We keep emphasizing, there needs to be a Dartmouth -- the finest undergraduate experience in country -- to provide students with the mean and drive to become leaders of the next generation. We continue to affirm that we have a responsibility for our fellow citizens, for our environment, and we do an exceptional job of demonstrating the benefits of Dartmouth experience."

The last capital campaign, "Will to Excel," was a five-year initiative led by President James O. Freedman, which raised over $500 million between 1991 and 1996.