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Donations down; ND fares better than peers

Aaron Steiner | Friday, February 13, 2009

While donations to the University “certainly have been affected by the economic downturn,” the University has fared better than most of its peers, Notre Dame’s Vice President for University Relations Lou Nanni said Thursday.

Nanni said his office has seen a measurable impact on fundraising given the current economic situation, which he called “unprecedented in most of our lifetimes.”

In the most recent seven-month period, the University raised slightly over $157 million in cash, pledges and deferred gifts, down almost 90 million from the previous year, which Nanni said was a record year for donations.

“The situation has affected philanthropic giving across the board, and Notre Dame’s not immune to that,” Nanni said.

He emphasized that Notre Dame has fared better than its peers.

“Relative to other schools, we’ve been doing reasonably well,” he said. “We have a very loyal following in alumni, parents and friends. … We’re really, really privileged in terms of the adhesion and loyalty [of donors].”

Nanni called Notre Dame a “preferred charity” for most donors.

But he was cautious about predicting whether the situation would improve or not.

“We’re fairly early into this downturn,” he said. “No one knows how much worse will it get and how much longer will it go.”

A new survey by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education forecasted a 1.7 percent decrease in fundraising this year, making it the second worst in the past 21 years.

Nanni said it’s too early to make comparisons to downturns like those experienced in the 1980s or after Sept. 11, but “all indications” lead him to believe that the current recession will be far worse than either of those.

Nanni said he sees a “combination” of a decline in donors and amounts of individual donations.

Some donors have lost “anywhere between 30 to 50 percent of their net worth,” Nanni said.

“And what is perhaps most difficult … is the uncertainty as to when this economy is going to come back,” he said, which has affected giving.

The University is currently in the middle of the fourth year of its largest capital campaign in its history, the Spirit of Notre Dame campaign. The campaign began in July of 2004 with the goal of raising $1.5 billion.

The University has raised $1.46 billion to date, which is about 97 percent of the goal, with over two years remaining.

Of the $1.46 billion raised, about 70 percent has already been received in cash, he said.

“That’s a very high pledge payment rate for any campaign nationally,” Nanni said, “so that leaves us less vulnerable than other schools.”

Nanni said the timing of the campaign has been particularly advantageous.

“As you recall the economy dipped in 2002, 2003, so our starting point was particularly gratuitous,” he said. Now, nearly all funds have been raised with enough time for the University to meet and exceed the goal, Nanni said.

“We have been very blessed, timing wise,” he said.

“A number of universities announced campaigns this summer,” he said, adding that it would be a “very difficult” time to hold such a campaign.

During the recession, Nanni said that fundraising efforts “focus on the basic fundamentals.”

“This is a time when Notre Dame really focuses on cultivating relationships among prospective donors,” he said.

The University can emphasize the impact that donations have, he said.

“There’s a lot of ways to give to Notre Dame where at the same time people can feel they’re impacting … greater society and it’s needs,” he said.