Alumni Relations and Development

Michael P. Polsky’s gift to Chicago Booth enables the Michael P. Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to serve as a venture creation engine for the entire University. (Photo by Robert Kozloff)
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The remarkable generosity and commitment of alumni and friends helped the University of Chicago reach the second-highest fundraising total in its history in fiscal year 2013, while the worldwide University community found more ways than ever to stay connected.

An Exceptional Year

If success is judged by the financial bottom line, the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, marked the second best in University fundraising history. From a participation standpoint, it was the most successful year ever.

Alumni and friends made new gifts and pledges adding up to $459.1 million, a total surpassed only by that of fiscal year 2009. That year’s total owed a great deal to the record-setting $300 million gift from David G. Booth, MBA’71; his wife, Suzanne Deal Booth; and their family. In contrast, giving in fiscal year 2013 exemplified the ongoing trend of broader support, with 45,696 donors making 61,337 gifts. Helping to inspire this generosity, trustees pledged $113 million, but ultimately gifts of all sizes from throughout the University community helped to make fiscal year 2013 a historic one for philanthropic support.

In all, nearly 2,000 more donors made gifts than in fiscal year 2012, a sign that a growing number of alumni and friends help power the University’s forward momentum. Gifts under $5 million accounted for 54 percent of fundraising progress. New donors emerged, and longtime donors built on their generous giving records—for example, Karla Scherer, AM’99, pledged an additional $5.5 million to the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture, which she established with a multimillion dollar gift in 2007.

The generosity of alumni and friends extended across the University. Combined gifts to the University of Chicago Medicine and the Division of the Biological Sciences totaled $112.1 million, followed by $58.7 million in gifts to Chicago Booth, $40.8 million to the Law School, and $25.3 million to the Division of the Humanities. Donors also contributed more than $35 million for student financial aid.

Against a backdrop of global recession and a slower-than-hoped-for economic recovery, the University has steadily increased its fundraising progress since fiscal year 2010. Fundraising progress in fiscal year 2013 increased 48 percent from fiscal year 2012 and 67 percent from the average of the previous three fiscal years.

“This exceptional year is a sign of our growing maturation as a development-focused institution,” said Board of Trustees chair Andrew M. Alper, AB’80, MBA’81.

Enhancing Tradition, Building Community

In 2009, the University and alumni leadership began a concerted effort to encourage more alumni and friends to get involved in University activities. The response has been enthusiastic, as growing numbers of people visit campus and attend University-related events worldwide. A total of 10,588 people volunteered for the University last year—an 18 percent increase from the previous year.

The on-campus Volunteer Caucuses, hosted by the Alumni Board of Governors since 2009, have played a crucial role in fostering community. In February 2013 some volunteers who couldn’t travel to Chicago were able to take part in the first Regional Volunteer Caucus, held in Washington, DC. More than 120 of the 150 alumni present were attending their first Volunteer Caucus. Within six months, 79 percent had joined a new University committee or volunteer activity, and two new chapters of affinity groups were born: Washington Life Sciences Alumni and the Washington Alumni Law Society. The success of the Washington, DC, Caucus has inspired another regional caucus, to be in held in San Francisco in 2014.

As the University’s Homecoming tradition grows, more alumni return to Hyde Park each October. In addition to the traditional football game and inter-House competitions, the 2,100 visitors to Homecoming 2012 also attended the first Homecoming Block Party, where event organizers turned 56th Street en route to Stagg Field into a street festival featuring tents for campus organizations, Maroon memorabilia and noisemakers, and food, as well as activities for children. The weekend also featured the 2012 UChicago Athletics Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, where more than 190 alumni, friends, and family gathered to honor eight inductees.

In the spring, thousands of alumni reunited on campus for Alumni Weekend 2013, highlights of which included the 15th-anniversary celebrations of the Human Rights Program and the a cappella group Voices in Your Head, the five-year anniversary of the Office of LGBTQ Student Life, and a farewell celebration for Pierce Tower, which is making way for a new residence complex scheduled to open in 2016. The 72nd annual Alumni Awards Ceremony honored 12 distinguished alumni, including physics Nobel laureate James Cronin, SM’53, PhD’55, who received the Alumni Medal, the highest honor the Alumni Association bestows.

The University continued its successful series of Harper Lectures, given around the world by UChicago faculty on topics from literature to astrophysics. A total of 2,641 alumni, parents, and friends of the University attended 38 lectures during the year.

While 18,675 alumni and friends took part in University events in person, both on and beyond the campus, 91,896 connected virtually via the UChicago Community Online. In addition to hosting the Alumni Directory and publicizing news and events of interest to alumni, the platform hosts sites for regional alumni groups from Los Angeles to the United Kingdom; affinity groups such as the Latino Alumni Network and Military Affinity Group; and College class years, parents, and volunteers.

College Donors Rise to Challenges Again

College alumni once again made annual contributions across the University in record numbers, sustaining the College alumni participation rate of 40 percent. With 1,200 new graduates added to the alumni base each year, this robust participation rate reflects strong support for the College, a vote of confidence that keeps the University among the leading institutions in rate of alumni giving.

Reaching the 40 percent goal reflected not only alumni generosity but also a concerted effort supported by monthly giving campaigns, an army of undergraduates who called thousands of alumni throughout the year to ask for support, and other dedicated volunteers. Class reunion volunteer outreach efforts energized the donor community, especially during Alumni Weekend. After that event, 2,000 more College alumni made gifts during June’s Participation Challenge from University trustees, aimed at sustaining the 40 percent participation rate by the end of the fiscal year. The success of the challenge secured an additional $1 million for the University.

Individual challenges during the year also helped catalyze support for specific programs. Andrew M. Alper’s $2.5 million gift to career programs in the College included a 1:2 match for gifts of $75,000 or more, helping to raise $2.3 million between February and May 2013. A $1.5 million matching gift from trustee Greg Wendt, AB’83, for Odyssey Scholarships in the College generated $1.9 million in new gifts.

To end the year, more than 2,100 College alumni gave in honor of reunions in fiscal year 2013, led by the Class of 1978, which raised more than $3.2 million through its reunion giving campaign. Reunion leadership gifts of $2,500 and above increased by 56 percent from the previous fiscal year.

In a trend that bodes well for the future, young alumni are emerging as the leaders in giving participation. The classes of 2003 to 2013 reached a record-breaking high of 3,513 donors, a 3 percent increase from the fiscal year 2012 total.