School races past capital campaign goal: University of Indianapolis raised $76 million in first-ever comprehensive funding drive

When Michael Ferin took over the University of Indianapolis’ fundraising operations in 1997, he inherited a limp effort ill-equipped to support exponential enrollment growth

“The institution did not have a very strong record of reaching out to the community or keeping in touch with their alumni,” Ferin said. “This place was behind by a number of years.”

No one could say that now. The private college affiliated with the United Methodist Church has just wrapped up a six-year capital campaign that raised $76 million, exceeding the original goal of $50 million.

“The kind of success we had bodes very well for the future of the university,” said trustee Bill Kiesel, a graduate of the university and a senior vice president of Smith Barney in Indianapolis.

Added board Chairwoman Christel DeHaan, co-founder of Resort Condominiums International: “The whole institution got very, very involved in wanting to meet [fund-raising] goals.”

The south-side university, founded in 1902 as Indiana Central, has grown explosively in recent decades. Since 1990, fulltime, undergraduate day student enrollment has jumped 83 percent, to 2,304.

Total enrollment, which includes parttime, evening and graduate students, climbed 63 percent, to 4,324. That includes 550 students enrolled at the Athens, Greece, campus the university purchased in 2004.

In the late 1990s, with the expansion in full gear, Ferin and other university leaders began plotting a fund-raising plan to support that growth. That blossomed into the campaign that’s just wrapped up. It was the school’s first-ever comprehensive campaign.

Back then, annual giving was about $3 million and had been flat for decades. University officials brought in consultants who said a realistic goal for its six-year campaign would be $50 million. After early success, the university extended the campaign by six months, to the end of June of this year, and bumped the target to $65 million, hoping to average $10 million per year.

The $76 million ultimately raised doesn’t even include $15 million that the Lilly Endowment has earmarked for the school’s education center.

Most of the money-$30 million-came from grants from foundations, such as the Lilly Endowment and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Alumni pitched in $26 million and other individuals gave another $15 million. Total giving from the 36 trustees, who fall in both the alumni and other-individual categories, was nearly $20 million.

The largest chunk of donations went to a flexible fund that university officials can tap as needs arise. Such needs might include building maintenance or finding matching funds to secure a grant.

“That’s the ultimate vote of confidence gift where a donor understands the need for flexibility and trusts the university,” Ferin said.

More than $10 million was given to the university’s endowment, which will bump its size to $75 million. Some funds have already been spent to start new academic programs and add buildings.

Trustees gave most of the credit for the campaign’s success to Ferin and his staff, which has grown from 8 to 12 members since Ferin’s arrival. The fund-raising veteran came from Siena Heights University, a small, private Catholic institution in Adrian, Mich.

Last year the university selected a new president, Beverly J. Pitts, who replaced retiring Jerry Israel. Under her leadership, the university is drawing up a five-year strategic plan.

Ferin said his group will get a breather while officials evaluate buildings and campus space. The board is scheduled to review the final version of the strategic plan this month.

Then the quiet phase of the next fundraising campaign will begin, leading to the kickoff of another public campaign in two to three years, Ferin said.

“Donors want their gift to make a difference,” Ferin said. “That’s what we’re selling them-a guarantee that they’re not throwing their money into a mediocre effort. And we are making a difference in a lot of lives.”

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