Purdue hopes huge donation first of many under Daniels

February 19, 2013

Purdue University has high hopes that former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ new role as president and donation pitchman eventually will help double charitable contributions to the school.

That goal was revealed Monday after the school announced a record-breaking gift from an anonymous couple who agreed to include a $65 million gift in their will as an “endorsement for [Daniels’] new leadership role,” said Lisa Calvert, Purdue’s vice president for development.

A decade of discussions with the donors preceded the deal, which Daniels’ new administration sealed in January after he took office at Purdue.

The $65 million will go to the College of Agriculture without restrictions on how the money is spent.

“This gift is a tremendous vote of confidence for all of Purdue and our College of Agriculture,” Daniels said in a prepared statement. “Their generosity will enhance Purdue Agriculture’s ability to educate future generations of food and agriculture leaders and scientists, make the discoveries that improve and save lives, and ensure those discoveries make it into the hands of the people who need them.”

The university announced in June that Daniels would replace France Cordova as president.

Among the challenges he faces in West Lafayette is finding new revenue to plug funding holes left by shrinking state appropriations. Daniels himself cut $180 million from Indiana’s higher education budget to help the state balance its budget.

Calvert said discussions among Purdue administrators began about two years ago on the need to find alternative revenue sources.

“We had a very interesting conversation about the future of higher education and that the funding model was not sustainable for public research universities,” she said. “Philanthropy was designated as the largest [new] revenue stream.”

Ideally, the university will double the amount of donations it receives annually within the next 10 years, Calvert said.

Purdue had its second-best fundraising year in 2012, finishing just shy of $300 million. Its best year was 2003, when it received almost $312 million in gifts.

Calvert said donations are up 6 percent so far this fiscal year, which began July 1.

She credited the gains to the June announcement of Daniels’ appointment.

“We’re seeing our donors respond at all levels,” she said.

Fundraising consultants say Daniels’ political career could be a double-edged sword when it comes to raising contributions.

Daniels is much better-known than most new university presidents, which will establish confidence more quickly. But his political career also created critics, meaning some new donors will be harder to win over and some existing donors might need to be persuaded to continue giving, said Kris Kindelsperger, a senior executive consultant for Johnson Grossnickle Associates in Greenwood, which specializes in philanthropic consulting.

Regardless of his previous office, Daniels and his administration at Purdue will need to communicate the same messages that any university donors want to hear, Kindelsperger said.

“As a general rule,” he said, “at the flagship state university level, people want to see evidence of national and international excellence.”


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