Pacifics money man is about to cash his final check

FUNDRAISING - When it comes to development, it isn't always easy finding green, O'Malley found

Aside from being the public face of private Pacific University, Tim O'Malley faced another, more concrete task as Vice President of University Relations: raising money for the institution.

'My job is essentially to fundraise and enhance investment by alumni, parents, friends, corporations and foundations,' he said.

O'Malley believes the defining achievement of his time at Pacific University was the Heart of Oak comprehensive funding campaign, completed in December 2005, which raised $52 million in a six-year period. The funds will go to campus development, the university's endowment, support for scholarships and students and other programs.

'I would say that was probably the most significant, visual accomplishment of my tenure here,' he says. 'There had been only one campaign at Pacific before that. So, to ramp up the fundraising levels to what we've done is an accomplishment.'

Attaining the level of revenue realized by the Heart of Oak campaign required various modes of fundraising, O'Malley said. 'It's everything from direct-mail solicitation and phone-a-thons all the way up to major gift cultivation and solicitation,' he noted.

Fundraising can be labeled as either an art or a science, he said, depending on the venue. Direct mail, for example, relies heavily on statistical projection: when massive amounts of solicitations are sent out, the national average for positive replies - financial support, in this case - is about two percent.

'It's fairly formulaic,' he says. 'You're either doing better than average or worse than average. That's the science part of it; trying to get some kind of benchmark.'

At the other end of the spectrum, asking for large gifts can be categorized as the artistic side of fundraising. This process involves developing personal bonds and 'matching the interests of prospective donors with the needs of the institution,' O'Malley said. 'You really have to take the time and put in the effort to cultivate a relationship that makes those two things come together.'

Learning more about an individual or foundation is an integral part of major gift solicitation, as are open lines of communication. It involves finding out about the goals of the potential donor and showing them how that mission fits with the objectives of the university, O'Malley said. However, the danger is that the donor will insist on projects that may be irrelevant to the aims of the university. For example, at a previous institution O'Malley worked for, an individual wanted to donate a $240,000 stamp collection. They had to refuse the gift, however, because it didn't make financial sense for the university - the donor required a promise the collection would never be sold, and requested that a portion of it would be placed on permanent display.

'The days when most people would give unrestricted 'take my contribution, do with it whatever you think is best' days are quickly going away. If we're not careful, that can drive institutional priorities,' O'Malley said. 'Institutions are going to have to remain strong. If I don't want to establish a major in underwater basket-weaving, then I ought not to take that million-dollar endowment. Should I take the million dollars and do that major just because I want the money? No, not at all.'

Another fundraising challenge is the high degree of competition for contributions. Pacific University's alumni giving percentage - the ratio of graduates who donate to their alma mater - has hovered between 15 and 18 percent during O'Malley's tenure.

The figures are lower than the national average of 18 to 21 percent, and 'lower than we word would like,' he said. 'I don't think it's necessarily anything Pacific does or doesn't do. It has to do with being relevant to the alumni and making your case for their continued support and involvement stronger than all the other pulls and competition we have.'

Despite such impediments, Pacific University's triumph with the Heart of Oak campaign demonstrates the value of using diverse approaches to fundraising. Among the institution's strong points are its annual giving program, corporate and foundation grants, government funding and deferred giving.

'By firing on all cylinders, we've been able to ramp up our success,' O'Malley said.