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An interview with Barbara Stowe on fundraising

Cash gifts to MIT in the current fiscal year starting July 1 were $79.4 million as of January 17, a 73 percent increase over the same period the year before. This continues an exceptional increase in gift-giving in the years following the end of the Campaign for the future in 1992. Tech Talk asked Barbara G. Stowe, vice president for resource development, why the rise in giving occurred and how her office plans to sustain the trend.

Tech Talk: Why have you been so successful this year?

Stowe: Our success this year reflects both a legacy from our past and a momentum-still building-from the efforts of senior officers, faculty, volunteers and staff over the past couple of years. This year has brought a significant increase in the number of bequests and gifts from MIT alumni and, certainly, the strength of the stock market in recent months has influenced our gift totals, both from individuals and from private foundations.

Tech Talk: How many people are involved in our fundraising?

Stowe: Like all major research universities, private and public, we have a large fundraising staff. There are about 130 people on the Resource Development staff, including the Industrial Liaison Program, working to generate private support from corporations, foundations and individuals. At the conclusion of the Campaign for the Future we decided, after careful consideration, to keep our staffing levels about the same while continuing to work together better and more efficiently in a reengineered environment. Since our gifts have continued to increase from campaign levels-last year MIT received $131 million in cash and new pledges, and this year should be even better-it's a decision that has paid off.

Tech Talk: Why do we need such an effort?

Stowe: With their philanthropy, people like Alfred P. Sloan, George Eastman, Katherine Dexter McCormick, and Cecil and Ida Green have transformed and helped shape MIT in the very best sense. Faced with an uncertain economy and shifting government support for research universities, it becomes critical for Resource Development to sustain this tradition and build on it to help MIT maintain and enhance its tradition of excellence.

Tech Talk: What are three or four major goals?

Stowe: Our main goal is to dramatically increase the overall level of giving to MIT from alumni, corporations and foundations, and to convey the Institute's needs in such a way that encourages support for the kinds of activities most important for MIT's future. Specifically, we need to expand our alumni support at the level of six and seven figures. We also need to expand our base of donors outside the US and develop an international program reflecting the interests of our faculty and students. And, as the needs of companies evolve and change, we must build on our history of interaction with industry and look to MIT's future by building quality partnerships in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Tech Talk: How is our donor pool different from universities like Harvard, Princeton or Yale?

Stowe: Not only is MIT a much younger institution-more than 200 years younger than Harvard-but the culture of science and engineering is quite different. For example, our fundraising program is much more reliant on corporate and foundation support than our sister institutions. Also, it seems to me that MIT is less about sustaining and honoring tradition than it is about the future and the spirit of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Although we have expanded our activities with our alumni and friends in recent years, you must remember that a large fraction of our students require financial aid and, not so long ago, a very high percentage of our alumni were the first generation of their families to graduate from college. While our alumni are very successful, they are often relatively new to the freedom that financial success allows, including the ability to be philanthropic.

Tech Talk: How do you identify what is important in terms of funding to the faculty and the Institute and, secondly, how do you match these priorities to the desires of donors?

Stowe: The Resource Development staff works closely with the faculty, the president, the provost, the deans and their development officers to make sure we are raising money for key academic and research priorities. Some priorities remain unchanged: scholarships and student financial aid, graduate fellowships, endowed chairs and so on. But given the dynamic and entrepreneurial nature of the faculty, our staff can play an important role in publicizing and marketing some of the new, interdisciplinary initiatives that require private support to get underway. Because we often have the opportunity to be matchmakers, if you will, Resource Development works to maintain a strong link to MIT's top priorities. This link is critical to our ability to encourage people to support those activities most vital and promising for MIT's future.

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