Barbara Stowe, vice president for resource development, says one reason for the amazing success of The Campaign for MIT is “old-fashioned pride in this institution.”
“Our alumni played an extraordinary role in this campaign,” she says, adding that $1.35 billion came from individuals. “There seems to be a growing recognition of the value of an MIT education and the Institute’s importance to society.”
This is the fifth capital campaign in MIT’s history, she says, adding that the first began in 1949 when MIT ran a $20 million campaign and 75 percent of that money came from corporations and foundations. “The tradition of corporate and foundation support sustained the Institute over 50 years,” she says, “but in more recent years, we really made an important shift. Now, 66 percent of the funds in this campaign came from alumni and friends.
“We knew at the start of the campaign in 1997 that we would have to raise $1 billion from individual donors, and we knew to do so would mean doubling the cumulative giving of all living alumni. As it turned out, gifts of $1 million or more from the top 200 individual donors are responsible for half of the campaign total.”
And yet, Stowe says, it was not just alumni giving that made the campaign a smash. “A variety of factors converged in a way that simply made this MIT’s time in the sun.”
For example, she says, among our alumni, the public, the country, and the world was an increasingly keen appreciation of the importance of science and technology. Added to that was strong and sustained leadership from President Chuck Vest. And when the campaign was launched in 1997, the economy was vital and strong, so we began with a great tail wind.
“It was a convergence of global factors, industry factors, and economic factors that all led in the same direction,” Stowe says, adding that yet another factor that brought MIT success was the way in which MIT recognized and celebrated alumni who are entrepreneurs and company founders.
“In the late 1990s from Silicon Valley to Route 128,” she says, “talk in university fundraising programs was about entrepreneurs and venture philanthropy. It was new to others, but the whole notion of founders and entrepreneurs as a constituency was something we had built on for a long time. Thanks to the really important leadership of Campaign Chairman Ray Stata and former Corporation Chairman Alex d’Arbeloff –– both founders and entrepreneurs –– MIT just came into its own with this group of donors.”
Not only did the campaign transform the physical campus, add graduate fellowships, and support student life and learning, Stowe says, but it also transformed MIT’s fundraising culture.
“MIT has always had self-confidence in the quality of its students and faculty, but it did not quite have self-confidence in its capacity to raise money and now it does. We raised people’s sights about significant philanthropic support and what it would mean to MIT. Now this confidence will provide the basis for MIT to create an even stronger, more vibrant program of charitable support moving forward. In some respects, we grew up overnight.”
Despite our success, she says, much work remains to be done. MIT now must capitalize on the campaign’s momentum in key ways.
“We must steward all 68,000 donors who supported this campaign. We have a responsibility to keep them informed about the use of their gifts and about what’s going on at MIT.”
Also, she says, there’s an important relationship between staff and alumni volunteers that is vital to this institution, and we will focus careful attention on evolving those partnerships.
“We did a superb job in this campaign working with our most generous donors, and they responded handsomely in meeting MIT’s needs,” she says. “We need to make sure that we build these relationships in a way that will serve us as well in the future as it has in the past.
“We also need to reach out to new donors. We have 100,000 alumni in the MIT community, and we need to broaden and deepen their engagement with the Institute in significant ways over the next five years.”
Also, she says, we have an important opportunity to continue to work with our donors about the kinds of resources and flexibility that will serve MIT best in the long run.
At the outset of this campaign, Stowe says, it was a time of optimism. “So much of our energy and strategic thinking about this campaign took place in those optimistic days of the mid-to-late 90s. Everything seemed possible. But even when the political landscape and the economic horizon were filled with uncertainty, people continued to make gifts and to make major commitments. It was optimism that carried the day.”
Looking back, she says, “We dared to be bold. We were willing to take some risks. We didn’t always all agree that they were the right risks, but in typical MIT fashion, we set the bar high and then raised it even higher. The campaign has really been a remarkable achievement. And it’s a great feeling for all of us.”