In a departure from its usual multiyear campaigns, the University of Rochester is more than half-way through Together for Rochester, a $100 million, one-year engagement and fundraising effort. With $78.4 million raised so far, the effort coalesced around making life better after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Established at the start of the 2020-21 academic year, the campaign is a response to the outpouring of interest from UR’s external donor community including alumni and parents after the pandemic hit, says Tom Farrell, senior vice president for university advancement.
“We felt like it was an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that people wanted to help, but it was also an opportunity I guess in a way to do the right thing which was to get organized around this concept of trying to make things better, which is of course so consistent with our motto ‘Meliora: Ever Better,’” he says. “If we could work with people to help them help us, the university, they could leverage their motivation to make a difference with all the resources and the things and the people that we have within the university to do something positive in the context of (the COVID-19 pandemic).”
The campaign, which ends June 30, will fund UR priorities including scholarships and financial aid, diversity initiatives, faculty recruitment, clinical and academic research, including COVID-19 research activities, and career opportunities.
It isn’t just about money, Farrell notes, but also about engagement and helping students, through financial aid and career opportunities such as internships, jobs, post-graduate fellowship and volunteer activities.
“A distinguishing character of this one-year campaign (is) that it’s not just fundraising but it’s engagement and fundraising and it’s also focused on students and has this career network aspect to it too, trying to help mobilize the alumni and other university community members to help people find jobs,” he says.
Since the campaign was launched as the nation reckoned with incidents of racial injustice, diversity, equity and inclusion goals are an important aspect. To that end, UR board member Naveen Nataraj and his wife, Courtney, have established a $1 million scholarship challenge to create new, endowed scholarships.
“They did that because they believe in not only helping other people, they also believe in the university and its ability to make a difference in. lives and society. (And) they also believe in the university’s and the country’s interest in further developing ourselves from a diversity perspective,” Farrell says. “It’s very real and they put down money to encourage other people to do that.”
For each new endowed scholarship that qualifies, the Nataraj Challenge will add additional funding to the contributed value of that specific endowed scholarship, UR says. Naveen and Courtney Natraj would like to see talented and diverse students get the most out of their academic experience without financial stress. They hope other donors will be inspired to take up the challenge.
So far, the campaign has raised more than $3.4 million to support equity and access, $1.7 million in student, faculty and staff emergency funds, several thousands of dollars in gifts to Golisano Childrens Hospital and topped $15 million for faculty.
Together for Rochester has been on track with past fundraising efforts, despite the shadow cast by the pandemic on fundraising initiatives across the nation. UR was concerned it wouldn’t be able to raise funds in an atypical year.
“We would raise roughly that amount in a typical year, but our concern was that maybe the year would be so bad that we wouldn’t raise that much,’ Farrell says. “It is a great accomplishment, it is a lot of money. The purpose of the campaign wasn’t to set this remarkably significant stretch goal for fundraising, it was to pursue this engagement and difference-making activity.”
So far, Together for Rochester has the makings of an effective campaign, tapping into donors’ interests and ensuring dollars and time invested make an impact. More than 3,000 active volunteers are assisting with the project.
“You can get cynical in the world,” Farrell says. “There’s an old rule that there’s no room for cynicism in advancement work, and it’s probably true.”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.