How MnSCU is trying to turn its campuses into savvier fund-raisers

Let's all work from the same playbook. (MPR Photo / Tim Post)
Let's all work from the same playbook. (MPR Photo / Tim Post)

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system officials are trying to beef up the fund-raising arms of the system.

Last week they rolled out a campaign to raise $20 million in donations over the next two years for scholarships to benefit 16,000 students -- an effort MnSCU officials call their most ambitious.

It's also the first time MnSCU and its foundation will try to help train and coordinate the fund-raising efforts of all of its campuses.

Vice Chancellor of Advancement Mike Dougherty told me:

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"It's the first time we have a collective effort. The idea here in bringing everyone together today is to share our collective best thinking about how we can get this done as a group. This is more about working together as opposed to working individually across the state."

Fund-raising at MnSCU has generally taken place at the campus level. After all, for example, alumni get the warm-and-fuzzies thinking about their time at their alma mater -- not their affiliation with the MnSCU system.

That has prompted each campus to have its own fund-raising organization -- and in some cases a campus has more than one, said Carmen Shields, director of marketing and advancement. It has more than 40.

One of the challenges of having so many local foundations, Dougherty said, is that they vary widely in sophistication and resources. Some university foundations are pros at things such as alumni and corporate outreach, and have sizeable fund-raising campaigns.

He said:

"A place like Mankato does a pretty decent job. But for a lot of our two-year colleges, this is new ground. There are fundamentals: having an alumni list, having a donor list, having what I call a 'foundation play book -- you know, 'Here are the things that you need to do: You need to cultivate the donors, you need to focus on planned giving.' All of that is not necessarily in place at all of our institutions. This is an opportunity for us to start to build that across the board."

Dougherty said the $20 million goal represents a 10-15 percent increase over previous amounts raised. The scholarships, which he said would be mostly need-based, would average $1,250 average per student -- about 23 percent of tuition at a two-year college, and 17 percent of tuition at a MnSCU university.