SPECIAL REPORT

A MODEL MISSION

SOPHISTICATED FUND-RAISING AT MOUNT ALLISON

GLEN ALLEN September 18 1989
SPECIAL REPORT

A MODEL MISSION

SOPHISTICATED FUND-RAISING AT MOUNT ALLISON

GLEN ALLEN September 18 1989

A MODEL MISSION

SPECIAL REPORT

SOPHISTICATED FUND-RAISING AT MOUNT ALLISON

At Mount Allison University, sitting on a well-treed rise of ground in Sackville, N.B., the development office oversees a highly refined exercise in friendly persuasion. Following up preliminary letters from prominent alumni and university officials, seven staff members direct a team of 40 Mount Allison students who make telephone calls as far afield as Europe and Australia to ask the 16,000 alumni whose addresses are in the university’s database to contribute to the annual fund-raising drive.

Their mission this year is to o raise $600,000 to help allevig ate mounting operating | costs, as well as to identify £ alumni who might want to “■ give to other areas of university life. And since the computer campaign began three years ago, nearly two-thirds of Mount Allison’s graduates have made donations. Said Donald Keleher, president of the Canadian Association of Educational Development Officers and himself development director of Halifax’s St. Mary’s University: “Mount Allison does a very good job. They have a history of solid relations with their alumni and have put into effect one of the most sophisticated systems in fund-raising.”

Debt: Many observers say that Mount Allison is a well-endowed university that is betterplaced to weather government funding cuts than are some of the other 19 degree-granting institutions in Canada’s Atlantic region. But that, according to Catherine Decarie, 22-yearold student union president and a member of the university’s finance committee, is a misconception. Said Decarie: “The financial background of students here is no different than any other university in the region.” And the need for extra funds is increasingly pressing. Saddled with an accumulated $5.3-million debt as well as annual interest payments of $600,000, Mount Allison has endured budget cutbacks in each of the last two years. The university, with an operating budget of $20 million this year, gets only $12.5 million of that from the province and raises another $4 million from tuition fees—$1,880 per student a year. About $3 million comes from interest on endowments.

The situation at Mount Allison was not always so critical. In 1839, Sackville business-

man Charles Frederick Allison approached leaders of the Wesleyan Methodist districts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, proposing the founding of an educational institution “in which not only the elementary but higher branches of education may be taught.” Allison offered to buy a site and erect a building for the institution

that would later become Mount Allison University. As well, he agreed to furnish $100 a year for 10 years toward its expenses. In the years to follow, other benefactors freely gave funds for buildings, scholarships, academic chairs and equipment that helped Mount Allison through its growing pains, the Depression and a series of near-ruinous campus fires in the 1930s and 1940s. Their gifts laid the groundwork for a campus, named after its founder, that 150 years later is valued for insurance purposes at more than $150 million.

Generosity: But, like administrators of other Canadian universities, the managers of Mount Allison learned that they could not depend solely on the generosity of alumni, friends and philanthropists for ever-expanding capital expenditures, scholarships and academic chairs not covered by taxes. Efforts at soliciting funds began after the Second World War. Administrators hired a part-time fund raiser in 1968 and a full-time development officer in 1978.

In fact, the university’s fund-raising information retrieval system—one of the most sophisticated in the Canadian university community—is so highly regarded that its creator, Helmut Becker, Mount Allison’s director of computer services, won first-place honors at a 1987 convention of computer scientists in Atlanta. The development office’s database tells student callers when previous calls were made and when the next is due, as well as details

including the names of children and special interests of those called. Harvey Gilmour, the university’s development director, said that, with a former system of indexed cards, “We were only getting 20 per cent of alumni. Ten years ago, you could never do this. The computer has revolutionized things.”

But fund-raising does not end with a phoneand-mail campaign to alumni. Mount Allison has another drive under way to raise $17.5 million for, among other things, enhancement of the Ralph Pickard Bell Library holdings, contributions toward a new $ 10-million campus activity centre and needed building maintenance and research equipment. Aided by alumni in the higher echelons of Canada’s business community, Gilmour or university president Donald Wells often join national campaign chairman Purdy Crawford, president of Imasco Ltd. of Montreal, or other campaign volunteers on his team in visits to prospects in Canadian corporations. After less than three years, that campaign has already raised $14 million. Said Crawford, a 1952 Mount Allison political science and history graduate who helps to coordinate the activities of a network of more than 70 volunteers from Atlantic Canada to Ontario: “I guess I spend about 20 hours a month on this. I do it because I'm convinced it will add to the strength of Mount Allison. Besides, I feel good about it.”

Cuts: Still, the need for money continues to grow. After slashing the budget by smaller amounts in the previous two years, president Wells last April decreed that in 1989-1990 the budget would have to be trimmed by a further $1.5 million to avoid running a deficit. The result is that three athletic teams as well as university staff have been cut. Said Decarie:

“There is a general consensus that we have been doing too much for too long.” But the Kingston, Ont., native, who is a fourth-year student in Canadian studies at the university, predicted that, in the coming year, the cuts will “go far beyond athletics.”

Indeed, a full-time financial aid officer will drop to part time, and a career development officer was laid off, as were four secretaries and 12 other support staff. By not replacing professors leaving on sabbaticals, Decarie said that the teaching strength will also be cut by five per cent. She added that if teachers are not available to teach required courses for certain programs, the university “may have to rewrite degree requirements.”

Decarie also points out that student fees in the coming year have been raised by more than seven per cent and the cost of living in residence has risen by almost five per cent. She agrees that cutbacks are necessary. “They’re trying to balance the budget,” she said, “and if they run a deficit they get penalized in terms of provincial grants.” But she added: “They’re nickel-and-diming every department. Students will be frustrated and a bit angry. At the very least, we wanted to be involved in deciding how cuts would be made.”

Gilmour is clearly aware of the need for more funds to offset the losses. He said that that there are only three sources of extra money—government grants, higher tuition fees and private funding. But the New Brunswick government already gives less for operations costs and capital projects to Mount Allison than it does to other universities in the province. Said Gilmour: “When we go to government, they say we get so much already from private sources. And I think we should be as

independent from government funding as possible. We have a chance to be different—a small, intimate university.” For his part, Dr. Russell King, New Brunswick minister for advanced education and training, insists that Mount Allison is funded according to the same formula as other universities in the province. But Mount Allison has a smaller enrolment, smaller class sizes and fewer of the expensive science and engineering programs, he said. “This has a lot to do with the historical role they carved out for themselves,” King added.

Eager: And student fees cannot be raised much higher, Decarie said, because the cost for a resident student attending the university is already about $6,300 a year, exclusive of personal expenses. “A student working 14 weeks in the summer at $5 an hour and banking every penny has only $2,800,” she added. That means, said Gilmour, that “the university is looking to us. It expects fund-raising to do the job in the years ahead.” He added, however, that he is at least fortunate to have good staff.

Until recently, that staff of telephone canvassers included Catherine Brown, now a university admissions counsellor, who, in the first 1986-1987 computerized phone-and-mail campaign, raised the first pledge—for $480— from an alumnus who had gone to Mount Allison in the 1960s. Brown eventually raised pledges totalling $76,000—working only two nights a week that year. Said Brown: “At first, I was just looking for a part-time job that didn’t involve scraping dishes. But I grew to love it. It was a good experience. The alumni were eager to talk to people who are here now. And they told me stories about their time here, how they met their wives and where they courted, that sort of thing. There was a real sense of family.”

Gilmour also said that he counts on the wellconnected men and women who work on the capital campaign. In addition to Imasco’s Crawford, volunteers include Cedric Ritchie, chairman of the Bank of Nova Scotia, grocery magnate David Sobey, chairman of Sobeys Stores Ltd., McGill University principal David Johnston, and Ivan Duvar, president of Maritime Telegraph & Telephone Co. Ltd., Nova Scotia’s telephone system. Said Duvar, chairman of the Atlantic region of the Mount Allison fund and a 1960 engineering graduate: “Fundraising is tough. But if society gives me something, I feel I should contribute something back.”

Generations: For his part, Robert Winsor, the Montreal owner of a railway equipment manufacturing firm, IEC-Holden Inc., who is coordinator of the Quebec Mount Allison campaign and belongs to one of three generations of his family that have studied at the Sackville campus, said: “You’ve got to do this or you’d leave it all to the government, and that’s no good. And Mount Allison was a damn fine place to be.” Harvey Gilmour and his associates say that they hope that such sentiments will help the 150-year-old Mount Allison prosper for years to come.

GLEN ALLEN