College targets alumni donors Middlebury strives to meet challenges of $50M gift

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Kathryn Flagg

In a remarkable gesture of philanthropy and generosity, an anonymous donor made history a year and a half ago after donating a record $50 million to Middlebury College – the largest gift in the College’s history and the single largest donation ever granted to a New England liberal arts college. While the donor has maintained anonymity and the initial public interest in the monetary gift has waned, the donation remains an integral part of the College’s plans for development.

“We are extremely fortunate to have this support,” said Mike Schoenfeld, vice president for College Advancement. “It is already making a major difference at Middlebury.”

The gift, designed as a challenge to alumni and other supporters of the College, requires the institution to raise additional funds – a challenge that almost immediately provoked an anonymous gift of $10 million in the days following the initial donation. Both gifts brought the College’s total endowment to over $700 million.

The most significant impact of the gift in the last year and a half appears to have been in the alumni annual giving sector. The donor’s challenge specifically identified the need to increase and recognize alumni participation in the College’s fundraising efforts, and the donor agreed to designate $1 million dollars to current use if the Office for College Advancement could boost alumni giving participation for the 2004-2005 fiscal year.

The donor will continue to give one million dollars each year for the next five years if the College can meet its participation goals.

“For the past five to 10 years, alumni participation each year had hovered around 50 percent,” said Ann Crumb ’71, associate vice president for College Advancement. Following the challenge, said Crumb, “alumni response, especially from recent graduates, was fantastic.”

With 56 percent of alumni donating to the College last year, the institution “shattered all records” and now hopes to increase alumni participation to 60 percent by 2009.

The donor promptly gave $1 million for current use at the end of the fiscal year, said Crumb – funds used by President Ronald D. Liebowitz “to hire additional faculty and support financial aid.”

In addition to targeting alumni giving, the challenge gift calls for the College to “raise gifts and secure pledges for other College priorities,” Crumb said, “with the donor releasing $5 million dollars every time [the institution] reaches $100 million.” The College reached the first $100 million threshold last spring, and the resulting matching gift was transferred to the institution’s general endowment.

Specific plans for the use of donated funds are still tentative, according to Crumb, though the donor will be in contact with Liebowitz to identify uses for the funds as the Strategic Planning Process, now entering its final stages, unfolds.

The challenge gift has, however, sparked specific targets for raising matching funds and meeting alumni participation goals.

“We are in a vigorous effort to secure both the participation and dollar targets using direct mail, e-mail and telephone solicitations plus personal visits and solicitations by a cadre of volunteers and professional staff,” said Crumb. “The president and members of the Board of Trustees are also assisting in this effort.”

The anonymous donor’s gift was first announced on May 6, 2004 by President Emeritus John M. McCardell, Jr.

In an ebullient e-mail to College faculty, staff and students, McCardell shared an advance copy of the press release detailing the new gift – an announcement that “must speak for itself,” McCardell wrote, “since mere words are inadequate to convey the measure of joy and gratitude all of us must feel at so historic a moment.”

That evening, during a dinner at the Bread Loaf campus, the Board of Trustees received the same “extraordinary news” from McCardell, flanked by then-Chairman of the Board of Trustees Churchill Franklin and the incoming College President, Liebowitz.

“This is an historic moment for Middlebury College, and this gift is most deeply appreciated,” McCardell told the trustees. “On this day, and with this gift,” he continued, “the landscape has changed. Middlebury means to seize all the opportunities that this remarkable benefactions confers.”

The news was released to the public the following day and was picked up by the national media. In the press release publicized by the College, the anonymous donor explained that the gift was given in “recognition of what has been accomplished at Middlebury under John McCardell, in support of the direction in which the College is heading and with confidence in Ronald Liebowitz, the newly appointed president, to help the College achieve its goals.”

At the request of the donor, Bicentennial Hall, completed in 1999 as part of the College’s bicentennial celebration, was renamed John McCardell, Jr. Bicentennial Hall.

The donor’s anonymity appears to be firmly in place. Schoenfeld noted that the “donor loves Middlebury very much and believes in our mission completely,” but also called the challenge gift “pure philanthrophy at work.”

Schoenfeld’s sentiment echoed McCardell’s words in 2004:

“[The gift] is the purest form of philanthropy – a member of our extended family has chosen to give such generous support because the donor believes in the path the College has chosen, and seeks to raise its sights and the sights of its many other alumni and friends,” he said.

“And the donor has engaged in this historic act of generosity anonymously,” McCardell continued, “seeking recognition only for the College that gratefully and humbly accepts this, and the challenge accompanying it, with joy, satisfaction and determination.”

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College targets alumni donors Middlebury strives to meet challenges of $50M gift