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U.Va. Campaign Poised to Surpass $3 Billion Goal, Strategic Plan on Fast Track

The Campaign for the University of Virginia stands on the brink of achieving its goal of raising $3 billion to propel U.Va. into the future.

At Friday’s meeting of the Board of Visitors, Senior Vice President of Development and Public Affairs Robert D. Sweeney said the campaign now stands at $2.9 billion and his office has launched a flurry of activity to complete the final push.

“You’ve given us the challenge of getting the campaign over the goal line this spring and we’re going to do that,” he told board members during the Advancement and Communications Committee meeting.

Former University President John T. Casteen III launched the $3 billion effort in the fall of 2006, characterizing it as the most ambitious higher education campaign in the country, public or private. Despite the economic recession beginning in 2008, the campaign eclipsed the $2 billion mark in 2009.

University officials said the campaign would play a key role in ensuring U.Va.’s excellence is sustained in an environment of declining funding for higher education from state and other sources.

Sweeney and board members on Friday reiterated the increasingly important role of philanthropy to the University’s future.

“I think philanthropy is going to be the financial driver for the institution’s excellence,” Sweeney said.

Rector Helen E. Dragas had a similar view for what she characterized as the “landscape of financing the university.”

“Like it or not, agree with it or not, most of our other buckets of funding are either unpredictable or flatlining for the foreseeable future,” she said. “This seems to be the category in which we have the most potential upside.”

Sweeney said the advancement team already has a strong start to the final stretch of the campaign. Cash flow through Dec. 31, 2012, totaled $120 million, with $90 million of that coming in the second quarter of the fiscal year, a 21 percent increase versus the same quarter a year earlier. Annual giving, another key category, increased 13 percent versus a year earlier for that same period.

“Our work is clearly back on track,” Sweeney said.

He said the coming weeks will bring a focus on returning to the University’s most consistent and most loyal contributors to express appreciation and to encourage continued support to push the campaign past its goal. Campaign organizers also have set a goal to reach every alumnus by the end of the campaign. Since the campaign’s inception, 44 percent of alumni have made at least one gift to the campaign.

In other news from Friday’s board meeting:

Senior Vice Provost J. Milton Adams reported that work on development of a new University strategic plan continues to rapidly progress on several tracks that ultimately will intersect to help inform a final plan.

A consultant group currently is interviewing national “thought leaders” on higher education issues as well as preparing to conduct studies of nine peer institutions, public and private. That work coincides with the consultant’s assessment of U.Va.’s strengths and weaknesses.

Meanwhile, the seven working groups formed as part of the plan development effort have now come forward with “emergent ideas” that could become cogs of a new plan. These groups will meet in the near future to compare ideas and efforts.

President Teresa A. Sullivan said the Strategic Plan Steering Committee in May will bring forward 10 to 12 of the best ideas, which she characterized as “strategic differentiators” for U.Va.

Frank B. Atkinson, co-chair of the Special Committee on Strategic Planning, said the board’s role will soon grow more important as members will be asked to narrow the dozen or so areas of strategic focus to a handful.

“The next two to three months are really critical from a board engagement standpoint,” he said.

A new strategic plan is expected to be submitted to the board for approval in the fall. When complete, it will feature strategies, tactics to achieve them and methods to measure success.

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