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RIT launches billion-dollar fundraising campaign

RIT launches billion-dollar fundraising campaign

The president of Rochester Institute of Technology had been promising a historic announcement for weeks.

David Munson Jr.
David Munson

Amid musical and theatrical performances at the ice rink-turned-nightclub Thursday, July 12, David C. Munson was scheduled to make the announcement before 2,000 guests: RIT has launched a $1 billion fundraising campaign to take the university to another level.

The $1 billion is the largest campaign in RIT’s history. The money would take the college from its old image of rapidly growing technical university answering the needs of industry, to a place where creativity and innovation is the norm in all disciplines, and areas such as performing arts and liberal arts are newly highlighted.

“This place is going to be much more well-rounded several years down the road,” Munson said in a recent interview.  “A lot of folks think that we’re educating the vast majority of our students for specific careers,” he said. Rather than preparing students to fit within pre-existing systems, the vision Munson articulated is for RIT students to become the makers of new systems, not just in business and computing, but in medicine, law and politics, too.

RIT’s current strengths will continue to be part of the picture — just more creatively and innovatively.

“RIT has a very strong reputation as a very career-oriented institution,” Munson said. “That’s not all we’re about anymore.”

Munson laid out a four-pillar campaign:

  • $400 million aimed at adding interdisciplinary research as well as facilities and activities for corporate research.
  • $280 million to enhance student experience, from experiential learning opportunities to creative spaces for innovation to a performing arts center.
  • $200 million for attracting special talent at the professor and student level by endowing professorships, adding teaching awards, funding student scholarships and research projects, and enhancing diversity programs.
  • $120 million for future initiatives by way of adding to the university’s endowment and educational programs.
Austin McChord
Austin McChord

If some of these plans sound familiar, that’s because they line up with plans for $50 million donated to RIT in December by 2009 alum Austin McChord. That gift is included in the $530 million already raised or pledged to the campaign over the last several years. Typical of institutional fundraising, RIT spent some time cultivating and securing major gifts (some of which have already been announced) quietly before taking the fundraising to the larger community.

What’s not typical, Munson pointed out, is the inclusion in this campaign of government grants, which was done to highlight the university’s new emphasis on research.

The university also named the leadership for “Transforming RIT: The Campaign for Greatness”: Thomas F. Judson Jr., chairman of  Rochester’s The Pike Companies, and 1985 RIT graduate Kevin J. Surace, CEO of Appvance Inc., an Inc. magazine Entrepreneur of the Year. The campaign is scheduled to end in 2022.

While a $1 billion campaign might seem huge in Rochester terms, and it’s larger than the campaign goal that was set before Munson arrived a year ago, it’s a fairly common goal among research-level universities, according to David Bass, senior director of research for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. That amount was the median campaign goal for those types of universities in 2015, he said, first showing up in CASE’s surveys in 1997.

But it’s still a significant number, Bass said, and reflects a vote of confidence the institution expects from its supporters and the direction it has mapped out for the future.

“An institution’s ability to raise funds on such a scale is the result of sustained relationship-building with prospective donors,” Bass said. “Major gifts reflect an extraordinary level of trust in the institution, a commitment to the institution’s mission and vision, and a belief that the institution will use the funds in ways that fulfill the donor’s philanthropic goals and that have a transformative impact on lives and society.”

In some ways, RIT may have to work harder than some schools to reach its goal. Though the university was founded in 1829, its oldest living alumni graduated from a much smaller school and many graduated with two-year degrees in practical industrial fields. More recent alumni have much more company — the school has about 19,000 students here and abroad; about half of RIT’s alumni graduated in the 21st century.

“This school is essentially 50 years old,” Munson said, referring to its growth since it moved to Henrietta from downtown Rochester. “We are having to rely on younger alumni,” he said, rather than the gifts from people in their 70s and 80s that are the mainstay of many institutions.

Still, there may be more McChords out there. “We do have very notable people (alumni) out there in their 40s,” Munson said. With that in mind, “We’re going to devise our campaign materials that will attract the eyes of everybody.”

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