When the Hawkeyes take the field this morning for the annual homecoming football game, thousands of University of Iowa alumni are expected to be on hand to watch.
Returning alumni who don’t make it into Kinnick Stadium likely will be fraternizing nearby – at tailgates, organized reunion events or at bars in downtown Iowa City.
UI graduates are a loyal bunch, according to Iowa’s Alumni Association, and that translates into more than just support at football games.
Many of the financial donations to the UI come from alumni, according to Dana Larson, executive director of communications and marketing for the UI Foundation. And alumni support has been climbing over the past six years, Larson said, making up 55 percent of the total donations to the foundation in 2012, up from 37 percent in 2007.
“It’s grown steadily,” Larson said. “It was a really good year last year.”
Donors can give money directly to the UI, but Larson said the foundation – an independent not-for-profit organization – is the “preferred channel for private contributions” to the university. The foundation raises money for an array of UI-related needs and groups, including individual colleges, student scholarships, student-life services, research funding and global education.
Total UI giving funneled through the foundation has held steady in recent years. Donations in the 2012 budget year reached almost $203.5 million, down from the $213.9 million in 2011 but up from the $190.6 million in 2010, according to the foundation’s annual report.
When looking at donations to the university’s individual colleges, some are surging while others are flat or even trending down. The colleges of business and law, for example, saw its highest donation totals in five years in 2012.
The Carver College of Medicine, on the other hand, saw its lowest total in five years in 2012 – although it still brings in more donor money than any other UI college.
Larson said not-for-profits – such as the foundation – typically experience fundraising slumps during economic downturns, making even more impressive the achievements of UI colleges that maintained or even increased donor giving during the 2007 to 2009 recession.
In an effort to keep the gifts coming, the foundation in May publicly kicked off a new fundraising campaign aimed at bringing in $1.7 billion by the end of 2016 – an opportune endeavor at a time when government woes have some university-related funding avenues in question.
The campaign, called “For Iowa, Forever More,” lists three main goals:
Through this month, the campaign has brought in $1.1 billion, and some colleges – such as the Carver College of Medicine at 97 percent – almost have reached their goals.
“Like many universities, the University of Iowa really relies on private gifts from alumni and friends to provide support,” Larson said.
Jeff Emrich is one alumnus who said he began giving back to the UI immediately after graduating in 1982.
“The UI gave a lot to me, and I learned a lot from it,” Emrich said. “I had always heard that larger donors started out small, and that every little bit helps, so I wanted to see what I could do to contribute.”
Emrich, who left the UI for a while but today serves as curriculum manager for the Carver College of Medicine, said he understands why some people stop giving during tougher economic times. But his giving has continued.
“And I think there is a strong alumni base and core of people who do provide support,” he said. “That is one of the things that I like about the university – that there is a strong sense of loyalty.”
Vince Nelson, president and CEO of the UI Alumni Association, said the UI is fortunate to have some of the most loyal graduates around – regardless of what is happening with the economy, or the football team for that matter.
“The one thing that is constant is that UI alumni are very very passionate and loyal to their institution,” Nelson said.
The financial effect of that loyalty goes beyond straight donations, he said. Alumni support benefits the UI through attendance at athletic and performing arts events, and it provides a boon to the community at large.
This week, for example, Nelson said thousands of alumni are back in town for homecoming.
“And that means a huge economic impact in a very positive way for the community,” he said. “They are staying in hotels and making purchases, and all that contributes significantly to the life of the community.”