Alumni donations add up

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by Paul Szaniawski

Two years ago this month everyone from students to alumni were welcomed to the splendor of a new exercise facility when the Student Recreation Center opened — everyone except varsity athletes who were stuck working out in the obsolete Maurer Gym.

Alumnus Ralph Anderson, class of ’82, decided to change that. In 2006, half of the accounting graduate’s $200,000 gift gave new life to Maurer Gym. The gift cheered up the once lackluster fitness center with cranberry-colored machines adorned with Rider logos and breathed pride into the gym’s somber walls. The old and sometimes squeaky equipment was replaced with up-to-date machines that will help bolster varsity athletic recruitment for years to come.

Anderson is just one of a number of alumni who have recently contributed a significant amounts to Rider, which raised more than $5.7 million last year. That number has grown from 2006, when slightly more than $5 million was raised.

“The great schooling I obtained permitted me to be very successful,” said Anderson, who earned a Bachelor of Science in accounting, which led to his becoming a partner at major accountant firms and worked on Wall Street. “I felt it was proper to donate money where the school requires.”

It’s alumni gifts like these that help advance the University in ways that normally wouldn’t be accounted for in the annual operating budget of $130 million (fiscal year 2007), said Jonathan Meer, vice president of University Advancement.

“It’s the greatest thing alumni can do: wanting to let other students have the same great experience they had,” Meer said.

Just last summer, P.J. Ciambelli, class of 1950, finalized a $3 million promise to Rider in his will. Ciambelli’s name has adorned the Admissions building since he first pledged the gift to Rider.

The efforts of the Advancement office, which works toward raising funds mostly through donations, not only garnered more money in total donations and pledges in Fiscal Year 2007, which ended in June, but also improved numbers in key categories like the Annual Fund. The Annual Fund is money given in a certain year that is meant to be spent in the same year on specific projects chosen by the donor.

“We set a goal for annual giving each year,” Meer said. “It helps the University achieve a balanced budget.”

The 2007 goal was surpassed when such donations garnered more than $1.45 million, beating out the previous year’s total by about $100,000.

“We have four primary engines driving our improved performance: alumni, trustees, faculty and staff, and the senior class,” he said.

Not only are totals for annual giving on the rise but there is also a higher percentage of graduating seniors giving back. Last year’s seniors were asked for a donation of only $20.07 to match their graduating year. Meer said the percentage of students who gave was significantly higher.

All this positive news for the University doesn’t yet have a huge impact on the overall annual operating budget of $130 million, said Dr. Jeff Halpern of the Sociology Department, an officer in the faculty union. He said that seniors’ gifts of less than $25 aren’t going to raise new buildings.

But the University did get some larger alumni gifts in recent years. In 2007 a donation was received to help transform the current space that holds WRRC radio station into the new headquarters for Rider’s New Jersey Institute of Politics.

Some 2006 donations included those of former baseball player Bill Hartnett, class of ’76. He gave a contribution toward permanent stadium seating around the baseball field to replace the temporary movable bleachers.

When Anderson’s son Brad Domenico, class of ’06, was on the golf team he and other golf enthusiast parents converted a long-abandoned rifle range in Maurer Gym, formerly used in a campus ROTC program, to an indoor with a synthetic surface that simulates a golfing range. The advanced system includes a nine-hole practice putting green, a television camera to record golf swings and compare them to previous recordings or to those of professional golfers.

Alumnus Herb Young, class of ’50, and his wife, Joan, also believe in the upgrading of athletic facilities. Herb Young was a part of the original effort to build Alumni Gym in the late 1950s.

“It’s not something new that we’re trying to get facilities that fit our Division I teams,” he said.

Over the years, the Youngs have donated more than $250,000 toward a number of projects, including the field hockey scoreboard and renovation of the Van Cleve House. They also contributed toward a renovation of the softball field, which included enough improvements to bring the softball field up to NCAA standards to host league tournaments.

Across the nation, Division I colleges are competing in an arms race to get their athletes the newest and best equipment available. This has begun a trend of alumni giving that focuses on sports rather than the classroom.

This trend is also reflected by Rider’s own future wishlist that includes a 2,400-seat arena behind Alumni Gym. A large undertaking like this is considered a capital improvement, which is not funded by tuition.

Fundraising for capital projects primarily comes from alumni donations or from borrowing money. The Student Recreation Center and resident hall renovations were recent capital improvements at Rider.

When these improvements were being made, most of the funds were borrowed and not raised, according to Halpern. The University has negotiated a loan of $22 million for capital improvements.

“We have yet to make any significant improvement in our capital fundraising, but capital fundraising is something that takes time,” he said.

Halpern did credit Meer for taking on a new capital fundraising campaign that he announced last spring. Halpern added that everyone, from the faculty to administration to students, would like to see a larger increase in fundraising numbers so money wouldn’t have to be siphoned from other places.

“You can’t do these things by holding down faculty salaries,” Halpern said. “What’s the point of having a nice campus and not having the competent faculty that you need?”

Meer said the University contacted between 80 and 100 alumni who may be willing to donate toward the new capital fundraising campaign, which is still in its “quiet phase.” They were asked if they would support anything on the upcoming list of potential projects including an arena, another academic building on the Lawrenceville campus, a new residence hall of deluxe apartments or pods, and adding academic space to the Princeton campus.

Since tuition money doesn’t contribute to large undertakings like new buildings, alumni gifts are very important, Dean of Students Anthony Campbell said.

“Gifts such as these are transforming to universities,” Campbell said. “They help us meet goals we couldn’t without them and we are very grateful.”

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