College to intensify fundraising efforts

by Beacon Staff • October 4, 2011

strongStephanie Bradbury, Beacon Correspondent/strong

Money from tuition and room and board account for 95 percent of cash in the college’s coffers, but college officials are seeking new ways to increase alumni donations, said Maureen Murphy, the vice president of administration and finance.

Gifts from graduates and donors to the college go toward scholarships, financial aid, and specific academic departments, Murphy said during a presentation at the Student Government Association meeting Tuesday.

Compared to other schools of similar curriculum, such as Rhode Island School of Design, Ithaca College, Berklee College of Music, and Boston University, Emerson receives the lowest amount of revenue from alumni contributions, Murphy said.

According to a report from the Center for Social Philanthropy at Tellus Institute which examined spending at the 20 colleges in Massachusetts with the largest endowments, Emerson also has a smaller endowment than other schools of its size in the state, including Berklee and Smith College.

According to President M. Lee Pelton, the total annual gifts and pledges to the college over the past three years has been relatively stagnant, fluctuating between $3.5 and $4 million a year.

He said that as the college prepares to intensify its fundraising efforts, a committee is currently in the process of searching for a vice president for development and alumni relations. He added that the college is two to four years away from kicking off a comprehensive fundraising program.

“We need to develop a stronger base of support among alumni and friends and deepen the philanthropic culture of Emerson,” Pelton said in an interview. “One of the charges given to me as president is to provide leadership in development and fundraising. My hope is that we will over time increase any gifts and pledges to the college and provide a robust base of support for the college.”

However, Barbara Rutberg, who is performing the duties of the vice president for development and alumni relations on an interim basis, said the alumni give generously to the college in many ways. Last year, Emerson annual fund participation was 9.5 percent, with more than 1,800 donors.

“There has been a wonderful increase in alumni donations over the past year,” said Rutberg.

Rutberg said the past year has seen a rise in alumni participation as well. She said this is a result of many ongoing initiatives including consistent communication with alumni and more programming on a regional basis.

“We’ve got work to do but we have seen a great improvement” said Rutberg.

During her presentation, Murphy said that not only are more alumni gifts needed, but Emerson needs to find different ways to make money. Currently, 75 percent of the revenue for the college comes from tuition, however, investment income and rental income make up only 2 percent of the total revenue.

Emerson earns money from renting buildings along Boylston Street to businesses including the Gypsy Bar, Dunkin’ Donuts, Sweetwater Cafe, and Barnes amp; Noble, as well as the Colonial Theatre at 106 Boylston St.

However the Theatre is unoccupied. Broadway Across America, the production company that previously leased the space, did not renew its contract this year, so the college is not currently collecting rent.

Pelton said the college needs to focus its funding on the Emerson College Los Angeles campus—which has yet to break ground--and on scholarship offerings.

“Fundraising is a means to an end. It provides resources for institutions to move forward—it’s the fuel that powers the engine,” Pelton said. “We are at some point in the future going to have a comprehensive fundraising campaign.”

emHeidi Moeller, Beacon Staff, contributed reporting/em

strongCorrection/strong

An earlier version of this article stated that in 2010 there were less than 250 donors to the college, but in 2011 the college has over 400. This statement was in reference to the MacWade challenge for young alumni, not the over all alumni participation rate, which includes over 1,800 donors.