College breaks fundraising record

by Jenn Zarate / Beacon Correspondent • October 10, 2013

Thanks to a new focus on building long-term donor relationships, Jeffrey A. Schoenherr, vice president of development and alumni relations, said that Emerson raised a record-breaking $6.34 million in total gifts and pledges during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended in June.

“President Pelton hired me to help create a culture of philanthropy here at Emerson,” said Schoenherr, “so what we’re trying to do is to get out on the road and meet with alumni and friends, as well as potential supporters, to discuss the needs of the college and generate revenue.”

Since arriving at Emerson last May, Schoenherr said he has traveled to meet with Emerson alumni, parents, and donors—often with President M. Lee Pelton—in Los Angeles, New York, Florida, San Francisco, Connecticut, and New Jersey. He said meeting people in person and talking about their experiences with the college, is the best way to encourage them to support the school.

Compared to Emerson’s previous fundraising record of $5.2 million, set in 2000, Schoenherr said that they have made more visits to donors this time. He said that this is a focus that the school will continue in the future.

A major component in this year’s fundraising sum was a $2 million gift for financial aid—the largest in the college’s history—from Leo and Patti Hindery.

Though, with the Emerson community coming together to meet the needs of the college, Schoenherr said it became another factor that contributed to its record-breaking success.

He said that with the help of fellow staff members, volunteers, students, and Pelton, they have warranted a change that will positively affect students by adding greater financial aid support, as well as better funded programs and departments, which will enhance technology and equipment for student use.

Schoenherr said other significant contributions were secured by Heather Feland, director of corporations and foundations; Elizabeth Demski, associate vice president for the office of research and creative scholarship; Danielle T. Reddy, director of annual giving; and Patrick Smith, director of development and alumni relations for the West Coast.

"It's a real pleasure to have joined this amazing team at this dynamic time in Emerson's history,” said Freland. “Corporate and Foundation Relations is more than grants or sponsorship proposals: it's finding the right Emerson story to tell and matching it with the right funder.”

Schoenherr said he and Smith plan to launch a fundraising campaign for the Los Angeles Center, hoping to use this year’s momentum to reach their goal of $20 million within the next three years. He said that they plan on targeting alumni and parents in the LA community.

The Los Angeles campaign is the first step in his long-term goal of developing seven or eight-year campaigns that cover each of the college’s programs, including financial aid, faculty professorships, and other construction projects, said Schoenherr.

He also said he hopes to expand on the college’s annual giving, and to create a sustained upward trajectory in fundraising, avoiding the ups and downs that have often happened in the past.

Raising money for the Annual Fund is an essential piece of the fundraising puzzle in the school’s budget, Schoenherr said. The college relies on money from this fund to meet the needs that arise during the academic year, he said. Donors to the fund can direct their gifts to a designated group or allow the money to be used where it’s needed most. For example, the athletics department uses the annual fund to finance new uniforms and cover some of its traveling expenses, according to Schoenherr.

“This support allows the president, deans, and department chairs to make important budget decisions that help the Emerson community,” said Schoenherr. “We have alumni who graduated decades ago from Emerson and they continue to support the college year after year because they believe in the mission.”

Tatiana Motevalli-Oliner, a senior who has worked as a student assistant in the annual giving office for two years, said Schoenherr’s new fundraising initiatives have been more effective in making connections with donors. She said Schoenherr also works closely with Pelton, taking on the president’s goals as priorities of the office.

“We had a lot more involvement of alumni who participated in the 2013 fiscal year donations,” said Motevalli-Oliner.

Schoenherr said Emerson is fortunate to have a president that not only devotes time to fundraising, but enjoys the process. One of Pelton’s goals, he said, is for Emerson to continue to grow its endowment, which they will aim to achieve through building personal relationships with donors.

“For this fiscal year, we still have a lot of work to do in order to get to a place of success,” said Schoenherr. “However, last year’s record-breaking fundraising numbers is a very good start.”