Column: Emory University campaign hopes to raise $1 billion by 2010

By Maria Saporta

Talk about timing.

On Sept. 25, 2008, Emory University announced a $1.6 billion fundraising campaign — the largest such campaign of any university in Georgia.

“We announced the public campaign right when the economy went soft,” said Sonny Deriso, chairman of Campaign Emory who also is chairman of Atlantic Capital Bank. “Of course it’s a challenging time for all campaigns because of the economic situation, but our approach is that it just makes the campaign all the more critical.”

Before going public, Emory had already raised $838 million during a quiet phase that had begun three years earlier. And since September, Emory has been able to raise more than $100 million. (At the end of June, a total of $943 million had been raised.)

Susan Cruse, Emory’s senior vice president of development and alumni relations, said the number of people giving to the university has increased, but that the average value of the gifts is lower.

If giving continues at its current pace, Cruse said the university hopes to cross the $1 billion mark “in the early part of 2010.” That, in itself, would be quite a feat.

“No university in the state has raised $1 billion,” Deriso said.

The Emory campaign is expected to run through 2012, which means having to raise more than $600 million in the next three years.

“That’s our plan,” Cruse said. “It’s much too early in mid-2009 to say we are not going to make it. Is it an ambitious goal? Absolutely. We could not have anticipated such an economic cataclysm. … But the need is still there, so we just have to redouble our efforts.”

Deriso said the goal is to make sure that the initiatives and projects that need to be funded get funded.

“Right now, all of higher education, including Emory, is taking a very critical look at what it does and how it does it,” Deriso said. “This crisis really is creating an opportunity for universities.”

Speaking of university fundraising …

The Atlanta-based Alexander Haas fundraising firm knows firsthand the challenges facing universities. The firm specializes in organizing fundraising campaigns for universities.

“We had two campaigns that we were working on before the recession started that were $1 billion campaigns or larger,” said David King, president and CEO of Alexander Haas. “Both had to keep going. The pace of fundraising has slowed down, but they’re still raising substantial millions of dollars. It’s just taking longer.”

Those two campaigns are the University of Tennessee and Texas Tech.

Alexander Haas has taken a pragmatic approach during this economic recession.

“Where we have seen the biggest falloff in work is in public higher education, which is about 40 percent of our business,” King said. “The arts and culture sector is another big area for us. A lot of projects have gone on hold.”

But King is beginning to see some positive movement. “Over the last 45 to 60 days, a lot of projects and clients that had put campaigns or feasibility studies on the back burner are coming back to us and saying they are ready to get started.”

Alexander Haas experienced its best year ever in 2008. It was the firm’s fourth consecutive best year ever, King said.

But King added that the first half of 2009 was “rough.” The staff has been trimmed by five people, but it’s still one of the largest fundraising firms in the Southeast with a total of 22 employees, including 12 consultants.

If the second half of the year is like the first half, King said the firm’s business will be at its 2006 level. “But we are seeing dramatic increases since June and July,” he said.

AGL supports ‘cap-and-trade’

John Somerhalder, chairman and CEO of AGL Resources Inc., is not opposing the Waxman-Markey energy bill currently making its way through Congress.

The legislation, also called a cap-and-trade bill, encourages the reduction of carbon emissions as well as the development of alternative sources of energy. By comparison, Southern Co. has become a leading opponent of the bill.

“I don’t believe the Waxman-Markey bill is perfect,” Somerhalder said. “But we as a company, and me personally, know we need to deal with climate change and look for technologies that are more sustainable. Waxman-Markey moves in that direction.”

AGL Resources, which provides natural gas services in the Southeast, is well- positioned because natural gas is a much cleaner source of energy than coal. Currently, most of Southern Co.’s energy comes from coal, which explains much of the power company’s opposition to the Waxman-Markey bill.

Somerhalder did testify before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment on April 23 on behalf of the American Gas Association.

“The goals that they are going after are important goals,” Somerhalder said. “We, in concept, do support dealing with climate change issues. We do hope that the bill can continue to be improved.”

Marcus to keynote prayer breakfast

The 12th annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast will break new ground this year. Bernie Marcus, co-founder of The Home Depot Inc. and a leading philanthropist who built the Georgia Aquarium and the Marcus Institute, will deliver the keynote prayer. Marcus, who is a devout Jew, is the first non-Christian to give the main talk at the breakfast which is organized by the Rotary Club of Atlanta.

Veronica Biggins, a search consultant, is organizing the breakfast, which will be held on Thursday, Oct. 15. As Biggins said: “Bernie Marcus is someone who has been faithful in his Temple and in his faith in this community.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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