Going for gold

University to invest half-million dollars in new fundraising veep, office

MONEY MAN Robert Alber, former fundraiser for the Red Cross, may soon be Chico State’s chief dollar-grabber.

MONEY MAN Robert Alber, former fundraiser for the Red Cross, may soon be Chico State’s chief dollar-grabber.

Photo By Tom Angel

With no fanfare or public announcement, Paul Zingg, president of Chico State University, has launched the search he hopes will find the ideal vice president for advancement (fundraising) to remedy the school’s ongoing poor performance in raising non-state money.

For several years Chico State has strived to meet a $10-million-per-year goal for raising private money but brought in only about half that amount. Last year, the best in a four-year spread, produced $7 million, $2 million of it from a single donor to fund an endowed, all-discipline faculty chair.

Charles Reed, chancellor of the California State University system, met late last summer with Zingg and set new multi-year goals: $11 million this year plus an additional $1 million each following year to reach a top of $15 million.

Raising private money grows ever more important because state support (tax money) for public colleges and universities nationwide has been dwindling for about a decade but is now in steep decline. With California in the grip of its greatest-ever financial crisis, support for higher education has already suffered draconian cuts and may see even worse in the future. Successful fundraising fills in behind state support cuts.

The term “fundraising” breaks down into several forms. What Zingg and the chancellor want most is money—"Cash is king,” as Zingg says—but Chico State officials disclose that almost 70 percent of the money coming in each year is earmarked for specific scholarships. Another 25 percent comes in the form of so-called “in-kind gifts,” such as a software for the many computer labs on campus, special equipment for a biology lab, a new piano for the Music Department, etc.—all gifts that offset what would otherwise be general-fund expenses. Only 5 percent of donations is undesignated cash that Zingg badly needs for discretionary spending on all kinds of hot-spot items such as part-time faculty hires to meet sudden enrollment bulges, faculty travel for conferences or conventions, student assistants, etc.

Somehow the president must maintain the scholarships to attract top students but also greatly increase the in-kind gifts and discretionary money that can prop up his meager state (general) fund allotment.

“More and more, university presidents are being evaluated on their ability to bring in off-campus money,” former President Manuel Esteban said in 2003. Indeed, it’s conventional campus wisdom that Zingg got his Chico State job because he presented himself in his public appearances here as ready and able to move on fundraising. “There are expectations,” the new president has acknowledged.

As for the fundraising wizard needed to make the money appear, Esteban approved the creation of the new administrative position just before leaving office. A search committee formed more than a year ago did not act because it awaited orders from Zingg, who took over last February. When Zingg arrived, he delayed a search because, as he said, “I simply don’t have the money.” Now he has the money, presumably released and blessed by the chancellor.

The position announcement, dated Sept. 30, ran in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, with a consultant group based in Los Angeles listed as conducting the search. The group will gather the names of candidates and pass them on to the Chico State search committee for evaluation and, it’s hoped, a hire by March.

The announcement is unusual in that it specifies no cutoff date for applications and no salary range. However, the California Faculty Association (CFA) union’s local newsletter said administration sources have projected new costs for the position and its support at a minimum salary of $150,000 and a rough estimate of $500,000 for a full year of normal costs to staff and operate the office. Last year the central office fundraising staff cost around $500,000.

“You’ve got to spend money to make money,” Zingg said.

“Finding the best person will not be easy,” Esteban said, because cash-strapped public colleges across the nation are chasing a limited group of top-flight people. For example, Zingg concedes that an important factor in his winning the Chico State presidency was because he came from the California Polytechnic Institute in San Luis Obispo, a school with enough fundraising power to bring in more than $40 million per year. However, just this year the fundraising whiz at Cal Poly reportedly left his vice presidency for a similar post at the University of California at Riverside.

Yet Chico State’s search may turn out to be less daunting than expected because the right person may already be on campus in the person of Robert Alber. Esteban appointed him to the Chico State fundraising team almost two years ago as a new coordinator for large gifts at a salary of only $85,000 a year, a big cut from his former position as chief fundraiser for the Red Cross in San Diego and Imperial Counties. However, Alber acknowledged he saw opportunity at under-performing Chico State and also found the Chico area appealing.

When Ed Masterson, associate vice president for advancement for some 30 years, retired last Dec. 31, Zingg quickly moved Alber up as his replacement. The change gave Alber the No. 2 position he held for two years at San Diego State, the CSU system’s flagship campus that raises more than $50 million a year, tops among the 23 CSU campuses. Prior to that Alber headed advancement for four years at Arizona State University at Tempe, another fundraising powerhouse.

Asked if he had applied for the job, Alber said yes, adding he had been encouraged to do so.

“Right now we’re doing a lot of organizing and planning," Alber said. "We’re not where we want to be, of course, and it’s going to take some time to get there." He hinted that Reed may cut Chico State some slack on near-term goal attainment if the fundraising program appears to be shaping up well.