New fund-raiser faces daunting task

Richard Ellison, recently appointed to the newly created post of vice president for advancement (fund-raising) at Chico State University, arrived on campus May 4 to spearhead critically important work at a salary of $152,500 per year.

Raising private money grows ever more vital because state support for public colleges and universities nationwide has been dwindling for more than a decade and is now in steep decline. With California in the grip of its greatest-ever financial crisis, Chico State and other CSU system campuses have suffered draconian budget cuts and look to fund-raisers for help.

Formerly associate vice president for advancement at California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly), where he earned $125,000 annually, Ellison has assumed responsibility for raising an amount equal to 12 percent ($12 million) of the university’s state-allocated budget (about $100 million) in private money next year, which in all likelihood he will not do. In recent years Chico State has brought in between $5 and $7 million per year, and the basic fund-raising infrastructure remains unchanged.

Chancellor Charles Reed recently placed the university on a graduated-step schedule, directing it to raise 1 percent more each year until it reaches a top of 15 percent in 2009. Robert Alber, associate vice president for advancement and Ellison’s second in command, said the goal this year is 11 percent ($11 million) of the $100 million state-allocated budget, but “it looks like maybe $4 to $5 million will come in,” considerably lower than last year’s $7 million.

“You must remember these goals are more like guidelines, not do-or-die targets,” Alber said. “Obviously we are not where we want to be, and it is going to take time to get there. We need more fund-raising staff—it’s as simple as that—to bring in more money.” Indeed, recently appointed President Paul Zingg has said, “You must spend money to make money.”

To illustrate, Chico State has 8.24 people working to raise money, while Cal Poly, a fund-raising powerhouse that brings in around $40 million per year, employs 41.69 people. Chico State spends 11 cents to bring in every donor dollar, a respectable efficiency rating within the 23-campus CSU galaxy. Cal Poly spends 8 cents.

The term “fund-raising” breaks down into several forms. What the president and the chancellor want most is money—"Cash is king!” as Zingg says—but Chico State officials disclosed 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 software for the many computer labs on campus, special equipment for biology or other labs, a new tractor for the university farm, etc.—all gifts that offset what would otherwise be general fund expenses.

Only 5 percent of donations comes in as undesignated cash that Zingg badly needs for discretionary spending on all kinds of hot-spot items such as student assistants, part-time faculty to meet sudden enrollment bulges and faculty travel for conferences or conventions.

Somehow Zingg and Ellison must maintain the scholarships to attract top students who may well become future generous donors but also greatly increase the in-kind gifts and discretionary money needed to prop up the meager state budget allotment.

As to what strategy he will pursue, Ellison sidestepped specifics, saying he wanted to become oriented to the advancement scene at Chico State before setting priorities. He even avoided discussing the possibility he might make the anemic fund-raising performance of the College of Business and Finance his top priority. In most universities, business colleges raise big-time private money.

The question of what to do about business bears particular relevance because Ellison holds an MBA (Pepperdine University) and, according to official Chico State sources, raised millions of dollars for the College of Business at the University of Colorado before moving to Cal Poly in 1998, where he helped bring in a $15 million gift from Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, that resulted in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly bearing that donor’s name. The gift meant millions of supplemental dollars in business programs support plus other embellishments.

Plagued by administrative turnover, Chico State’s business college will install a new “permanent” dean, Willie E. Hopkins, a Ph.D. in management, this summer as its seventh dean—including interim deans—since 1997. Ellison acknowledged without elaboration that deanship continuity is very important to effective fund-raising.

Dalen Chiang, the previous national-search business dean, lasted a year and a half. Published sources said at the time that Provost Scott McNall submitted a questionnaire about Chiang’s leadership to the business faculty that led to Chiang’s resignation. He remains a tenured full professor working with international business programs.