"First & Best" National Campaign On a Record Setting Pace

By Tom Bowman

When the First and Best National Campaign officially launched on March 31, 1995, it had already set records.

* A $30 million goal, to be raised over five years, made it the largest fund-raising campaign in the University of Saskatchewan's history.

* Even so, $22 million had already been pledged.

* The Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan had taken a leadership position in the campaign with an unprecedented $5 million contribution - the largest in the history of the University.

* The University of Saskatchewan Students Union (USSU) was close behind with $4 million.

* Faculty and staff had pledged $877,000 of their $1.5 million goal.

* Several other corporations and individuals had contributed from $100,000 to $1 million each. These include D.K. (Doc) Seaman, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Barrie Wigmore, Imperial Oil Ltd., Wascana Energy Inc., TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., IPSCO Inc., Trimac Ltd./Kent Hi-Tower Drilling, PanCanadian Petroleum Ltd., Bank of Nova Scotia and CIBC.

Since the end of March, additional contributions have pushed the total to more than $25 million, and some important phases of the campaign still haven't kicked into high gear. No wonder University President George Ivany becomes quite animated when he talks about the campaign and its prospects.

"Two years ago, when we planned this campaign, the economy hadn't shown any signs of turning around. Setting our target at $30 million, given what's happened to us, probably was quite conservative. I think we're going to do better than 30 million to be very honest with you," he said enthusiastically in a recent interview.

Alumni Support Significant

"When I arrived here six years ago, and I was given the challenge to redevelop the alumni association, we had about 20 to 22,000 names and addresses, and that year our annual fund brought in about $140,000. We now have about 65,000 names and addresses. This year our annual fund will be nearly a million dollars, if we count the annual fund plus the challenge, which people signed onto three years ago for a 3-year period. So we're going from $140,000 to about a million. And if we look at the other sources from alumni, e.g. our planned giving where people leave estates by life insurance policies in our name, we would have been the last couple of years at about $2.7 million. It has sort of taken off. I go to Hong Kong and go on the golf course with a couple of lawyers over there. And they say, `In the law community here, there are a dozen of us from Saskatchewan. Nobody's ever asked us to give anything, and we're at the point where we're capable of making substantial donations.'" That kind of attitude, Ivany explained, "gave us the courage to embark on the campaign."

Even so, when the University community began to plan the fund-raising campaign two years ago, outside consultants said they wouldn't recommend a $30 million campaign, but they did recommend one to the University. "And the reason they gave us was two-fold," the president said. "Number one, our alumni were very, very well positioned in the country. Number two, they were so supportive of us."

"I found that the University doesn't brag about itself," Ivany explained. "And as a newcomer, I was amazed about how little I knew, or anyone else knows, about what the University has done over the years. The idea, for example, that we were the first in the world to do radiation therapy for cancer and invented the cobalt bomb [for cancer treatment]. Nobody knows that.

"Well, the PR people were digging up information for me and writing my speeches, and we started to tell about the places where we've been first and best in our history. Suzanne Cornforth, who's quite creative about this, generated the concept of a First and Best database which would be accessible to all kinds of people."

How the Money Will be Used: a Student-Focussed Campaign

Many gifts to the First and Best campaign are pinpointed for use in a specific area. (See related stories.) All contributions, however, will be used within guidelines established by the First and Best campaign, and those guidelines are student-centred. The campaign concentrates on three broad areas.

Supporting the Future First & Best ($8 million)

* Lifting the barriers for students of aboriginal ancestry.

* Increasing access for students with special needs.

* Scholarships, bursaries and loans to attract and keep the best students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

* Travel grants and exchange programs to expose U of S students to understandings of different cultures and international relationships.

Putting Student Needs First ($10 million)

* Student centre expansion and upgrade.

Responding to a Changing World ($12 million)

* Enhancing current teaching programs, including support for instructional development and improvements in classroom facilities.

What Remains to be Done?

To date, the campaign has canvassed corporate Canada and the campus community itself-faculty, staff and students. "So we're at the stage where we need to conclude the corporate Canada visitation," President Ivany said. "Now we're planning a new focus - the medium and small-town businesses which abound in Saskatchewan.

"We put together in June a Saskatoon steering committee, and we're about to do exactly the same thing in Regina. So we're organizing ourselves to make a whole new foray out there."

The members of the steering committees are alumni volunteers, chosen because they're well located in Saskatoon business circles. "In the fall, we hope to give it a big boost by focussing on the alumni contribution to First and Best. As an illustration, one of the best organized alumni groups will be in Calgary. There are something on the order of 12 or 14 hundred U of S engineers in Calgary, and they've always been in touch with us. They're one of the best organized groups of alumni in the country, and their annual giving is always substantial. They are putting together a project, aimed at the College of Engineering, taking advantage of the First and Best Campaign. They want to organize something known as The Calgary Engineers Project, which will have their name on it over in the College of Engineering."

The Way of the Future

With the decline in government funding, fund-raising has become vitally important to universities across Canada. "In the foreseeable future we probably will be much more heavily subsidized than American universities, but there's no question that we are dependent on alumni, not only through personal donations, but through alumni contacts, which are probably much more important than personal donations. Our dependence on corporate partnerships has become almost a way of life, and I don't see it changing. We're going to have to treat our alumni differently, we're going to have to partner with corporations differently than we ever have.

"I think the idea that people will just give money to the president to do what he sees fit with is also a thing of the past. It's not just universities. It's our whole society. When we go out on a fund-raising campaign, the corporate sector, and even private donators, are coming back and saying, `Well what are you going to do for us if we give you 5 million dollars? What are we going to get out of this?' And they often mean more than simple publicity. They mean something that comes out of the partnership that's going to benefit them as a corporation - e.g., a new talented pool of international marketing graduates."