How Columbus State University raised $100 million
If you’re not familiar with Columbus, Georgia and Columbus State University, you are certainly not alone. You have, however, been missing something quite extraordinary!
For most of its existence, Columbus State has been viewed as a junior college quietly producing teachers and nurses for the surrounding region. But as Columbus State developed into a University, and Frank Brown became President, that began to change. His ideas on bringing together the University and the community soon attracted the attention of prominent civic leaders.
The planning study
The University, with 7,500 students, had never raised more than $3 million — but all the recent successes emboldened President Brown and the board of the Columbus State University Foundation to raise their sights considerably.
It was at this point, late in the summer of 2000, that Goettler Associates was engaged to conduct a campaign planning study. At the time, the President and development staff had prepared a preliminary list of objectives totaling $53 million. After researching the objectives, the firm suggested additional planning and preparation in advance of the study.
First, informal case interviews were conducted with about 25 community leaders and members of the CSU Foundation board. The results suggested that it might be possible to raise much more if a broader agenda could be developed. For that purpose, counsel recommended the enlistment of seven different task forces, each bringing together community leaders with University faculty and staff.
That ambitious plan was implemented, and the process generated a long list of potential campaign objectives, which would have required more than $100 million to implement. From that list, President Brown and the development staff chose the projects (both capital and endowment) to be tested in the study, totaling $66.5 million.
The study was conducted in June and July of 2001, and the firm reported that CSU might have the potential to raise $75 million or more. The study indicated that the success of the campaign would also be affected by the quality of campaign leadership, and the viability of the project which interested the major donors most — the relocation of the University’s arts and theater programs from the main campus to downtown Columbus.
In October, the campaign secured outstanding volunteer leadership. In January 2002, the goal was set at $68 million. By April, $10.8 million had been raised, with several commitments from CSU Foundation board members setting the pace. In May of 2002, the Georgia Board of Regents approved the relocation of CSU’s arts and theater programs, and the Bradley-Turner Foundation committed $25 million to support the development of the new arts complex and other campaign objectives. At the end of October, the campaign was publicly announced with $50.8 million raised toward the new campaign goal of $80 million!
By June of 2003, when Goettler Associates completed 18 months of campaign direction, CSU had raised $67 million. Continuing under the direction of the CSU development staff, the campaign went on to exceed the $80 million goal by a wide margin, finishing with just over $100 million on November 1, 2005. That included almost $17 million from alumni – an outstanding achievement for a school with CSU’s relatively brief history. In all, nearly 2,700 gifts and pledges were received, including 30 commitments of $1 million or more.
A transformative impact
What had really driven the campaign, of course, was the community’s recognition that CSU has become an engine for cultural, educational, and economic progress in southwest Georgia, and that the success of the campaign would have a transformative impact on the University and the community alike.