Levin masters tricks of fund raising

Yale President Richard Levin knows it takes time, effort and money to solicit gifts for the University. That’s why he’s likely to board a plane at least 15 times a year to convince potentially large donors to pledge money.

And development officials agree that visiting donors is a good idea, but Vice President for Development Charles Pagnam said the best results often come from bringing prospective donors to campus. About 40 individuals arrived yesterday to partake in Yale Today, a program designed to show potential donors what’s happening on campus.

The visitors attended a session with Yale Chief Investment Officer David Swenson and Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead. They ate dinner last night with Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer, and will have lunch with Levin this afternoon.

But Pagnam said that because of people’s work schedules and other commitments, it is not always easy to bring people to campus.

So, from time to time, Levin and Pagnam hit the road.

Early this week, Levin flew to California to meet with nine potential donors. He made house and office calls and went to breakfasts, dinners and lunches. Pagnam also left town Monday and headed to Florida for the same purpose. Neither would disclose the names of anyone they visited.

Levin said they are trying to raise money for the residential college and Sterling Memorial Library renovations, the science and arts building initiatives, and the new Center for the Study of Globalization and World Fellows Program.

Levin and Pagnam aren’t likely to travel far unless the potential gift is substantial — typically above $1 million, officials said. Levin said he would visit people giving gifts upwards of $100,000 and that he travels to New York for development reasons about once a week.

Considering the wealth and power of potential big donors, it’s easy to picture Levin and Pagnam swinging golf clubs at a country club while explaining how the residential colleges are desperately in need of funds.

But that is not typically the case — Levin doesn’t even play golf.

Levin said most of the meetings take place either in the workplace or home, or sometimes in a restaurant.

“I’ve seen some incredible homes and art collections,” Levin said.

Visits are beneficial, but can be tricky because University officials don’t want to seem too pushy.

“People are generally happy to see me,” Levin said. “I don’t ask for money every time I visit someone.”

Pagnam said he can size up whether a donor will make a commitment to the University at the very beginning of a meeting.

“Within five minutes I can tell if the time is not right,” Pagnam said. “The person may start talking about a bad business investment they made recently.”

Levin and Pagnam are not the only ones traveling. There are more than 20 staffers in the development office who make about 225 visits to potential donors a year, Pagnam said.

The expense of traveling around the country while trying to raise money burns a small hole in Yale’s wallet. But the value of a plane ticket and a face-to-face visit goes a long way.

Pagnam said last year his office’s expenditures “cost five cents of every dollar” raised.

“Expenditures on development are obviously well worth it,” Levin said.

Typically, fund-raising trips are confined to the United States, but development officials said they would do development work while in London and Hong Kong for tercentennial celebrations.

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