The face behind Yale’s fundraising

In her home country of Germany, Inge Reichenbach’s job is almost unheard of.

When asked why she has spent more than 30 years in fundraising, a profession that she had barely heard of before she took a job as a development researcher at Cornell in 1979, she said, “I’m fascinated and intrigued by individuals who give a lot of money away and don’t get anything back, except a good feeling. This country has an incredible history of philanthropy. It’s one of the most noble things you can do.”

Reichenbach has helped raise $2.9 billion dollars since arriving at Yale in 2005.
Yale University
Reichenbach has helped raise $2.9 billion dollars since arriving at Yale in 2005.

With this trademark honesty and charm, Reichenbach has raised $2.9 billion dollars since arriving at Yale in 2005, despite the recession that has lately tempered the generosity of many alumni and other donors. Though her primary duty as vice president of development is to oversee a staff of more than 200 development officers who identify prospective donors, reach out to them and coordinate donations, Reichenbach has worked, above all, to make relationships the foundation of fundraising.

The concept may seem trite, colleagues said, but only donors who are constantly connected to Yale and who have the opportunity to talk to development officers time after time about the University’s goals ultimately give millions of dollars to Yale. Part of Reichenbach’s success has been tied to her ability to secure major donations for the University, although the dollar amount of annual giving has also nearly doubled during her five-year tenure.

But while Reichenbach has had visible successes, her record was recently besmirched: The University suffered the greatest decline in donations among the top 20 fundraising universities last year, according to a Council for Aid to Education survey released last month. Reichenbach defended the drop in donations as the result of the economic downturn, adding that Yale is still on track to raise the $3.5 billion it is trying to collect for its five-year Yale Tomorrow campaign, which ends next year.

The University, in difficult financial straits after a 24.6 percent tumble in the endowment’s value last year, is looking to donations more than ever to fill in the gaps, especially to support student financial aid and faculty salaries, Provost Peter Salovey said. With $600 million left to raise for the Yale Tomorrow campaign, Reichenbach has a challenge ahead of her — and her colleagues, staff and friends say she is better equipped to meet that challenge than almost any other professional fundraiser in higher education.

“It’s a huge advantage to have a great, professional operation in our development office, and to have a leader like Inge is a huge asset at a time like this,” said her chief partner in fundraiser, University President Richard Levin.

THE ROUTE TO RICHES

Born in the small town of Schwaebisch Gmuend in southern Germany, Reichenbach studied classical and romance philology at the University of Heidelberg and came to the U.S. because she wanted to pursue a doctoral degree in French literature alongside her husband, Uwe, a linguistics scholar at Cornell. By 1979, she had decided not to pursue her doctorate but she had no idea what she would do next.

When an acquaintance in the Cornell development office mentioned that the office needed a corporate researcher, Reichenbach applied for the job and began what would become more than two decades spent at Cornell. After her predecessor as vice president for development and alumni affairs died, then-president Hunter Rawlings named her head of the department in 1995. In an interview, Rawlings, who said he still keeps in touch with Reichenbach, described his former chief fundraiser as a consummate professional who never stopped working.

“She’s tireless,” Rawlings said, recalling numerous fundraising trips the pair took in Asia, where Reichenbach slept little yet briefed him thoroughly before every meeting with a donor. “I remember having to say to Inge two or three different years, ‘Inge, you’ve just got to take a vacation.’ ”

By 2004, Cornell had recorded $386 million in alumni giving, an all-time high for the school, and a figure that propelled it to third place among its peer institutions in overall donations and first in alumni giving.

“From what I understand, she ran the place,” said Susan Crown ’80, a former fellow of the Yale Corporation who chaired the Corporation’s development committee when Reichenbach arrived at Yale and now co-chairs Yale Tomorrow. “Several of my friends who served on the Cornell board called and lamented her departure. They felt that letting her go was a real loss.”

Indeed, Rawlings’s successor, Jeffrey Lehman, may have resigned abruptly in his third year as Cornell’s president partly because Reichenbach, who had the trustees’ support, had left for Yale, news outlets reported at the time. But Reichenbach came to Yale because “it was a great opportunity,” she said at the time and repeated in an interview last week, adding that her time at Cornell “opened up a new world” for her by introducing her to the once foreign concept of fundraising.

FROM RED TO BLUE

Reichenbach may have spent a quarter-century at Cornell, but she has been at Yale for all of five years — enough to raise $2.9 billion and dozens of multi-million dollar gifts that have paid for the renovations of some buildings, the construction of new ones and the establishment of new institutes. Among the most famous donations during her tenure was the anonymous $100 million donation to the School of Music in November 2005, enabling the school to eliminate tuition.

But she has embraced Yale and its culture just as she embraced the American culture of philanthropy, colleagues said in interviews, a transformation necessary to tap Old Blues for donations in a time of need.

Though the change in tone at the Development Office may have been the result of switching gears for an ambitious capital campaign, Reichenbach brought a new leadership style based on close interactions with both donors and staff, associate vice president for development Joan O’Neill said. O’Neill served as acting vice president of the office after Reichenbach’s predecessor, Charles Pagnam, a longtime Yale employee, resigned from the post in 2004. (Pagnam declined to comment for this article.)

The new vice president immediately conducted a statistical analysis of Yale fundraising upon her arrival, Crown said. In the first few years, Reichenbach focused on updating the development office’s technology systems and putting Yale fundraising online by expanding online giving options, O’Neill said.

Reichenbach also created an online giving catalogue that displays every need a donor can fill and its corresponding price, from the cost of renovating a buttery to the cost of endowing a professorship — just like a J. Crew catalogue, as Reichenbach proudly says.

Reichenbach contrasted her relationships-based approach to more transactional organizations such as National Public Radio, which uses annual on-air drives to attract donors.

“I’ve never heard of somebody after hearing these radio appeals pick up the phone and give a million dollars,” she said.

‘SHE’S A YALIE NOW’

Joy McGrath, the director of development for Yale College, said Reichenbach encourages her staff to leave the confines of the development office on Church Street and visit central campus to see what they are working for. Staff often attend all-staff meetings, listen to faculty panels and meet students, said Lynn Andrewsen ’82, the managing director of the Yale Alumni Fund.

“It’s a huge challenge to make sure the entire staff is engaged, but obviously it’s important because we’re the people telling the people many of them about what’s happening at Yale,” McGrath agreed.

And Reichenbach herself says one of the most enjoyable parts of her job has been interacting not just with donors, but also students and faculty.

It is her ability to coach deans, directors and faculty to “sell” their needs to donors and understand Yale’s needs that makes Reichenbach so successful, said Thomas Lynch, the director of Yale’s Cancer Center and the physician in chief of Yale-New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Hospital, which was itself established with an $80 million gift from Joel Smilow ’54. Lynch himself has given presentations to donors and development officers alike on the importance of fundraising for cancer research.

Reichenbach, her colleagues agree, has become as passionate about Yale as anyone.

“You can really tell when someone believes and when they don’t,” Crown said. “It’s very hard to sell something they don’t believe in.”

Added Crown: “She’s a Yalie now.”

Comments

  • alumnus

    To the author of this story: this is a wonderfully put together feature story. The YDN could use a lot more features like this one, as I haven’t seen too many like this since 2007.

  • agreed

    ditto #1. great job YDN. some fair, balanced and interesting reporting! keep up the good work

  • Philanthrophobe

    Perhaps few people in Germany have heard of what someone like Reichenbach does, because there’s little need for private philanthropy.

  • Ken McKenna (TD’75, PhD ’78)

    Inge is wonderful. A genius.

    The Council for Aid to Education survey counts only “cash received,” not pledges. But almost no serious business uses cash accounting (that $2.9 Billion Yale Tomorrow raise number is mostly pledges, for example). Any business person knows that cash received recently does not well reflect recent overall substantive performance (although cash flow certainly matters for things like meeting debt payments and operating expenses). For example, those wonderfully large chunks of cash received by Harvard and Stanford (God bless ‘em both) recently are probably mostly products of older pledges. In Harvard’s case that may mean pledges made even prior to the appointment of Harvard’s current president … one of whose first acts was to fire the then-head of Harvard’s capital campaign. Things may be going just fine in Cambridge for all that (who knows?), but the cash received recently is not a good measure one way or the other.

    President Levin should also be expressly credited for hiring Inge, too, not just raising funds with her. One of a president’s main jobs is finding and hiring the right person for the right job. Levin has an amazing record there.

    Viva Inge!

  • Y10

    Great piece, Vivian!

  • Goldie ’08

    I spent a summer at Yale working for the development office. Inge and her staff are great people and do invaluable work for Yale

  • @#4

    Ha! I was gonna add the German version for local color, but “Heil Inge!” would lead to inappropriate connotations…

    So, yes–Viva Inge!

  • JWM

    When is Yale going to return the ill-gotten money it received from John Mazzuto?

  • Yale 08

    @#3,

    There’s less private fundraising because there are fewer donors.

    When the government takes half your money and redistributes it through various schemes, there isn’t much left for private donation.

  • Big Red

    Sorry, Ms. Crown…

    Once a Cornellian, always a Cornellian.

  • @9

    Rather than a critique of big gov’t, might your point also suggest some of the limits of philanthropy? Isn’t funding through gov’t instruments fairer than when left to the whims and prejudices of private donations? Apart from equality of support, doesn’t such method of support also ensure greater consistency of support too? i.e. economic support for education in Germany hasn’t been cut to the same degree as in the US…

  • Yale 08

    @#11,

    Private donations are real charity, offered through the sacrifices of donors.

    Government spending is NOT charitable. It is a humanless, faceless expenditure. It disconnects the recipient and donor.

    Government spending is certainly not “fair”. Dollars are allocated according to a political bartering process that is fundamentally corrupt.

    Private philanthropy surpasses government entitlement programs in every way. An example in Connecticut: Catholic Charities is a far superior support system to the poor than any government assistance program.

  • @ 12

    And the source for your assertion about Catholic charities is . . . ?

    I thought that government was the way that we solved collective-action problems. When 300 million people work to solve a problem, of course most of them are going to be “faceless” to each other.

    The political bartering process by which these 300 million work together — also known as “majority rules” — may not be the best resource-allocation mechanism, but at least it is publicly accountable and subject to judicial review.

    Anyone who thinks that the nonprofit world is apolitical has a lot to learn.

    As for fairness of government spending, please describe what is unfair about Social Security and Medicare?

    If you are referring instead to legislative earmarks — a tiny proportion of the federal budget — they certainly are distributed unequally in the short term. But they probably average out fairly well in the long run, as majorities shift and chairmanships change hands.

  • Yale 08

    Government programs are never publicly accountable. The bureaucrats in charge of day to day operations are careerists. They are not voted into their positions.

    Accountable to judicial review? Try to sue a government agency. See how far you get.

    RE: “Collective action problem”
    Who is “we” and do “we” agree on what the problem is? How to solve it? CAN we solve it?

    The non-profit world is not apolitical, but it is accountable to DONORS. No donations, no organization.

    Come out of your utopian fantasy. The world doesn’t function like SimCity.

  • Philanthrophobe

    As I see it there are two fundamental pitfalls with “philanthropy”:

    1) it places the redistribution of wealth at the whim of individuals
    2) it centers our attention on how much a particular person has “given back” and thus distracts us from asking how much that particular person has “taken out” in producing that wealth in the first instance.

    The etymology of the word itself is worthy of some reflection, too.

  • y09

    “RE: “Collective action problem”
    Who is “we” and do “we” agree on what the problem is? How to solve it? CAN we solve it?”

    In order: citizens; not necessarily but this is what elections are for; see #2, see #2.

    Maybe go take an Intro to American Politics course or something?

  • Yale 08

    Maybe you should realize that not everyone shares your political philosophy, and that American government doesn’t work like it’s described in civics class.

    I can’t seem to find justification for many types of proposed “collective actions” in the actual text of the Constitution…

  • Yale 08

    #15,

    Wealth, when achieved through free exchange between individuals, is NOT a zero sum game.

    Only political rent seekers and criminals achieve wealth through destructive practices.

    A store cannot rob you. A store must convince you that the product they offer is worth the price.

    Only a robber with a gun or the government can force you to hand over 50% of your paycheck.

    I’d rather have philanthropy in the hands of individuals. It is easier to bring an individual like Madoff to justice than to imprison the Fed.

  • #13

    Yale 08 said: “Accountable to judicial review? Try to sue a government agency. See how far you get.”

    Take it from this lawyer: Happens all the time. I have a lawsuit pending against a government agency. I might even win it.

    Yale 08 said: “Government programs are never publicly accountable. The bureaucrats in charge of day to day operations are careerists. They are not voted into their positions.”

    Actually, at the federal level, the careerists are managed by people who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The careerists administer programs that are structured according to laws enacted by Congress, signed by the President, and implemented via regulation (that itself is subject to congressional and judicial review and to political-appointee authorship).

    How is that not political accountability?

    You do understand, don’t you, that the executive branch is lobbied just as much, if not more, than the legislative?

    And have you ever seen an executive-branch official squirm at a legislative hearing? Again, happens all the time.

    Yale 08 said: “Come out of your utopian fantasy. The world doesn’t function like SimCity.”

    Actually, unlike a Yale 08 grad, I have not been living in an academic utopia for most of the past five years. I’ve worked for all three branches of government, and for the past 9 years have worked in the private sector.

    “SimCity?” Never heard of it.

  • Yale 08

    @#13.

    You are a system man. Nothing more. Put your head back in the sand. Nothing to see here.

    You are living in the Matrix. Except the US government is more terrifying than the machine overlords.