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.”
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.”