During his 20-year term, University President Richard Levin oversaw the donation of $7 billion to Yale and cultivated close connections with the University’s biggest donors. When he steps down on June 30, it will be up to his successor to maintain the relationships he worked to build.
Relationships with donors are widely considered one of the most fundamental components of fundraising, and Levin has been instrumental in securing major gifts. As the presidential search moves forward, those involved with Yale’s fundraising say the University and its next leader will need to prioritize preserving the strong relationships with donors that Levin has developed.
“First of all, because of the length of his tenure, he has developed very, very strong relationships with a large number of people,” former Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said. “Secondly, he has done so much for Yale that the alumni give him so much credibility and admiration, and he was very good in explaining the needs and explaining why he felt something should be a priority for Yale.”
Regarded by many as an expert fundraiser and builder, Levin has overseen major capital projects such as the renovations of the 12 residential colleges and construction of the $222 million new School of Management.
With nine months remaining in his presidency, Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said she expects to see a final fundraising push that could bring donation levels above those typically before and after a campaign.
“We’re talking about how to leverage this last year of his presidency,” O’Neill said. “Especially on how to focus on those relationships that he knows best and to see if there are some of them that can provide support for the ongoing needs of the University.”
The University received roughly $285 million per year in the seven years before the silent phase began for Yale Tomorrow, the seven-year fundraising campaign that concluded on June 30, 2011. During the campaign, annual donations averaged $550 million, O’Neill said. Yale raised some $350 million in the latest fiscal year, which ended June 30, and O’Neill says she expects that figure to stabilize around $400 million and $450 million per year until the next campaign.
From the start of his presidency, Levin was driven to the center of Yale’s fundraising efforts. He assumed office in the middle of the University’s $1.5 billion “… and for Yale” capital campaign — an initiative launched in 1992 by then-President Benno Schmidt that saw three presidents in three years.
“He jumped right in,” said Charles Pagnam, who served as Yale’s vice president for development from 1997-2004 after helping to organize the “… and for Yale” campaign. “I think the advantage was that the development office had, along with the administration and the Corporation, put together a number of priorities for the campaign.”
Having the priorities of the campaign already set allowed Levin to focus on introducing himself to major donors, Pagnam said, aided by the Office of Development and its existing donor relationships. The campaign went on to raise $1.7 billion — exceeding initial expectations by $200 million and setting a record for the largest capital campaign in higher education history.
When Levin’s successor takes office, he or she will also be able to turn to officials in the Office of Development and other administrators for assistance.
“Rick has been here for so long and these are big shoes to fill, but Rick isn’t the only one with relationships with donors,” O’Neill said.
Many major donations to the University in recent years were overseen by Inge Reichenbach, the former vice president for development who left office in June. O’Neill said the Development Office has already begun shifting responsibility for major donors to O’Neill and others in the office. Officials such as Provost Peter Salovey, Yale College Dean Mary Miller, Art Gallery Director Jock Reynolds and Athletics Director Tom Beckett also work closely with donors.
Asked earlier this month whether he will remain involved with Yale’s fundraising after stepping down, Levin said he does not have specific plans for his post-Yale life other than writing on economics and higher education. He declined to comment on most fundraising issues on Wednesday, saying only that the administration is “in the process of formulating plans for this year.”
O’Neill said meeting top donors will be one of the first priorities of the next president. Once those connections are established, she said, it will be up to the new president to define development goals and eventually incorporate those goals into the next fundraising campaign. She added that the gaps between campaigns tend to range from five to eight years, depending on donor fatigue and the time required for a new president to outline objectives.
“There’s no question the new president will have ideas and goals that they will want to accomplish, and the campaign will be part of achieving those, but the question will be when do they feel ready to do that,” she said. “Some of the goals will have been defined by the president and Corporation in Rick’s time, but it would be surprising not to have the new president to put their own flavor and their own emphasis on goals for the future.”
The Yale Tomorrow fundraising campaign officially launched in 2006 and raised $3.88 billion.