Students will help NU seek donors

Dalia Naamani-Goldman

The Office of University Development plans to work more closely with students to accomplish fund-raising goals such as the long-awaited renovations to Norris University Center, Northwestern officials said.

Vice President for Development Sarah Pearson, who has been on the job for three months, said she thinks greater philanthropic gifts will follow if donors and alumni can develop strong relationships with the students whom their donations would serve.

“It’s clear that alumni want to know and hear from students,” Pearson said in a Friday interview. “Student-life issues are harder to understand if you don’t have access.”

Although Campaign Northwestern has exceeded its $1.4 billion goal, student-life concerns such as the proposed Norris renovations have not kept pace with donations earmarked for research facilities and the university’s endowment. Administrators still are far from reaching the estimated $20 million needed for the renovations.

But Pearson said NU’s development officials are in the process of preparing a proposal for a prospective Norris donor this week. Potential donors likely will come from those already closely affiliated with NU, Pearson said.

“We are talking to our best friends who are already engaged in giving to this university,” Pearson said. “We need to target those close to us.”

Small donations will not suffice to fund the expansion, Pearson said. The university is looking for families or corporations capable of giving a multimillion-dollar gift.

Benjamin Slivka, a member of NU’s Board of Trustees who donated money for Slivka Residential College, said Monday that he isn’t sure what type of donor would provide the funds for a Norris expansion.

“It’s hard to speculate,” he said. “People give various amounts of money to various organizations for a variety of reasons. It’s so dependent on the individual.”

Since her appointment to the position, Pearson has helped the five-year Campaign NU enter its final stages. The campaign is closing in on $1.45 billion now, Pearson said, and will end Aug. 31.

To keep raising funds after the campaign ends, she added, development officials must become more involved with students and deans and more proactive with thanking donors and following up.

“It’s clear we need to strengthen the way we communicate with people in order to take better care of our relationships,” Pearson said.

William Banis, vice president for student affairs, is working with Pearson to organize student volunteers interested in helping NU appeal to potential donors, she said. Some students involved in Associated Student Government said they would welcome being a part of the effort.

Banis and Norris Director Bill Johnston said Monday that they are in favor of using students to help solicit potential donations but would not comment on any specific plans.

ASG President-elect Mike Fong, who takes office Wednesday, said he will be in contact with Pearson as soon as the ASG Executive Board is in place. He agrees with Pearson’s assessment that a potential Norris donor would want to have strong ties with students.

“The people who are more inclined to give to Norris are people who place a high value on student life,” Fong said.

Michael Blake, who was defeated in ASG presidential runoff but plans to apply for ASG’s student services vice president, made student involvement in fund-raising efforts a major point of his platform.

“That’s the best thing — when (donors) can see what their money is actually going to,” said Blake, a Medill junior. “I’m very pleased to hear administrators are taking up the issue.”