Campus News

VP for Development and Alumni Relations discusses importance of fundraising to UGA

Kelly Kerner

By Katie DeGenova

Columns: Why is fundraising important to the University of Georgia?
Kerner: The University of Georgia is positioned to have a dramatic and lasting impact on the lives of its students, the state of Georgia and the world. Donations enable UGA to make that a reality.

Funds also create access. Through funding, the University of Georgia is able to offer students access to top-notch faculty and an excellent education that extends beyond the classroom. In addition, UGA can provide resources to faculty, enabling them to conduct breakthrough research.

Columns: Who benefits from donations to UGA?
Kerner: Students. Faculty. Georgia residents. The country. The world.

That sounds dramatic, and it is. Lives change as a direct result of UGA’s fundraising success. Some donations have a direct and attributable impact. Endowed faculty chairs and professorships, of which we have over 250, bring talent and research to all corners of our campus.

On the other hand, a scholarship that helps a first-generation student receive a world-class education could change the trajectory of an entire family’s future. That has reverberations into the future in ways we cannot predict.

Columns: If UGA stopped fundraising, what would happen?
Kerner: Without private donations to UGA, we’d face hard decisions. Programs could be cut. Jobs could be lost. The student experience would not be what it is. Without financial support, some students would be unable to attend UGA. Without the enriched student experience, some students may choose not to attend. Other universities may attract both students and faculty from us. UGA would fall behind. That’s not acceptable.

Columns: Why should a first-time donor choose UGA as his or her cause?

Kerner: Nonprofit organizations may affect changes related to cancer, poverty or hunger. Donors can give to any of those organizations and make a difference. But supporting Georgia’s flagship university gives them the opportunity to support all of those causes in addition to having a positive, lasting impact on our state and our students.

Columns: How can faculty and staff help create a culture of philanthropy?
Kerner: I have two requests for faculty and staff: Get involved and encourage one another. If you don’t currently support UGA, please consider doing so. If you do, talk to your colleagues. Tell them how and why you give back to UGA.

Our faculty and staff are the lifeblood of the University of Georgia. For faculty and staff, an annual gift to UGA is an investment in themselves. Their beliefs in UGA’s mission is vital to our success, and philanthropic support illustrates their confidence in UGA in the most concrete way. External influencers and stakeholders view UGA through a new lens—and are more likely to support it—if they see internal “buy in.”

Columns: What role will the comprehensive campaign play in fundraising at UGA?

Kerner: We are all committed to taking this university to the next level. To get there, we must maximize fundraising efforts because private donations play a critical role in the future success of this great institution.

Campaigns are about building messaging and operational structure around the goals, vision and aspirations of an institution. Demonstrating how the university’s goals and aspirations have real-world impact on the lives of our constituents is the first step. From there, we must build excitement and foster increased visibility for our university as a cause worthy of support.

Early in the campaign, the focus was on building momentum and demonstrating to our constituents that getting on board is worthwhile. At the peak, UGA will go public and announce campaign goals, which will help attract new donors and build more energy.

This comprehensive capital campaign launched in 2013 and has already raised more than $550 million, and we will set a goal to raise over $1 billion by 2020. We will be announcing the official campaign goals in November.

Columns: How are you preparing to launch the public phase of the comprehensive campaign?

Kerner: The way we organize ourselves has a direct impact on our success. UGA’s fundraising organization underwent a considerable restructure in December 2014, and we’re starting to see the benefits. I believe we have the right team in place, and we’re organized to be successful.

We are now focused on refining the messaging for the public phase of our campaign, which will be unveiled this fall.

The public announcement in November will signal that we’re ready to achieve our goal. The operational structure and messaging will be set. There will be an on campus event for faculty, staff and students on Nov. 10 to kick off the comprehensive capital campaign.

Columns: Do you expect that UGA will break fundraising records this fiscal year for a third year in a row?
Kerner: Fundraising success should be assessed from a long-term viewpoint. Much like the stock market, short-term trends carry little weight as long as the long-term trend is on an upward trajectory. Breaking an annual fundraising record is great, but to me, building an organization that is equipped for long-term success year over year is more important.

We are pacing to break last year’s record, but I do not expect us to continue to break the fundraising record each year. Momentum ebbs and flows throughout a campaign. We should anticipate ups and downs as we approach the end of the campaign in 2020.

The real measure will be the eight-year trend line over the course of the campaign. Significant improvement will signal that we are structured for success and able to fundraise to the aspirations of the university as we set out to do.