Photos: Tim Klein
Over the past decade, Columbia has been building the resources, support and strategic vision to launch an unprecedented $100 million campaign to bolster the college’s future. See how the Campaign for Columbia College Chicago will give more students the opportunity to author the culture of their times, and learn how you can be a part.
Columbia College always leaves newcomers surprised. Few know that the college is one of Chicago’s oldest continuing centers of higher learning—older, in fact, than the University of Chicago.
Fewer still realize that, through shrewd planning in the 1980s, the school became the South Loop’s No. 1 landowner by snapping up and redeveloping some of the city’s most historic structures.
Columbia’s campus serves one of the nation’s most diverse student populations, including those attending the country’s largest film school, the largest fashion studies program and an award-winning ASL-English Interpretation program.
“We are changing the culture and climate of philanthropy in a way that fits Columbia.”
But what might be most surprising to outside observers, as well as many of Columbia’s students and alumni, is that the school has accomplished all of this without a substantial endowment or a significant fundraising program in its 121-year history.
That’s about to change. Because this is Columbia’s moment.
Over the past decade, Columbia has been building the resources, support and strategic vision to launch an unprecedented $100 million campaign to bolster the school’s ongoing development.
Most significantly, the campaign — called “This is Columbia’s moment”— will support funding for students through grants, scholarships and a lasting endowment to finance the future.
This campaign has occurred largely behind the scenes. Until now.
“When I got here in 2005, there was a feasibility study that opened a lot of eyes,” says Eric V.A. Winston, PhD., Vice President for Institutional Advancement.
The study, Winston says, reported that Columbia had “some of the rudiments” to raise money for the school but weak or nonexistent connections to the key groups that make meaningful college giving happen: the involvement of the local and national philanthropic community, corporate and government funders, and most notably, Columbia’s own alumni.
“We were told we couldn’t raise $5 million, much less $100 million,” Winston says.
Winston credits Columbia College President Warrick L. Carter, PhD, and Board of Trustees Chairman Allen M. Turner with unprecedented success in meeting that challenge: $60 million has already been pledged or delivered toward the $100 million target goal announced in fall 2010.
Yet the bigger accomplishment is the creation of a fundraising apparatus that not only acknowledges Columbia’s unique culture but celebrates it, as that culture has made the school the largest private arts and media college in the nation.
“We are changing the culture and climate of philanthropy in a way that fits Columbia and what is truly different and unique about the college,” says Winston.
For most of its history, Columbia was funded largely by student tuition dollars. Now, Columbia needs to broaden that funding base—quickly.
A 2008 study by the Delta Cost Project on PostSecondary Education Costs showed both a 22 percent increase in instructional spending and a 36 percent increase in student services spending amongst most U.S. private colleges between 1998 and 2008.
Students obviously can’t shoulder the entire financial burden given the downturns in the U.S. economy, tougher access to student loans and an increasingly competitive playing field for scholarships and grants.
In March, Congress delivered somber news. The Pell Grant, the backbone of financial aid to the country’s most needy students—30 percent of Columbia College undergraduates receive Pell Grants—was subject to a decrease in overall funding levels thanks to deficit-cutting measures in Washington.
One month later, in April, Congressional Republicans and Democrats reached a compromise. The amount of money for each student in the Pell Grant would remain the same—at $5,550—but Congress would do away with Pell Grants for summer semesters. The currently proposed GOP budget reduces the maximum award for the Pell grant to $3,040, which would be the lowest it has been since 1998.
Despite $789 billion pumped into the economy in two years by the American recovery and Reinvestment Act, a comparatively scarce amount has been invested in education.
Meanwhile, individual states are slashing their own scholarship programs while charities and foundations struggling to rebuild their own endowments have cut back on private scholarships and other forms of college aid.
As a result, the colleges themselves, which distribute an estimated $26 billion of their revenues as scholarships, are unlikely to be able to close the gaps.
The time has come to do more, according to Allen M. Turner, chairman of the Board of Trustees.
“This is our first major campaign, so we’re charting unknown territory,” Turner says. “But people are interested in our college, and they want to support it.”
Columbia board trustee Paul Knapp agrees: “The city and the students see the growth we’ve been able to attain, and we have a growing group of alumni who want to be involved.”
The campaign swung into its public phase with the grand opening last October of Columbia’s state-of-the-art Media Production Center, the first new-construction building in the college’s history.
The $100 million campaign has these primary targets:
» Current-Need Scholarships: Columbia’s many schoolwide and departmental scholarship programs have always been competitive sources of stopgap funding for undergraduate and graduate students.
But Carter says scholarship support is the most critical need area for Columbia’s fundraising efforts. “Our students need financial support,” Carter says. “Our number-one priority is to get money into students’ hands now.” The current scholarship-funding goal is $20 million over the next three years.
» Program Support: Columbia offers more than 120 academic majors or programs, making it the most comprehensive source of academic study among arts and media colleges nationwide. Such dollars go toward attracting top-level faculty and developing curricula to match, but also toward facilities and equipment costs associated with those improvements.
» Endowment: Columbia’s endowment—valued at more than $110 million as of April 30—is considered small by private university standards. (For a sense of scale, look to Harvard University’s $27.6 billion.)
Campaign team members are on the lookout for major donors who can direct sizable donations to Columbia’s endowment that will support scholarships, programs, facilities and dozens of other critical institutional functions.
» General Support: This area includes necessary operating and capital projects. Some funds will go toward refurbishing campus spaces, such as galleries and classrooms.
The potential market of alumni donors is huge—more than 90,000 alumni, the largest arts and media college group in the nation—but local and national charities, foundations, corporations and other supporters are needed to make Columbia’s fundraising goals a reality.
“For every graduate who can buy a $185 ticket to Lollapalooza, we have a potential donor.”
“As we have increased the institution’s visibility amongst those in the philanthropic community, we’re beginning to see support in that area,” says Carter. “And it clearly has to do with the quality of what we’re doing, and philanthropists’ interest in supporting quality undertakings.”
“We are trying very hard to engage all of Chicago—its citizens, corporations—in the philanthropic community,” says Turner. “Dr. Carter and I have made visits to major foundations and corporations, they know we are here, and we expect a really good response as we move forward.”
Adds Kim Clement, Assistant Vice President and Director of Campaign Initiatives, “This effort is intended to put Columbia College Chicago on the philanthropic map with other major institutions in the city.”
Carter and Winston believe Columbia’s giving culture is now ready to move from the top down.
The college’s Board of Trustees, reconstituted over the last decade, not only includes working board members but those willing to make a greater financial commitment to the institution.
Creative funding opportunities are also on the drawing board. In addition to long-standing opportunities for endowing department chairmanships and other directed gifts, Columbia is putting new emphasis on the following programs:
» The Chairman’s Circle: Aimed at donors providing $5,000 or more annually, this giving category offers special activities and private receptions to participants who can also take part in programs and classroom activities with Columbia faculty and students.
» The President’s Club: Targeting donors providing $1,000 or more annually, this giving category not only gives high-priority name exposure but special invitations to events throughout the school year.
» The Alexandroff Legacy Society: Named for Mirron “Mike” Alexandroff, Columbia’s president from 1962 to 1992, this initiative targets donors willing to include Columbia in their estate planning activities.
» Naming Opportunities: Putting the name of an individual or organization on a building, classroom or other campus space has long been a staple of university funding, but Columbia is ramping up that process as it expands its footprint in the South Loop and beyond.
» Parental Giving: Although parents of Columbia students can get involved in any of the above programs or designate special gifts on their own, Winston points out that parents have become a particularly strong segment of Columbia’s giving picture.
“We’ve determined that up to 20 percent of our parent population is in a position to provide significant support to the college, and we’re getting a wonderful response from them,” Winston says.
Getting Alumni on Board
Arts and media colleges typically have reputations for poor fundraising for one key reason: Graduates typically don’t make a lot of money.
But Winston says that reputation, at least at Columbia, might be more myth than fact.
To prove it, his team is working to build alumni giving habits as early as possible after graduation.
“I’d like to change the notion that we have graduates who can’t give. I like to say that for every graduate who can buy a $185 ticket to Lollapalooza, we have a potential donor,” Winston says.
“We’re not asking them to give us large sums at the start, but to give something, because where that really makes a huge difference is in our alumni participation rate,” he says. “Major donors want to see that statistic to get an idea of how wide the alumni support is for the school. Those donations may not be large, but evidence of a wide variety of donors is so important in the world of college philanthropy.”
Diversifying donors is the idea behind Columbia’s new Manifest Club program.
Similar to an annual donation to public radio or television, Columbia is targeting new graduates with an offer to give at least $10 a month through a payroll deduction or automatic payment made directly to the college.
“Think about it. We all waste more money than that,” Winston says. “For those who are recently out with young families and new careers, I understand their problem.
"But what I say is that if you’ve ever helped the Red Cross or any community organization, then you need to be in the business of helping your alma mater in the way that your co-workers are helping their alma maters,” Winston says.
The fact that Columbia is now widely asking for financial support has begun to make a difference.
“Last year was our very best year in terms of alumni giving: more than three-quarters of a million dollars,” says Carter, compared to the $45,000 total alumni gave during his first year at the college a decade ago.
“That’s a huge step, but we’ve got a long way to go because we’ve got 90,000 alums out there, and that means we’ve got to touch those other alums,” Carter says.
Winston, who also spends a significant amount of time on the road meeting potential donors, says he learned one important lesson in his early days at Columbia: “I have spoken to alums who made this very clear: I was the first person who walked through their door asking for their contribution. And their first question to me was, ‘When were you going to ask?’”
The most important message to Columbia alumni in 2011 is how much students need their help. Campaign leaders say today’s students are experiencing greater financial pressure than previous generations.
“We are telling our alums that it’s significantly more difficult for kids to stay in school and graduate than when they were in school,” Winston says.
Joan Hammel (B.A. ’86), a member of Columbia’s Board of Trustees and head of the Chicago chapter of the Columbia Alumni Association & Network (CAAN), believes that alumni donations have increased exponentially over the last year because of more “meaningful and personal” outreach.
“We’re giving alumni a place to network more aggressively for employment, to display portfolio work, and to build better relationships in general between fellow alumni and the school,” Hammel says. “We’re offering alumni better value for their involvement than we ever have.”
Columbia is also reaching out more aggressively to notable alumni who are leaders in their field.
Michael Goi (B.A. ’80), an Emmy Award-winning cinematographer for the television series My name is Earl, considers his financial support crucial for future generations of Columbia graduates. He says the Columbia training experience is like no other.
“Columbia offered an immediate hands-on method of teaching filmmaking that encouraged experimentation and making mistakes early to remove the fear of taking chances,” Goi says. “I shot over 100 student films while I was a student at Columbia, and I messed up most of them, but I never made those same mistakes when I started working professionally.”
Goi says giving is important for one reason: “Inspiring and encouraging the next generation of filmmakers is not only the most important thing we can do for our craft, it’s vital to the growth of our art. Ultimately, the best legacy to leave is the means by which your craft may endure.”
Marlon West (B.A. ’85), an animation supervisor for Walt Disney Studios, got his first exposure to animation at Columbia.
“The Columbia experience is singular, and we all owe a big debt for the training we got there,” says West, who has worked on many noteworthy films, including The Lion King, Pocahontas, Tarzan and Chicken Little. “I made friends there that are colleagues to this day.”
Winston says all the vital fundraising pieces are coming together despite one of the worst economic downturns in the country’s history.
“Those consultants we talked to six years ago who said we couldn’t do this? Well, they were telling us the truth and at that time, they were right,” says Winston. “But we’ve started to prove them wrong. We’ve produced the change that was absolutely needed.”
Columbia’s hands-on, minds-on approach is a longstanding educational philosophy. Lately, it’s also driving a growing culture of creative philanthropy.
Faculty, staff, students and alumni are all engaging in efforts to raise awareness of—and funds for—student scholarships.
This groundswell of support began in 2009, when Wayne Tukes, an advisor with Columbia’s College Advising Center, saw an increase in student need during the economic downturn and wanted to create a way for the college community to help.
Over the past two years, the Faculty & Staff Scholarship Initiative Committee, spearheaded by School of Media Arts Assistant Dean Pattie Mackenzie, has raised nearly $70,000 for student scholarships through grassroots efforts ranging from fliers and letters to viral videos and special events.
The Faculty & Staff Scholarship Initiative is enhanced by Scholarship Columbia, a challenge grant bolstered by a $1 million match by the college that doubles every dollar donated by faculty and staff and triples donations from alumni.
This effort has made an additional $95,000 in matching funds available to Columbia students to date, bringing the total amount raised by the initiative to $165,000.
A faculty and staff loft party in April 2010 featured an auction of work by faculty and staff artists as well as food, entertainment and advertising—all of which was donated internally. The event won the 2010 Silver Award for Best Event On a Shoestring from the Council of Advancement and Support of Education District V.
The “Columbia’s Got Talent” show in December, coordinated by dance/movement Therapy Chair Susan Imus had virtually no operating costs so each event had a strong fundraising impact. Another benefit, called “The Back to Ghoul Bash,” is slated for October.
Mackenzie says the largest contributions by far are from small, elective payroll deductions made by Columbia employees. “Faculty and staff have been so giving,” she says.
This generosity and community spirit models charitable giving for a group that might seem to be unlikely donors: students themselves.
Over the past year, the Student Alumni Alliance (SAA), an organization that connects students with Columbia alumni, held two healthful food sales in campus lobbies to raise money for Scholarship Columbia. The sales garnered $700 for scholarships.
“If you start now with an attitude and energy of giving back to the school, when you graduate, you’ll continue doing it,” says Senior Photography student and SAA Vice President Stephanie Tanner.
To ensure that all sale proceeds went directly to fellow students, the group reached out to alumni to donate the goods they sold. Marty Kane (B.A. ’06) answered the call.
“Everybody needs a little help sometimes,” says Kane. “It feels good to be helping somebody else achieve an education here that I was so fortunate to receive.”
Realtor Jane Bishop Lillegard (B.A. ’85) also contributed funds, noting that staying involved with Columbia keeps her connected to the arts and is a great opportunity to network.
As the college continues to seek major gifts from donors, these seemingly small-but-mighty gestures make a big impact on the entire Columbia community. “It takes a village,” says Mackenzie. “And we have a great one.”
Audrey Michelle Mast (B.A. ’00)
Scholarship Honors a Life of Passions
Pieter Ombregt was a gifted photography student at Columbia College Chicago when he died from injuries sustained in a bicycle racing accident in 2007.
“Pieter was a friend to so, so many people,” says Anne-Marie Ombregt, his aunt, who lived in the same apartment building as Pieter, a Belgium native, and his fiancée, Jennifer Kowalewski, also then a photography student at Columbia.
Days after Pieter’s death at age 27, Ombregt made a generous gift to establish the Pieter Ombregt Scholarship fund, which goes to advanced undergraduate photography majors at Columbia.
A scholarship was a natural way to honor Pieter’s passion-filled life, Ombregt says.
“He did everything— bicycling, photography, his studies—100 percent,” Ombregt says. “And he was still growing, still searching. I wish for [the scholarship] to go to people who carry his spirit in their work.”
She says that Pieter would approve of supporting students who practice any style of photography. He didn’t believe there was only one way to approach the art.
Ombregt and her tight-knit extended family plan to enhance the fund with one large-scale fundraiser every other year.
In 2010, her husband, Karel Cool, ran the Paris Marathon, raising $10,000 in sponsorships—money that went to the fund.
Remembering Pieter today, Ombregt says, “is still very hard.” But she’s proud of the scholarship, of its recipients, and of the family and friends who support it.
For more information on scholarships, go here.
— Liz Harmon Miller
Columbia College Chicago relies on the help of volunteer committees that help set direction and goals related to college operations and the campaign. Here are a few:
Institutional Advancement Committee
A special committee of the Board of Trustees, the Institutional Advancement Committee serves as a governing body that advocates for and supports the core mission of the Office of Institutional Advancement at Columbia College Chicago.
Member leadership and expertise help shape the priorities, goals and strategies for the advancement of the college.
Warrick l. Carter, Ph.D.,
President, Columbia College Chicago
Paul Knapp, Chair
Susan V. Downing
Pam Kendall Rijos
Asha Spencer, esq.
Ellen Stone Belic
Allen M. Turner
Corporate Partners Advisory CouncilCorporate Partner Advisory Council invites corporate and industry leaders to be advocates for Columbia College Chicago through promotion of the college’s mission and outreach to diverse constituents outside of Columbia’s campus.
John Harris, a5
Kim Theiss, ABC
Seth Unger, Gensler
Kelly Wilson, Motorola
Mike Cassidy, Sheraton Hotel & Tower
Sarita Connelly, Harris Bank
Robin Hammond, The Second City
President’s Club Executive Council
The purpose of the President’s Club Executive Council is to assist, advise and advocate on behalf of the President’s Club of Columbia College. This core group strategizes on the types of initiatives, opportunities and events that may engage existing and potential President’s Club donors.
Chair: Marcia Lazar (M.F.A. ’03), Asset recoveries International, Ltd.
Dara Belic, Recycle the Raindrops
J. Gorman Cook, William Blair and Co.
Lloyd Fry, The Chicago Community Trust
Nena Ivon, Independent Lecturer and Event Producer
James Kinoshita, JPmorgan, Private Wealth Management
Jean Kralka, Smith Barney
Justin Kulovsek (B.A. ’04), The Nielsen Company
Michael Perlow, Westwood Management Corp.
D. Elizabeth Price
Elaine Cohen Rubin, Live marketing
Roberta Rubin, The Book Stall at Chestnut Court
Phil Tadros (’02), Doejo
Tom Trainor, PGI Marketing & Communications
Jerald Ziegler, Bradley Associates