UND Today

University of North Dakota's Official News Source

Gifted at UND

UND Foundation CFO answers campus questions about charitable giving in a time of budget challenges

Laura Block
Laura Block, Chief Financial Officer for the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, said the Foundation is working with the University to determine priorities—currently being shaped in UND’s Strategic Plan. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

A healthy discussion of philanthropy and giving dominated UND’s budget forum on Wednesday.

UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tom DiLorenzo invited UND Foundation Chief Financial Officer Laura Block to the weekly discussion to explain how the Foundation helps support University priorities through fundraising, and to answer questions about how gifts can—and should—be used.

Every year, the UND Alumni Association and Foundation raises around $40 million in funds. The annual endowment impact was nearly $8 million this year and totaled more than $33 million over the last five years.

During the UND Spirit Campaign (2005-2013), the UND Foundation endowment balance grew from $75 million to $163 million. A further breakdown of UND Foundation impacts and the Spirit Campaign can be found in this presentation.

Block said some people believe that if that much money is raised, it can be allotted to whatever cause is necessary at the time—but that’s not the case.

“A donor, nine times out of 10, restricts their gifts,” Block told the crowd. She gave the example of donors who find specific importance in scholarships. “We can’t take that money and put it in a fund that would help with, say, athletics, or make women’s hockey stay. We can’t take that money and use it for a new faculty line.”

Block added that the Foundation works with the University to determine priorities—currently being shaped in UND’s Strategic Plan. “If those priorities are for faculty lines, or if those priorities are for scholarships, that’s what we attempt to present in a proposal to a donor.”

As for helping with the current budget crisis, Block clarified that the Foundation’s hands are tied.  “We don’t have as much flexible money that can help,” she said.

Working with ‘Plan B’

John Shabb, associate professor of biomedical sciences, started the Q&A portion of the forum with a question about the future of Ray Richards Golf Course, a “bargain sale” donation (sold to UND at a rate less than the going rate).

“When you talk about restricted gifts, how does that apply to Ray Richards Golf Course, especially with the intent of repurposing the land?” he asked.

Block explained that before any decisions were made, all of the agreements with Ray Richards were revisited to spell out restrictions.

“In there, it said, ‘We would like for you, if possible, to use it for a golf course,’” Block said. “I want you to know that the institution and the Foundation take donor intent very seriously, and all of that was looked at to see if that land could be sold, and if it could only be used as a golf course. It was determined that it was not restricted to be held as a golf course.”

Block said the Foundation was dealing with the same question in terms of women’s hockey, swimming and diving. “When we write agreements, we say, ‘This is to benefit women’s hockey. If changes at the University make women’s hockey not applicable, here’s the plan B.’ Some of them are going to go to other kinds of endowment—it might be in their academic unit, it might be another sport.”

Gretchen Schatz, associate director for the Office of Extended Learning, wondered what would happen to an endowed program within their unit if the program couldn’t continue.

“All of our endowment agreements have a plan B,” Block said. “The way endowment dollars work, and the way charities work, is we cannot legally give money back to a donor. The only time that happens is of we can’t accomplish a purpose.”

John Shabb
John Shabb, associate professor of biomedical sciences, started the Q&A portion of the latest budget forum with a question about the future of Ray Richards Golf Course. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.


College of Arts and Sciences Dean Debbie Storrs thanked the Foundation for its work in coordinating the crowdfunding effort for new uniforms for the Pride of the North marching band. The band’s goal of $88,000 was met quickly, completely covered with gifts from 230 different donors.

“Is there a plan for a crowdfunding initiative?” Storrs asked. “I can imagine 200 faculty who have great ideas that can benefit from crowdfunding.”

The Foundation has developed a crowdfunding guidebook to help departments and units start and successfully execute an initiative. Block gave examples of some initial successes in crowdfunding campaigns for groups within aerospace and wildlife biology.

But she said that as the popularity of crowdfunding grows, the Foundation will need to work with deans and department heads to find ways to be more strategic.

“Part of this is new to us,” she continued. “We need to figure out how we are going to prioritize.”

Making programs shine

John Shabb took the discussion of finding donors further. “Band uniforms and field research are pretty ‘sexy’ things to have people donate to. But what about other mission critical types of activities on campus that may not be so exciting?” he asked.

“We have to make them ‘sexy’,” Block replied. “A lot of philanthropy is now big gifts—I can give you a lot of $100 gifts, but to get big gifts that really move a program, donors want something that’s life-changing. A lot of times people are thinking about their legacy and what they’ll be remembered for.”

DiLorenzo joined in, explaining that thought needs to put into deciding when to reach out for donor support.

“If we need to fund a big piece of equipment, we probably won’t go to a donor for that,” he said. “We want to make sure we increase our probability of funding the kinds of things we want to by going to the right source.”

Endowment money

Storrs also sought advice for fully using available funds in endowments. She described past situations in which departments have worried there won’t be enough funding in the future, so they carry forward endowment money and don’t spend it.

“For me, the message I see donors getting is, ‘Wow, they didn’t spend all of the money they had available. They must not need it,’” she said.

“It seems sensible to save for a rainy day. It is, but not with donor funds,” Block responded. “Have a strategic goal, work with your dean on how you can optimize that, but spend the money. And then tell the donor, ‘Guess what—we spent all the money, and there are still more students coming that need these resources.’”

Block added, “Donors don’t give you money because they want a tax write-off. This is their alma mater, something they’re affiliated with, and they want to make an impact.”

The budget fora will continue with an update on UND’s branding strategy efforts on Wednesday, April 12 from 3-4 p.m. in Education Building Room 7. Additional fora will be held at the same location on the following dates from 3-4 p.m.:

April 19 (Strategic Planning Committee updates)
April 26 (Strategic Planning Committee updates)
May 3 (University Council meeting)

For more budget-related communications, click on the Budget tab of the UND Today homepage.