Donations to ASU show some declines

Article Published: Nov. 12, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

Like many institutions, Appalachian State University saw a blow to its endowment funds last year when the economy went sour and markets plunged.

Susan Pettyjohn, ASU's Vice Chancellor for University Advancement, said there are fund-raising challenges for every organization, but ASU hopes to offset the lack of investment growth with more contributions.

Investment losses last year led to a 19.8 percent decline in available funding for a variety of programs and scholarships. The University Advancement Office oversees Alumni Affairs, University Communications, Cultural Affairs, Development, and the ASU Foundation, which primarily involves outreach and building support and partnerships.

"We really are just trying to get the word out," Pettyjohn said. "Fundraising is not actually down this year. There's so much going on here, we have a really great story to tell, so we're sharing stories and engaging as many parents, alumni and friends as we can."

Pettyjohn said the decline in interest from endowment funds was met last year through several sources, including the use of unrestricted funds. While many donors place restrictions on the use of their gift or the resulting interest, some offer unlimited use of their donation. She said faculty members also stepped up to help bridge shortfalls last year.

"We pretty much were able to do what we needed to do last year," Pettyjohn said. "We're not happy with the kind of loss we had, but if you look at other schools, we're all pretty much in the same boat. We looked at seven other UNC (University of North Carolina system) universities and we were right in the middle."

While investment strategies are under review, the university continues its mission of reaching out to alumni, hosting fund-raising activities, and seeking more partners, both in the corporate world and in the Appalachian family.

"We are looking at other models for our investments," Pettyjohn said. "All schools are pretty much doing the same thing. We don't raise enough unrestricted dollars to help us through times of need like this. That's one of our focuses this year."

Pettyjohn said the university's advancement office is still relatively new, especially when compared to some state universities with a few hundred years under their belts. "A lot of our endowments are not real old," she said, noting that it takes a sizable fund to generate enough interest to keep programs going reliably year after year.

The university recently changed the minimum size of its endowment funds from $10,000 to help insure the fund's base wouldn't erode. Each fund is created by gifts totaling at least $25,000 that are permanently set aside by Appalachian State University Foundation, Inc. to provide benefits to students, faculty or programs year after year. Pettyjohn said in addition to scholarships, programs can support student travel and assistance, specific educational programs, facilities, sports programs and new professorships.

While many organizations relying on public contributions have experienced cutbacks, Pettyjohn said ASU supporters are still digging, just not as deeply. "People are not making huge commitments at this time," she said. "We're getting a lot of gift activity, just not at high levels."

Pettyjohn said a reliable base of donors will help the university withstand the unpredictability of state revenue and also provide flexibility in adding new programs with unrestricted donations.
Pettyjohn's office has the task of motivating the alumni base and contacting potential supporters, keeping ASU in the public eye.

"If people get excited, they will get involved," Pettyjohn said. "We'd like to increase alumni support. The local community has been supportive but more potential is there, and we're also looking for corporate partners. I represent ASU the best I can. It's a huge job, I'm not going to deny that, but we have a great staff."

Gifts can be made in a variety of ways, through direct donations, bequests, endowments, matching gifts and employee payroll deductions. For more information on contributing to the university, visit

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