Building bridges: philanthropy at WSU

Dear WSU community,

We are not quite midway through the spring 2024 semester, but warmer weather and longer days are certainly in the near future!

Throughout the 2023–24 academic year, I have sent monthly updates highlighting success stories at Washington State University. These have included achievements related to our Native American programscapital projects, and general momentum going into the new semester. This month, though, I want to acknowledge and celebrate our successes in private philanthropy and investment in WSU by alumni, friends, and corporate partners.

As a public research university, we have enjoyed considerable success in realizing projects across the system over the past several years through fundraising efforts. In fiscal year 2023 alone, 27,832 total donors contributed a record $167.9 million in philanthropic support to more than 1,000 designated areas within WSU. We received more than 75,000 gifts below $1,000 in addition to 14 unique gifts and pledges surpassing $1 million. Our endowment, which has grown to more than $660 million, generated $24.8 million in FY23 to support scholarships, faculty positions, research, and outreach programs across WSU. These accomplishments are a resounding endorsement of the work that you all do, day in and day out, and the culmination of a lot of time and effort from people around the system.

Working together on behalf of WSU

One of the primary responsibilities of a modern university president is to successfully lead the acquisition of philanthropic support. This means that I spend a great deal of time in hotels and on airplanes meeting WSU alumni and friends across the country. Over the course of my career, I have met with alumni at coffee shops, truck stops, country clubs, restaurants and diners, private homes, and once at a food stand at a putt‑putt golf course. There is nothing very extraordinary about the food, locations, or what we wear (often casual Coug gear) when meeting with our supporters — but rather the conversations that we have and the stories exchanged around the impact of a WSU education.

Fundraising is not a solitary activity, but rather, it is a team effort. Many WSU faculty and staff are directly involved in fundraising efforts, and members of WSU Advancement collaborate with chancellors, deans, vice presidents, and others to ensure we are coordinated in our efforts to engage current and prospective donors from around the nation. We also work closely with active volunteers who personally choose to invest in WSU, share our story, and connect us with prospective donors.

Our next comprehensive fundraising campaign

Presently, WSU is in the initial stages of our next comprehensive fundraising campaign — a time often called “the quiet phase.” During this stage, we spend a great deal of time pinpointing fundraising priorities that correspond with expressed needs within campuses, colleges, and units. These priorities range from new buildings and improving student access and success to new endowments and faculty excellence. The campaign provides us with an opportunity to think bigger, consider initiatives that span multiple campuses or colleges, and focus philanthropic activity around high‑impact, specific projects that correspond with campus and college strategy. When we complete the review process, we will share more information around the campaign priorities as well as central themes or big ideas that surfaced during our discussions.

So, how do we determine the philanthropic interests of our current and prospective donors and match them with our identified priorities? This is done through in‑person engagement and conversations that often never touch on fundraising. By the time we ask a particular donor to invest philanthropically at Washington State, we have deeply explored their areas of interest and considered how they can support current faculty, staff, and students in alignment with that passion.

I am frequently asked why someone supports a project in a particular area when there are many other excellent projects at WSU in need of investment. Simply, it boils down to the personal choice of the donor. Sometimes they prefer to name a building or space to support Cougar Athletics or to provide discretionary funds to be used by WSU leaders. Each of these decisions is personal and unique to the donor.

What can you do to support philanthropy at WSU?

First, thank our donors if you have an opportunity to interact with them. Whether their gift was small or large, a personal thank you goes a long way.

Second, when you wonder why the dean or chancellor is not in their office more often or why the president is traveling somewhere — remember that philanthropic giving is a person-to-person exercise that requires meaningful engagement with alumni and friends wherever they may be (which is often not on one of our campuses).

Third, continue to identify key initiatives that you need to be successful at WSU. Share these ideas with your department chair, school director, dean, or chancellor. Not every idea is suitable for philanthropic support, but we need to continue to hear your best and boldest ideas.

Lastly, continue to share with your college, campus, or unit development team any of the work that you are doing with our donors, keeping them apprised of interactions that may lead to further philanthropic giving. If you know of individuals, corporations, or foundations our development professionals would benefit from meeting, share that information, too.

We will have more news of our campaign in the coming months. The next time you see a major gift announcement, just remember there is a team of dedicated Cougs working around you who helped make that gift a reality.



President, WSU System