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$1 Billion and Counting
At the midpoint of its five-year effort to raise $1.5 billion, the university is on track and ahead of schedule. But the hardest part, say the fundraisers, is yet to come.

The invitation looked typically staid, its sober typeface and Yale-blue ink announcing: “The pleasure of your presence is requested at a reception and dinner celebrating Yale Milestones on Saturday, October 22, 1994, six o’clock in the evening, Sterling Library.” Quite possibly just another night on the University’s chicken circuit.

But there was a hint of something out of the ordinary. Inside the envelopes, which went out to more than 2,300 people, was a pair of what appeared to be baseball cards. One card bore the likeness of John Lee Jr. ’58E, ’59MEng, the current chairman of the $1.5 billion Campaign for Yale, then at the midpoint of its five-year run. Lee was shown in the traditional pose of Yale athletic captains, and was wearing a Yale baseball uniform. On the back of the card was the information that Lee “bats right, throws right,” and, at the behest of the University, had traveled 131,954 miles and consumed 655.2 ounces of chicken last year. The second card carried the image of President Richard Levin, also in captain’s pose, and revealed that, in his role of fundraiser, the San Francisco southpaw had outpaced even Lee, logging 186,040 miles and a daunting 867.5 ounces.

Nor were the cards the only clue that this would be an evening for the record books. At Sterling on the night of the event, with a brass chamber orchestra sending the somber strains of classical music aloft to the vaulted ceiling, one of the 1,000 or so guests remarked, as various hors d'oeuvres were passing by, “Something must be up—they’re serving drinks in glasses instead of plastic.” Any pretense of normality evaporated when Terry Holcombe, Yale’s vice president for development and alumni affairs, climbed atop the main circulation desk in the library. Holcombe, wearing a white sweater emblazoned with a major Y, called the puzzled crowd to order, and then invited them to follow him out onto the Cross Campus. There they were greeted by the Yale Precision Marching Band at full volume and a forest of banners recording “milestones” in Yale history—from the founding of the Medical School in 1813, to the first tailgate party in 1906, to the dedication of the Women’s Table in 1993.

The destination was Commons, which was decidedly uncommon that evening.

“There’s only one word to describe this, and that’s WOW!” said a guest as she passed through the building’s floodlit Corinthian columns. Inside, one end of the cavernous dining hall had been curtained off and transformed into a rough approximation of a basketball court, complete with bleachers, the Yale cheerleading squad, the band, and a host of Yale staffers dispensing popcorn.

All the hoopla was intended to celebrate the “team” efforts in reaching the $1 billion mark on a fundraising journey intended to bring another $500 million by June 30, 1997. Launched in 1992, the campaign was billed as the most ambitious fundraising effort ever undertaken by an institution of higher learning, and although, as President Levin, serving as the head cheerleader of the event, told his Milestones audience, Yale’s accomplishment already represented “a great success,” there was “much left to do.” To underscore that point, on cue, a banner with the words “and only $500 million to go” dropped from the ceiling.

“The last third is always the hardest to raise,” said Holcombe. “We’ve passed the torch, and the Milestones event was our way of thanking the volunteers, celebrating the fact that we’ve raised a billion dollars, and introducing a new cast of characters, from the President on down, who’ll be there for the stretch drive.”

The emphasis on “new” is especially apt, for when the Campaign began two and one-half years ago, Benno C. Schmidt Jr. occupied the Presidency, and Vernon Loucks Jr. was both the senior fellow of the Corporation and the Campaign’s chairman. A recession was casting a pall over the economy, and many faculty members were near revolt over Schmidt’s restructuring plans. Now, of course, Levin leads the University, and his administration is headed by an almost entirely different team. Loucks has been succeeded as senior fellow by Richard Franke ’53, and by Lee as head of the Campaign. Most economists appear more concerned about inflation than recession, and, even as considerable belt-tightening continues, a spirit of calm and cooperation on campus has replaced the rancor. “There’s a cohesiveness and a positive spirit that I haven’t seen in a long time,” said Robert Kiesel ’56, a physician from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Roni Beth Tower ’80PhD, an Alumni Fund delegate, agreed. “I’m very excited about what Rick’s doing here,” said Tower. “His priorities are in the right place, and that keeps me working for Yale.”

Such enthusiasm was very much the norm for the evening as guests indulged in a wide variety of foods, sampled drinks delivered in glasses shaped to resemble laboratory beakers (with the level of campaign dollars printed on a scale), and danced up a storm reminiscent of some of the better Proms of old. But whether the goodwill translates into the half-billion dollars needed to successfully wrap up the Campaign remains to be seen.

“We’re in a time when Yale alums are remarkably up about the University, and we’ve built an enormous amount of momentum,” said Holcombe. “But in some ways, Yale’s tradition of service is working against us—many of our graduates sit on boards and committees for all sorts of charitable organizations, each of which also needs money. And although considerable wealth was generated in the last decade, there’s often a significant difference between how much money people have and how much they feel they have. We have to find ways to get alums thinking about putting Yale first.”

To do so, Holcombe relies on an international network of more than 3,500 volunteers, each of whom is expected to develop a personal relationship with a contingent of Yale’s 120,000 alumni. These volunteers, says Holcombe, “have a unique credibility, because they’re giving their own time and energy to a cause they believe in.”

The volunteers' role is both to represent the University’s needs to a particular constituency, and to discover who is capable of giving (and how much), as well as what area of Yale a donor might want to underwrite. And while relatively small gifts tend to arrive on a regular basis, the larger donations involve a longer-term process. “Invariably, they’re the result of years of involvement with the University through such things as class events, clubs, and continuing education,” said Holcombe, whose staff works to match donors' interests with Yale’s priorities.

For the current campaign, those priorities fall into three broad categories: endowment, programs and current use, and facilities. For each, the goal was originally set at $500 million.

As of the Milestones event, the drive’s endowment portion—which can fund anything from a professorship to a financial aid program—was closest to reaching its target, with donations totalling $420 million, or 84 percent of the goal. The programs and current use portion (the money from which can be used for a wide variety of endeavors, and has in the past gone to such things as research and the Bass Writing Program) stood at $336 million, which is 68 percent of the target. Lagging behind, but still, in terms of the Campaign timetable, on track, is the facilities segment, which had taken in $247 million, or slightly less than half of its goal.

While some of the facilities money has been used for new—and named—construction, such as Henry R. Luce Hall and the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Center for Molecular and Structural Biology, most of the funds in this area are destined for the unglamorous renovation of existing buildings. Officials realized from the outset that devoting a full third of the total goal to such uses presented them with a challenge. Upgrading balky plumbing, antiquated wiring, and leaky windows were considered absolutely necessary to reverse the University’s legacy of deferred maintenance, but the finished product is often invisible to all but the workers. Even so, donors such as William K. Lanman Jr. ’28, S. Roger Horchow ’50, and Joel E. Smilow ’54 have made major contributions to the facilities category. The results of their gifts, although less obvious than a new building, have made Wright-Lanman Hall and Calhoun College more livable, and the Joel E. Smilow Field Center at the Yale Bowl a better athletic facility.

At the conclusion of the Campaign, members of the Yale community will learn just how persuasive the University’s priorities were in convincing a combination of alumni, corporations, and foundations to contribute to its future. Inevitably, there will be comparisons between Levin’s team, headed by an administrator whose abilities in this arena have been largely untested but whose easygoing style, coupled with substantial results, has already succeeded in making many people feel better about Yale, and the Benno Schmidt forces, whose leader had, even his many detractors would admit, a special talent for bringing in seven-figure gifts.

Inevitably, too, the end of the Campaign will be marked by some sort of a celebration, although given the unpredictable character of the last two parties, no one is at all sure what it will be. The Milestones gala was, according to Eustace Theodore, executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni and head of the planning for the celebration, “enormously risky, in fact, downright scary.”

Indeed, when development and alumni officials decided last February to stage a mid-course event in October, achieving the billion-dollar mark was far from certain. Nor was there any guarantee in August, when the party planning began in earnest, that the drive would reach its interim goal. The entire thing was, Holcombe admitted, “a gamble.” There was a cast of hundreds, starting with Calvin Trillin ’57 as master of ceremonies and including a wide range of administrators and undergraduate performers, along with a large technical crew coordinated by New Hampshire theatrical designer Victor Becker, who had also planned and put together the extravaganza that launched the Campaign. And there was only one rehearsal—at 4:30 the afternoon of the party (and the band couldn’t make it).

The planners needn’t have worried. An unscientific poll of revelers indicated that the event was a hit, leaving them to wonder what campaign officials can do for the finale two years from now, and not make it seem like an anticlimax.

“Because Milestones was such a departure, everyone will be expecting a surprise,” says Theodore. “Maybe it ought to be black-tie.”  the end


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