Institutions build endowments as hedge against cuts

2011-06-19T03:30:00Z Institutions build endowments as hedge against cutsBy DALE LINDER-ALTMAN, T&D Staff Writer The Times and Democrat

State colleges and universities are not only looking for donations to help meet their daily needs in a tough economy, they're also trying to build up endowments to provide stability during future downturns.

South Carolina State University does not touch the principal on its endowment of just over $5 million, but spends only the interest, Vice President of Institutional Advancement Anthony Holloman said. This income goes to meet shortfalls in areas like scholarships, he said.

A university the size of S.C. State, with some 4,300 students, needs an endowment of about $50 million, Holloman said. While S.C. State's present endowment falls far below what's needed, it has grown by about $2 million since February 2010, he said.

"We still have a way to go, but we are working on it," Holloman said.

In comparison, with some 6,500 students, Winthrop University has separate endowment accounts totaling $33 million, Director of Communications and Donor Relations Amanda Stewart said. All of that is invested in a single endowment pool.

Some of the dividends go to support specific things like scholarships, endowed chairs and professional development, but a percentage is paid back into the endowments, she said.

Stewart says that endowments work like an investment or retirement account. This differs from the university's other funds that can be spent as needed, she said.

Like S.C. State, the principal in Winthrop's endowment pool is never touched, which means that the endowments last forever, she said. The downside of endowments is that their value shifts with the economy, and Winthrop's endowments dropped significantly in 2008, Stewart said.

Orangeburg - Calhoun Technical College, which has a student population of about 3,200, has two matching fund endowments through the U.S. Department of Education totaling almost $4 million. One is operated through the college and the other through the OCtech Foundation, Vice President of Business Affairs Retta Guthrie said.

Unlike S.C. State and Winthrop, OCtech has the option of spending the principal after the endowment matures.

The college's endowment was established about 19 years ago with a contribution of $500,000 by the college and a $1 million grant from the Department of Education. As of March, the endowment was worth $3.3 million, she said.

The funds will mature in 2012, and at that time, the college will be able to spend the principal as it sees fit - on scholarships, capital projects, renovations, or anything the college wants to use it for, Guthrie said.

During the past 20 years, the college had the option of spending the interest, or dividends, but has not done so, Guthrie said. Instead, the money was re-invested to build the endowment.

The foundation's endowment, which is worth a little more than half a million dollars, has already matured and a small percentage of the funds are spent annually on things like scholarships, professional development and special projects, Planning, Research and Development Dean Faith McCurry said.

"But we are conservative with these funds and our intent is to continue to grow the endowment," she said.

With the decline in state funding, more support is needed from the foundation to help students offset the losses, she said.

In addition to the matching funds endowment, the foundation also has about a dozen smaller endowed scholarships, McCurry said.

Officials at the schools say donors have continued to give despite the economy.

Contributions to S.C. State increased significantly this year, Holloman said. Alumni giving doubled and overall private giving rose from $2.4 million in 2009-10 to $3.3 million during the present school year.

During S.C. State's recent graduation weekend, alumni contributed more than $600,000, with $300,000 earmarked for the endowment fund, Holloman said.

As part of its fund-raising campaign, the university has reached out to alumni through phone-a-thons that are carried out for three weeks in the spring and the fall, he said. New branches of the alumni association have been created to build relationships with alumni living in different areas, Holloman said.

Additionally, President Dr. George Cooper has traveled throughout the state, building one-on-one relationships that resulted in several major gifts this year, Holloman said. The contacts will probably continue to bring in donations, he said.

"We have also created more tools for people to give. We made it easier for them to give electronically, and it's now possible for donors to make contributions through their cell phones and online, as well as through bank drafts," he said.

Holloman, who raised some $100 million at several other universities before Cooper hired him in January 2010, says he plans to build more partnerships with corporations to support the university.

The university is seeking to increase the endowment by soliciting matching funds from the Kresge Foundation. This national organization has supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the past, and Holloman says he feels S.C. State has a good chance of getting support from them.

"This is something that will benefit us tremendously," he said.

Cooper and trustees are also working on a capital campaign designed to grow the endowment, increase scholarships, deal with delayed maintenance, develop academic programs and improve infrastructure, he said.

Winthrop has also seen increased giving in the past two years, according to Stewart.

"Our donors are very generous, and we are pleased that their support continues to foster the Winthrop experience," she said.

Winthrop is planning its "second-ever capital campaign" this fall, with a focus on building scholarships and faculty support, she said.

According to McCurry, OCtech depends on events like "An Evening of Fine Wines and Food" and the "Spring Garden Brunch" as major avenues for fundraising.

"Some of our donors have remained committed and are still being very generous," Guthrie said. "They have been very faithful to us during this difficult economic climate."

Contact the writer: dlinder-altman@times anddemocrat.com or 803-533-5529.

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