UC Irvine Makes History With a Billion-Dollar Campaign

In 2005, the University of California, Irvine set an ambitious fundraising goal—to raise $1 billion in 10 years. Last month, the university achieved its goal, closing its “Shaping the Future” campaign with a total of $1,013,853,274.

That eye-popping figure makes UCI the first nonprofit in Orange County to “attempt and raise” over a billion dollars in private support. The money will fund a wide variety of schools and units on the UC Irvine campus; a press release notes that it will support “scholarships and fellowships; new buildings, equipment and labs; creation and enhancement of academic programs; recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty; and interdisciplinary collaborations that are tackling today’s pressing global challenges.”

“Shaping the Future” began in 2005 with a three-year “quiet phase” in which the university raised $405 million. In October of 2008, UCI began publicly promoting the campaign, and was able to raise the additional $600 million in the remaining seven years. According to the university, nearly half (45 percent) of donors to the campaign were UCI alumni. Another 28 percent were “friends and grateful patients of UCI,” and 20 percent were “students, faculty, staff and parents.” The remaining seven percent of donors were corporations and foundations.

An impressive 89 percent of donations to the campaign were under $1,000. That means over 100,000 small donations—and even if every one came in at $1,000, the remaining 11 percent of gifts would have to add up to at least $900 million. That means some major donors had to step up.

It’s a safe bet that UCI had some aces up its sleeve in case the campaign came down to the wire, and we’ll never know which—if any—it had to play. Regardless, raising over $100 million a year for a decade running is no mean feat.

Setting public fundraising goals is a double-edged sword, and few organizations are willing to risk it unless they have a lot of confidence in their development team. The staff at UCI hedged their bets by waiting until they had built up a solid foundation, raising 40 percent of their total goal before going public with the campaign. And because they did so in just three years, the team had another seven to raise the remaining 60 percent. We’ll have to see how long they give themselves to raise $1 trillion.