UC Berkeley receives record number of alumni donations this year

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During the 2015-16 academic year, UC Berkeley patrons and alumni gave campus a record number of donations amid concerns about declining state funding.

According to an email statement from UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, campus received $479.1 million from over 65,300 donors, a $16.6 million increase from the previous year. The growth occurred soon after the start of a major campus initiative, Fundraising 2.0, which is geared toward improving the donor experience at UC Berkeley.

“I’d love to say that (Fundraising 2.0) was the cause of the record,” said campus Assistant Vice Chancellor Irene Kim.But I don’t know if I can claim that because a lot of these things take time to fully take hold.”

In the spring of 2015, former Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele and Vice Chancellor Julie Hooper launched the initiative along with a list of guiding principles for campus fundraising. One major area of improvement, Kim said, was helping the various campus schools and colleges fundraise in a “coordinated effort.”

According to Kim, a single donor often pledged money not only to a college or school, but also to programs such as athletic teams and on-campus museums. Donors wanted these various programs to be more “coordinated internally” and not have every program reach out individually for donations, Kim said.

“We’ve gone through a major transition because so many of our alumni graduated at a time when Cal was really state supported,” Kim said, adding that UC Berkeley relies more on donations now than ever before.

Therefore, when campus biology professor Randy Schekman won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2013, he donated his $400,000 worth of prize money to create the Esther and Wendy Schekman Chair in Basic Cancer Biology with the intention of enticing the “very best faculty” to teach at UC Berkeley.

According to Schekman, campus receives less than 10 percent of its funding from the state,  and yet alumni are still under the misconception that UC Berkeley is primarily state funded. He added that it is unlikely that campus will see more funding from the state.

Schekman stressed that in order to bring in the best faculty and to remain competitive against schools such as Stanford and Harvard, campus needs to see more donations from “friends and family.” He said private universities make students feel like part of the tight-knit community, and UC Berkeley lacks that feeling among undergraduates and graduates.

“I feel very strongly that public higher education is more important than the privilege of the few,” Schekman said. “And if we are going to maintain ourselves as a premier university and one of the best, we need to rely on friends and alumni to pitch in.”

Contact Brenna Smith at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @bsmith_1853.