The quiet campaign for Science Hall: the growing pains of a not-for-profit

By Jesse PR Prieto
News Editor

With a price tag of $35 million and an expected run time of two years, Canisius President and former Griffin Editor John J. Hurley is hopeful in his ability to woo donors to invest in the longevity of the college. With phase two complete, itself costing $26 million, and the booming medical sector of Buffalo, Canisius looks to its hard science programs as a way to stay in step with the region as a wave of investment and attention hit the area.

“Where Canisius is, Buffalo is going,” said Bill Collins, Vice President for Institutional Advancement.

This growth, or institutional advancement as the college has self-labeled its efforts, comes at a cost. Not-for-profits face a steep hill when talking about advancement. The education sector, which is almost entirely non-for-profit itself, is unique in that its market is the same as its product.

The College sells itself to its students, promising to shape them over a four-year period into a product that will be sought out by employers in the future.

Of course, this is an incredibly simplistic summary of the economics behind a collegiate institution, and does not account for publications, research. Even when all cash flows are accounted for, institutions still fall short of the needed income to build.

Canisius College, like any not-for-profit organization, faces the problem of finding a sustainable means of growth. Science Hall, a belabored talking point over the past five years, remains a high strategic priority for the long-term success of Canisius College.

With Roswell Park, one of the top cancer research institutes in the world, University at Buffalo’s new urban medical campus, a growing pharmaceutical manufacturing sector, and nationally recognized medical programs, Buffalo is taking strategic steps to knit these science and medical components of the region together to become a new economic backbone.

According to donor-targeting literature developed by the Office of Institutional Advancement, phase two of Science Hall, which began in the early Fall of 2012, renovated 120,000 square feet of space and was “designed to break down barriers between disciplines”. The Legacy of Leadership campaign, Canisius raised the entire pot of $26 million needed to build what is now the basement and ground level of Science Hall.

This generosity is no stranger to Canisius. As Collins explained, the donor base has been strong and continues to grow at a sustainable pace. At the close in May of the 2014-15 fiscal year the Canisius Fund received gifts from 685 individuals “ranging from 10 dollars to 10,000 dollars.”

An integral part of the work done by Institutional Advancement is the solicitation of donors; focusing on large benefactors to inspire others that their money has been well given. Collins drew attention to substantial gifts as evidence of the College’s ability to entice large benefactors. Recent examples include a sum amounting to $5.1 million for the second phase of Science Hall from Carle Montante ‘64, or Philip C. Lombardo ’48 who had $1 million set aside in his estate that was put towards the library renovations.

“We are talking to known supporters of Canisius College. People who we know have a great deal of interest and who have supported the College in the past,” said Bill Collins. He then added that under President Hurley’s direction, “the number one priority of funding for the College is the completion of Science Hall.”

The courting of these major benefactors takes time. “Its not as easy as saying ‘Hey can we get together?’ and then over a cup of coffee someone makes an astronomical gift to you. It’s a conversation.”

This conversation is already underway with what has been said to be several major players who are connected to the College, and want to be a part of its legacy. “We have some donors who we are hoping will be open to making major commitments to it,” said Collins, “and there’s a couple of large ones and if we are successful I think they will create a domino effect.”

Palisano Pavilion, Montante Cultural Center, and Lyons Hall are all examples of past families or individuals who chose to endow the college with the means it needed to step forward.

“If you go to Science Hall on the first floor there’s a big display of individual’s companies and foundations of people who contributed to the first phase of Science Hall. They have major gifts where they have classrooms and spaces that are named in their honor and that is one of the way that we recognize our donors,” said Collins.

While President Hurley stated in his convocation earlier this year that he plans on completing this campaign by 2017, Bill Collins chose not to comment on the timeline at all. Rather, he stressed the pointed strategy of the college in focusing its attention on a short list of interested parties.

“We don’t have a list a mile long, but we have a pretty good idea of who is interested in Canisius College. Either they attended here, their children attended here – there’s some connection to the College. And that they feel the College is going in the right direction and they want to be a part of it.”

Overall the strategy seems to be this: small donations are good for publicity, showing a swell of ground support for the longevity of the college. However, large gifts are much more expedient in terms of time. As Buffalo moves towards a medically-inclined economy, Canisius’ focus on the hard sciences will be more crucial than ever. With a $35 million price tag, alumni and friends of of the College are needed now more than ever if Canisius is to take this step forward.

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