By Alana Melanson
LOWELL – When UMass Lowell set out to launch its first fundraising campaign seven years ago, the experts told university leaders their goal of $125 million was too high, and they should scale it back to $100 million.
But the university moved forward with the lofty goal, reasoning it needed to meet the difficult-to-achieve objectives of its 2020 strategic plan in order to become a nationally prominent school.
UML reached its fundraising goal two years early in 2018 with the single largest gift it has ever received: $5 million donated by alumnus Brian Rist, president and founder of Florida-based Storm Smart Industries, who was already a scholarship contributor.
The “Our Legacy, Our Place” campaign continued as planned through the remaining two years. Now, at the seven-year mark, UML has raised a total of $165.2 million to support scholarships, facility modernization, teaching and research, to propel the university into its next 125 years.
“We think the campaign was so successful because this was a build over a number of years, working with our alumni and our friends, corporate partners, in transforming the university,” Chancellor Jacquie Moloney said. “They saw what our plan was. It was a very ambitious plan and they worked with us and saw this success that came about because of their investments and just kept investing more.”
She said the campaign has solidified UML’s financial standing going forward, “and that when students come to UMass Lowell, they know they will be helped to get access to the greatest education available,” she said.
The campaign began under then-Chancellor Marty Meehan, now president of the entire UMass system, and continued under Moloney’s leadership since 2015.
Moloney said nearly 47,000 people invested in UML’s future through the campaign, which she called an “inspirational” level of commitment considering the university has fewer than 100,000 total alumni. She said a full 50% of faculty and staff have also donated, three times higher than the national average.
Through the campaign, UML’s endowment has increased by 70%, exceeding $110 million. Of the money raised, more than $20 million was raised for scholarships and about 7,000 were distributed over the course of the campaign.
The Independent University Alumni Association of Lowell also awarded more than 600 additional scholarships totaling $1 million over the same period. Of the 575 total endowed funds, 218 were added, primarily for student scholarships.
Moloney said she traveled the country speaking to alumni, watching the number of groups of alumni friends and donors grow.
“They’ve made a commitment to build their endowments, and many of them tell me over and over, ‘This is just the beginning,’ and it’s because they love being a part of what we’re doing here,” she said.
Engineering groups came together to rebuild Perry Hall, beginning with Barry Perry and his wife, Janice, who gave a $1 million gift to help start the renovations, Moloney said. She said many alums came back to support the renovation of the building, helping to upgrade the facility to support programs like biomedical engineering, biomanufacturing and clean energy. One such area of research aided by these efforts is working on how to convert safe, drinkable water for military personnel in desolate places, Moloney said.
She also gave the example of David Ball, a Class of 2008 graduate from Pennsylvania, who just endowed his first $25,000 scholarship.
According to Vice Chancellor of Advancement John Feudo, the scholarship is for students with significant financial challenges, with preference given to students in the Manning School of Business.
“I met with him (Ball) to thank him and I said, ‘Why did you do this?’ and he said, ‘Because people were there for me,'” Moloney said.
Ball told her he had come to a point in his college education where he owed $250 and wasn’t sure if he could find that money to get back to school, she said. He was assisted by a scholarship then and is now doing well, “and the first thing he did was to give back to help another,” Moloney said.
Local philanthropist Nancy Donahue said she’s always happy to support UML in any way she can because it’s a “terrific university” and Lowell is lucky to have it.
“When I support the university, it’s also supporting the greater Merrimack Valley with so many different avenues, so it makes it like a double or tripper hitter when you support UMass Lowell,” said the Lowellian.
UML’s Donahue Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility was established through a gift by Donahue and her late husband, Richard, out of a desire to instill the importance of being ethical and honest in future leaders.
Donahue said UML does so much to help students who are the first to attend college in their families, providing them great support and education to send them out into the world well-prepared. She said she’s known many people and their children who have attended UML and rave about their time there.
“They love it, because they understand that they’re getting the best of the best right here,” Donahue said.
Feudo said UML can be proud of the amount of money it raised, but the true success is in the changes the support brings about in the university, students, alumni and faculty. He said UML is no longer a “safety school,” but one that attracts high-caliber students and faculty.
“We are a first choice for students looking for a great education, and it’s in part because this campaign has helped fund the buildings, faculty and financial aid support that brings us the best students,” Feudo said.