Southeast's foundation turning to alumni, corporate dollars

Wednesday, May 21, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ The Southeast Missouri State University Foundation and its executive director, Wayne Smith, were key in securing the Wehking Alumni Center on Broadway, which houses the Kem Statuary Hall.

Bemoaning a lack of state funding, Southeast Missouri State University officials are putting a greater emphasis on the university's foundation.

The organization, which turns 25 this week, currently holds about $46.5 million in net assets. It's provided scholarships, technology upgrades and continuing education funds for faculty. Without the foundation, officials say, the River Campus would not have come to fruition, nor the Dempster business building or the Seabaugh polytechnic building.

The need to further develop the foundation has been raised during strategic planning forums. The university is currently undergoing a process to set goals and priorities for the next three to five years.

"From the strategic plan, we'll be able to determine where our focus needs to be and the scale and scope of what we need to do. My work will never be done. But you have to be realistic in what you can and cannot do," said Wayne Smith, the vice president for university advancement and the executive director of the foundation.

While remaining conservative, leaders are taking more risks for "optimum return." They are reaching out to alumni in St. Louis and beyond, expanding from a network traditionally limited to Southeast Missouri. And they're pushing for more corporate dollars.

"Less than 50 percent of our overall funding came from the state last year. There's just been a gradual decline over the years," Smith said.

In a draft of the strategic plan, the university publicly lamented what it considered funding obstacles. The plan cited "newly enacted legislative tuition caps" and an "increasing reluctance by the state to provide necessary appropriations" as reasons for enhancing private fundraising. While some of the inflammatory language was removed before the draft was approved by the board of regents, the idea remains.

KIT DOYLE ~ Robert A. Dempster Hall

Since its inception in 1983, the foundation has received $60.6 million in gifts. In roughly the same amount of time, Missouri State University received about $100 million more. In fiscal year 2007 alone, the University of Missouri raised $123.9 million for its "For All We Call Mizzou" campaign.

However, size is a factor: In terms of enrollment, Missouri State is about double that of Southeast's 10,665 students. The University of Missouri has almost three times the number of students as Southeast. Truman State University, a state university with about 5,800 students in Kirksville, Mo., has a foundation that holds about $27 million in assets, according to its Web site.

"We've come so far in 25 years now. We really are still a relatively new foundation," said Harry Rediger, chairman of the foundation's board. "We're not Harvard. We never will be and don't intend to be. But for our size, and being a public institution, we're pretty proud of what we've been able to accomplish."

The board consists of just under 40 members, who are volunteers. There are 16 paid employees of the foundation, some of whom are paid through the university or foundation depending on their duties. The group is based in the alumni center on Broadway.

This year, the foundation awarded 428 scholarships totaling $937,087. Year to date, the foundation has received about $4.7 million, $1.6 of it from corporations.

"When I first started, we were spending too much time in Cape, Jackson and Sikeston and not enough time in corporate or St. Louis," Smith said. Since Smith's arrival three and a half years ago, a greater emphasis has been placed on corporate relations, as well as organizing events for alumni in St. Louis to "raise awareness." A business advisory group in St. Louis has been formed as well.

The foundation is also striving to reach alumni in different ways. In addition to the traditional magazine mailings and phone calls, the foundation created an online social network in September. Called "I am Southeast," the network allows alumni to create groups and profiles and to communicate with one another. The benefit to the university is that its message can be spread relatively quickly and cheaply.

Future projects facing the university include building a new residence hall, upgrading the science buildings and information technology, developing a regional autism center, and building a greater relationship between athletics and the foundation. The foundation will also have a hand in completion of development at the new Interstate 55 interchange at East Main Street. Near the site, the university plans on creating a 400-acre technology village on land formerly used for the university's farm. The village will consist of a research park, retail stores and commercial businesses.

Still, specific projects the foundation may have a hand in will not be specified until the strategic planning process is complete.

University president Dr. Ken Dobbins said that after the strategic plan is finished, he expects the foundation will launch another major capital campaign. He remembers when he first came to the university 17 years ago and served as the treasurer of the foundation.

"We wanted to hire a portfolio manager. They said, 'If you don't have $3 million, you can't do it.' We had around $2.5 million. Now we have over $40. That says a lot about the generous folks that support our university," he said.

335-6611, extension 123

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