Examining New “Momentum” Campaign Sheds Light On Unique Difficulties Of NYU Fundraising

Financial aid. Those two words evoke some of the worst emotions/Internet reactions amongst students at NYU. But this fall, in the wake of a divisive last year for John Sexton and the NYU administration, the University is making a more concerted effort to alleviate student financial issues, announcing the “Momentum Campaign” in a Wednesday email to students from John Sexton. The campaign, which officially begins this fall, aims to raise $1 billion specifically for scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students by 2019. The campaign will not be without its issues however, and whether or not the campaign can achieve its lofty goal remains to be seen.

But Debra LaMorte, senior vice president for Development and Alumni Affairs, seemed confident in the university’s ability to generate the necessary fundraising.

“This is something we have been considering because of a basic need of our students,” said LaMorte in a phone interview. “What we are trying to do is balance the current needs for scholarships for our students versus the long-term need to build endowment because we are so far behind our peers. Since we’re not an Ivy League school with multiple generations of families supporting us, we’ve had to do things a little differently.”

As LaMorte pointed out, one of NYU’s  most necessary improvement projects and one of the main reasons for NYU’s poor financial aid is the incredibly small endowment of $2.75 billion (for comparison, Harvard’s endowment is $30 billion, with a little less than half the number of students of NYU.)

One of the major differences with this campaign is its purported specificity: the “Momentum” campaign comes after NYU’s previous seven year “Campaign for NYU”, which raised $3 billion for the university, half a billion more than originally projected. That campaign, however, was a general fundraiser, and large portions of those donations went into the development of new majors, buildings, and other areas of NYU. What makes this campaign unique is that it is the first major donation program in school history targeting donations specifically for scholarships.

And the campaign is already nearly a tenth of the way complete, thanks to a $70 million donation from Board of Trustees members Martin Lipton, Anthony Welters, Leonard Wilf, William Berkley, Helen Kimmel, and Larry and Klara Silverstein, as well as the Starr Foundation. But finding donors who are not as connected to the pressing concerns of current students like the Board of Trustees are may be more difficult.

Although the “Momentum” campaign will be at the forefront of University fundraising efforts in the coming years, the university will still take open donations for all other areas, such as new building development, (which may very well be needed with the impending NYU 2031 construction) where big name donors are often more likely to give their money. And even within “Momentum” itself, donors will be given a high amount of precision for where their donation is going.

For example, a donor could decide to fund scholarships only in Tisch, or choose to give only to students from New York City, or choose to donate only to an international student scholarship. While giving to a specific group may give the donor a more personal connection with those students, it also could lead to a growing divide between access to scholarships at NYU, fueling even more the cross-school isolationism that purveys NYU today both amongst students and in terms of funding. 

“Donors are very specific about what they want and what they want to dedicate their dollars to,” said LaMorte. “We’re going to have a few who to donate to “Momentum” and some are going to want to wait until other things, 2031. But they will not cannibalize each other. I can promise you that,” said LaMorte. 

We, for one, hope LaMorte is right, because something tells us that journalism alumni may not be the most giving out there.

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2 Comments

  • Ben Miller
    September 3, 2013

    “They won’t cannibalize each other.”

    They might be different pieces of the pie, but they’re still pieces of the same pie.

    If we can raise $4 billion – 3 for 2031 and 1 for financial aid – why not raise $4 billion for financial aid?

  • Robert Ascherman
    September 4, 2013

    This is the same campaign NYU has been running for decades and fails to acknowledge the rising cost of tuition. 1 billion over 6 years will not excel over this rise in tuition and thus their is no net gain for students whatsoever. The real questions are 1) why does NYU have 100 million dollar anual surplus and why isn’t it going to financial aid and 2) what other non-transparent finances are being misappropriated away from financial aid?

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