Ryerson's telemail team raises about $500,000 each year. Marc Sleeth solicits alumni for donations. PHOTO: JONATHAN BJERG MOLLER

In search of private support

In Features /

By Caroline Alphonso

It’s 6 p.m. on a Wednesday and while students are heading out of Ryerson, Marc Sleeth, a first-year administration and information management (AIM) student, makes his way to the basement of Jorgenson Hall. He enters a classroom where 11 other students are slowly filtering in. Sleeth grabs a headset and sits at a computer. He is one of the dozen students soliciting alumni for money tonight.

“Let’s jump on those phones and raise some money for Ryerson,” says their supervisor Mikhael Bornstein after a brief pep talk. Sleeth starts calling potential donors from a list on his computer. “Hi, my name is Marc and I’m a Ryerson student calling from the Ryerson alumni office,” he says. He is passionate on the phone — his pitch is enough to convince me to donate, but for the first hour he has not brought in a pledge. “No one’s home. This is the worst night,” he says to me. I start talking to Sleeth, but Bornstein quickly interrupts me.

“Marc is one of my best callers and I need him on the phones to call,” he says. So I sit back and watch Sleeth strike out. “It’s a pretty humbling experience,” says Anne Sarsfield, manager of Ryerson’s annual fund, who is sitting at the back of the room. But then something happens. The caller beside Sleeth just got a pledge of $500 for the Ryerson Ontario Student Opportunity Trust Fund, which uses interest on money raised, matched by the Ontario government, for scholarships and bursaries. The atmosphere in the room is slightly lifted, but Sleeth is back on the phone.

This is his part-time job; fundraising for the school. The money made through telemarketing is put toward the annual fund, which starts every April. Its target for 1998-1999 is $500,000, but the group have already made around $470,000. The schools’ revenue from fundraising is drawn mainly from the annual fund and major gifts. There’s a separate major gifts team soliciting donors who contribute more than $1,000 to the school.

But Ryerson’s fundraising can’t be compared to that of its neighbours at the University of Toronto and York University. People at the office of university advancement say Ryerson is a young university, and its pool of 80,000 alumni is not large or old enough to give big amounts to the school. The average age of the school’s alumni is 39. But despite this, the school needs to make up for funding shortfalls cause by government cutbacks. Provincial funding to universities has been cut by 15.3 per cent in the past two years. So the biggest contribution to the university, other than tuition and government grants, is private dollars. In fact, Ryerson’s president Claude Lajeunesse was asked to make fundraising a priority by his review committee. Lajeunesse then hinted at an upcoming university-wide campaign at the Jan. 25 board of governors meeting.

But Sleeth knows nothing about what’s happening upstairs. He’s just doing his job for $9 an hour. Actually, only a few students know of the university advancement office. The office is hidden past the elevators on the north side of Jorgenson Hall’s second floor. Its 30 employees are all involved in fundraising, whether through alumni affairs and the annual fund or public relations and marketing. Of that group, six are full-time fundraisers. It’s tough for Ryerson to compete, especially when change has been constant for the department over the past few months.

A Difference of Opinion in Fundraising Philosophy

When Bob Crow stepped into his position as executive director of university advancement in May, 1996, he took on the challenge of promoting Ryerson and raising cash. He was convinced that if the school marketed itself properly, the dollars would follow. “Fundraising is a lot like farming,” he says today. “You have to take the time to plant the seeds, water them, cultivate the crops and be patient.” But administration wanted a quick crop. Donations dropped to $2.9 million in 1998 from $3.6 million in 1997, as the collection of money from the fundraising campaign in the late ‘80s tapered off. But the school needed dollars to make up for a lack of government funding.

In September, 1998, just 10 days before Ryerson’s board of governors decided to create a new vice-president position to oversee the department, Crow resigned. His three-year contract wasn’t up until the end of April. Crow says he had considered running for the vice-president position in the beginning, but “it is a terribly frustrating job, very competitive.”

Details of his resignation are still under wraps, but he says his departure was a mutual decision. “[The university and I] didn’t see 100 per cent eye-to-eye on things,” he says. “In the end, we sat down like grown adults and we weren’t in the same place. It was amicable though.”

Crow doesn’t want to comment further on his resignation. “It’s not necessary,” he says. “It’s just that I was going one way and the university was going another. The university’s goals weren’t quite realistic.” He wanted to promote the school, while the school wanted a quick fix for its funding shortfall.

Ryerson’s 1989 Campaign Aimed At More Dollars

It’s Jan. 26, 1989, and the excitement on campus has reached its height. Engineering students are having a lunchtime rally at Lake Devo to launch the “With Pride and Purpose” campaign. They are giving away 100 free Ernie hotdogs, and a group of students is parading around the campus with a “capital campaign” banner and balloons.

It’s an exciting day as Ryerson’s second funding campaign begins. The first one in the early 1980s brought in a little more than $9 million. This time around, the school is aiming for $33 million.

Ted Rogers, president and chief executive officer of Rogers Communications Inc., is ready for his photo shoot to highlight the launch of Ryerson’s campaign. He is donating $2 million to build a building on the corner of Church and Gould Streets. He hands Ryerson president Terry Grier his VISA gold card to seal the pledge for the construction of the $20.4 million Rogers Communications Centre. Without the Ryerson campaign, there wouldn’t be a building. The provincial government has already committed $13 million to construction costs and the remaining money will come from donations of companies such as Torstar Corp., Maclean Hunter and Sun Media Corp. When the building opens its doors in 1991, it will be home to the school of journalism and radio and television arts.

The campaign hype has begun and dollars are flooding into the school.

Imagine the Hub transformed into a Russian library. All along the windows, drapes are put up. As you walk in, piles of gold-painted books are scattered on the desk. A string quartet plays on centre stage. That’s what Ryerson did in one of its “Ballet for Books” campaign galas. Tickets were $180 for an evening performance by the Bolshoi and Kirov dance companies at the Pantages Theatre. But first, an evening reception was held in the Hub. People swarmed in, some in business attire and others in black-tie. They all came to support the library’s needs, like buying more books.

It was not uncommon to throw galas during a campaign. “These events don’t raise a lot of money for a cause, but they do help build a certain awareness,” says Ian Marlatt, director of public affairs and marketing communications in the university of advancement office. Money from the gala went towards the Pantages Theatre, catering and decorating the Hub.

The campaign, which ran from 1989 to 1993, was a success, surpassing its goal by raising $37.9 million in cash and gifts by the end of March, 1993.

Since then, the fundraising game has become a lot bigger. The University of Toronto’s campaign, which began in May, 1995, has already brought in $140 million to the school. Its goal was $400 million, but that is expected to be raised by May.

Ryerson always seems to be the underdog in its search for money. When Newcourt Credit Group, a Canadian finance company, donated $3.75 million in endowment funding to the three Toronto universities’ business schools in November, 1998, Ryerson came away with the smallest cut. York University took home $2 million and the University of Toronto got $1.5 million. Ryerson was given only $250,000. This was a result of the schools’ differing campaign strategies to solicit donors, but also showed the paucity of support Ryerson always comes away with.

University Mum on Launch of its Next Fundraising Plan

These days, there’s something going on in the office of university advancement. Neither Jack Radford, the current executive director, or Ryerson’s president Claude Lajeunesse wanted to be interviewed about fundraising at first. I waited outside Radford’s door until he spoke to me, but my questions were not fully answered when he did. I asked Radford for donation figures from previous years. “You don’t get them from me,” he says. Then who can I get them from? “You’ve got to keep in mind that I’m here till the end of June, so my job is not to go back and look at what we did in the past, but try to get us ready for the future.”

For the future, the university is doing feasibility studies for the schools of retail management and graphic communications management (GCM) to see if they are able to bring in donors. Radford calls them “mini-campaigns.” He did hint at a university-wide campaign though. “That’s the process we’re in with a number of people,” he says. “We’re trying to bring them along toward what we hope will be a major campaign in the next few years.” But Radford wouldn’t release any details as the feasibility studies for both programs have to be approved by Ryerson’s board of governors before the school starts thinking about a major campaign.

Lajeunesse, who has been reappointed for a second term in office until 2005, didn’t want to comment on fundraising either, even though his review committee has asked him to make fundraising on of his top priorities. “I don’t have time for this,” he says when I approached him after a presentation. But he did mention at January’s board of governor’s meeting that discussions would take place in the future about a fundraising campaign.

Donor Not Impressed With School’s Strategies

Norm Guilfoyle was anticipating a campaign for Ryerson’s 50th anniversary. “I was expecting something in the mail,” he says. Guilfoyle, who graduated from RTA in 1964, has been a regular donor since the 1980s. In 1997, he donated more than $1,000, making him one of the thousands of alumni that donate to the school. “My reason for giving to Ryerson is I probably think I would end up working at a factory somewhere,” he says. “I think the people from my generation should give back because we got a highly subsidized education.”

Guilfoyle is a consultant with Ketchum Canada and helps institutions plan fundraising strategies. Guilfoyle is critical of the school’s efforts at making money.

“Ryerson’s history of fundraising is not a success story. And it’s too bad,” he says. “They’re going to be faced with doing a major campaign. They have to have the right people in it.”

Guilfoyle wanted to be a part of that team when he ran for a position on the board of governors in 1991. He lost.

But he has a lot of suggestions for Ryerson’s fundraising departments. One of them is to use people who are class representatives to solicit other classmates for money.

The Money Game Continues On

Down in the basement of Jorgenson Hall, students continue to solicit alumni for dollars. The money is slowly rolling in on this Wednesday night.

Sleeth has finally garnered his first pledge of $25 at 8:30 p.m. His shift will be over in the next hour and a half.

“Over the course of four hours, two nights a week, this is what I do,” he says. The $650 in pledges at 8 p.m. has increased to $1,075 by 9 p.m. The room is busy and the voices are loud as power hour, the final hour, approaches. That’s when the pledges start rolling in. It’s a tough job, but by the end of the night the group has raised $2,000 for the school. The average amount they raise a night is $2,717, with the most being $20,000 one night. As for Sleeth, he has brought in close to $400 tonight. The callers start leaving close to 10 p.m. It has been a long night and they look exhausted. Tomorrow, the same process will continue at Ryerson. “All universities, especially at Ryerson, are looking for money,” says annual fund manager Sarsfield. “We need money and we’re going to try to get it from wherever we can.”

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