Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Leading by Example
SDSU's president and first lady leave a powerful legacy.
Susan and Stephen Weber. Photo: David Friend
When President Stephen L. Weber speaks to alumni and friends about the importance of giving to San Diego State, his words carry the ring of authenticity. Likely that’s because he is a donor himself.
Weber and his wife, Susan Keim Weber, have given more than $1 million in private funding to SDSU during the 15 years they have served as first couple. Their gifts support students and faculty in many of the programs that rank San Diego State among the best teaching and research universities in the nation. The Webers’ most recent contribution is a valuable Paul Cadmus painting they have owned for decades.
When the Webers came to San Diego in 1996, fundraising was a relatively new concept at SDSU.The University of California and California State University systems had long survived, even thrived, on funding from the state legislature.
But with expenditures rising and tax revenues shrinking, the California legislature began to reduce support for education. In the last 12 years, state funding for each CSU student has declined nearly 40 percent—from $10,700 to $6,700. In order to compensate, SDSU and its fellow CSUs have increasingly turned to private donors.
A culture change
Building a case for philanthropy was challenging in a community accustomed to state-funded education. Shortly after his arrival, Weber spearheaded a concerted outreach effort to reconnect with SDSU alumni and explain the importance of investing in their alma mater.
In 1999, Weber worked with philanthropic-minded friends of SDSU to establish the Campanile Foundation and choose its board, a group of distinguished alumni and civic leaders charged with supervising the university’s philanthropic assets and advocating for private giving among fellow alumni and friends of SDSU.
The Campanile Foundation’s impact is remarkable. With 36 members (up from 16 at the outset), the board has led SDSU’s fundraising efforts to $65 million in fiscal 2010, more than double the $32 million raised just 12 years earlier. Moreover, sound investment policies approved by the board have grown the university’s endowment from $42 million to $109 million despite declining financial markets.
With the the Campanile Foundation’s assistance, SDSU has raised more than $228 million since July 2007, when Weber announced the university’s first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign.
Bridge to the community
As SDSU’s first lady, Susan Weber also worked to rally support for the university. She created BRIDGES, a dynamic group of volunteers, alumni and friends to whom she provided “front row seats” for events showcasing the excellence found throughout SDSU. This exposure gave members an insider’s view of the university, which they have shared with others. By telling SDSU’s story, the 31 BRIDGES members form an important link between the university and the San Diego community.
Although the group’s original mission was not philanthropic, the more BRIDGES members learned about SDSU, the more committed they became. Impressed by the remarkable students in the Honors Program, they chose to support them by creating a scholarship endowment. And when SDSU built the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center—the university’s first official gathering place for alumni BRIDGES chose to honor the milestone with a donation to name the building’s terrace.
“BRIDGES members have supported these causes because we were inspired by all the Webers have accomplished,” said Jane Haskel, a close friend of the Webers and one of the original BRIDGES members.
The Webers’ hard work and dedication has helped transform San Diego State into an economic powerhouse whose people and programs move the region forward to contribute and compete in the global arena.
Since 1996, SDSU has raised more than $684 million in private gifts; created new schools and programs such as the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, the Charles W. Lamden School of Accountancy and the J.R. Filanc Construction Engineering and Management Program; and increased scholarship support to students by 200 percent.
According to Mary Ruth Carleton, vice president of University Relations and Development, the Webers are far too modest to take credit for these milestones.
“Steve and Susan have given so much—in every sense of the word—to San Diego State. Through philanthropy, they have institutionalized excellence. It’s the most impactful thing they could have accomplished to ensure the university’s future.”