Board of Trust Chairman Martha Ingram’s letter to more than 100,000 Vanderbilt alumni and friends in January 2001 announced trustees’ approval of a new fundraising campaign to “turn our aspirations into realities.” Little did anyone guess that the campaign road would wind through 10 years, the tragedy of 9/11, the subsequent economic downturn, a later full-blown recession, and changes in university and campaign leadership. Now, the campaign has closed its books in the full knowledge that it has lived up to its name: Shape the Future.
The transformative generosity of 205,000 donors has touched the lives of each and every member of the Vanderbilt campus community and provided resources for the university to better serve its missions of education, discovery and patient care.
In one sense the campaign’s priorities were straightforward, the basic building blocks of any quality institution: great students, great faculty, and great resources for teaching and discovery—including imaginative programs, libraries, and facilities for living, learning and caring for patients.
What was unique was how the campaign’s priorities were focused to match the mission and vision set forth for Vanderbilt in its strategic plan. Coalescing ideas from the university’s 10 schools and medical center, Vanderbilt’s strategic plan was committed to paper by the man who now finds himself at the helm of the university: Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, then associate provost, soon to be named provost by Chancellor Gordon Gee in 2002.
The plan called for building on Vanderbilt’s special strengths in undergraduate education by creating a residential college system now termed College Halls; significantly expanding student financial aid through scholarships; and attracting and keeping outstanding faculty through endowed chairs. Innovative research would be advanced by investing in faculty, laboratory space and programs where Vanderbilt could envision making distinctive contributions and where disciplines intersected—especially connecting innovative scientists and engineers with talented biomedical researchers.
The campaign launched publicly in April 2003 with Monroe Carell Jr., BE’59, at the helm. A clear choice to lead the major campaign, Carell, the retired head of Central Parking Inc., had successfully spearheaded fundraising for the freestanding, state-of-the-art children’s hospital that now bears his name. He quickly enlisted others to work with him, met frequently with staff and other volunteers, and added the cause of scholarships and chairs as a focus for his own philanthropy.
At the launch event Carell announced a goal of $1.25 billion for gifts and pledges with more than $800 million already in campaign coffers, thanks to the foundational gift of the Ingram family, Carell’s personal philanthropy, and early pledges from university trustees and others. A second goal of $100 million for new planned bequests also was set.
By September 2004, donors had given and pledged $1 billion. In April 2006, with the $1.25 billion mark in sight, the Board of Trust increased the overall campaign goal to $1.75 billion and extended the timeline. The following fall, the goal for new planned bequests was increased to $150 million.
Monroe Carell would not live to see the full fruit of his leadership. Cancer claimed his life in June 2008.
A few months later, after years of planning, the university announced a bold new step: Opportunity Vanderbilt. This initiative signaled an unprecedented commitment to making Vanderbilt accessible to all qualified students. It called for an additional $100 million specifically for need-based undergraduate scholarship endowment—the next step in helping the university ensure access to a Vanderbilt education by replacing student loans with grants and scholarships in Vanderbilt aid packages.
Trustee Emeritus H. Rodes Hart, BA’54, leader of Peabody College’s campaign committee, was named Shape the Future’s new chair in October 2008, and Orrin Ingram, BA’82, was named vice chair.
Hart and his wife, Patricia Ingram Hart, BA’57, have made significant investments at Vanderbilt, with particular focus on strengthening the faculty. They have endowed multiple chairs at Peabody College and the medical center. Declaring his new role as chair of the campaign a “chance to give back to the university that has given so much to my life,” Hart quickly began meeting with donors, reporting to the board, and jotting frequent notes of thanks. Both he and Orrin Ingram, who had earlier led the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center campaign, fully embraced the task of finishing Shape the Future in rousing fashion.
Citing statistics is easy—campaigns can generate overwhelming numbers—but the stats only tell part of the story. The real story lies in the impact of donor philanthropy on Vanderbilt—on the students, faculty, staff and patients here now, and those yet to come. The real story is what 900,000 gifts have helped and will continue to help make possible.
With significant lead gifts, Vanderbilt created The Commons for all first-year students, providing an environment for sharing houses with faculty, building community, fostering friendships, and learning the special qualities of the university’s civil and collegial culture. Opened in 2008 and recently named in honor of Martha Ingram, The Ingram Commons is the first phase of College Halls, Vanderbilt’s version of a residential college system. Building on the success of The Ingram Commons and further philanthropy, construction will begin in 2012 on two new college halls for sophomores, juniors and seniors, replacing Kissam Quadrangle.
More than 1,300 donors helped to expand undergraduate financial aid to make Vanderbilt accessible to greater numbers of talented students. Thanks to greater accessibility, the strong draw of residential life in The Ingram Commons and intensified recruiting, the number of admissions applications has soared to 25,000 for 1,600 spaces. Last year 1,000 of these first-year students were the only ones from their high schools enrolled at Vanderbilt—underscoring the value of a residential community where students quickly feel at home.
Students from all 50 states and more than 30 countries bring diverse backgrounds and experiences—as well as a commonality of distinguished academic achievement, leadership, and extraordinary service to school and community. Attracted by outstanding faculty, the number of graduate applications also has increased along with the number of Ph.D.s awarded.
A dramatic increase in the number of endowed faculty chairs—from 97 before the campaign began to 289 today—has helped attract and retain outstanding scholars, researchers and teachers across the campus and in the medical center. Faculty investment enhances the student experience by expanding curricular offerings and providing research opportunities, while at the same time fostering an environment in which faculty successfully compete for coveted research grants and prizes as Vanderbilt’s national and international profile continues to grow.
Shape the Future gifts have helped build the soon-to-be-expanded Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, and the Eskind Diabetes Center. Philanthropy has played a role in the construction of three major medical research buildings and numerous clinics, providing unsurpassed opportunities for extraordinary patient care and discovery.
The generosity of Shape the Future donors has enabled major renovations to Commodore athletics facilities, new and expanded engineering facilities in Featheringill Hall, the Ben Schulman Center for Jewish Life, a new E. Bronson Ingram Studio Arts Center, an expanded Blair School of Music including the Martha Rivers Ingram Center for the Performing Arts, and a major expansion and renovation of Vanderbilt Law School.
From the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy to human genetics, students are embracing all that Vanderbilt has to offer. That fact is evidenced by a 97 percent student retention rate from freshman to sophomore year.
Year in and year out, annual fund gifts from alumni and friends will still be needed to sustain and advance programs and to add to endowment that undergirds scholarships and chairs.
As Zeppos points out, the word philanthropy means “love of humanity.”
“What I’ve learned is that people who have been blessed with resources want to make a difference in somebody else’s life and in society,” Zeppos says. “I believe very deeply that it really matters for Vanderbilt to be here, to thrive, and to have the resources to teach and heal and discover.”