Make No Little Plans

Several institutions in Chicago that depend on donated funds are running their largest philanthropic drives ever right now. What’s behind these megacampaigns?

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Since the 2002 launch of its $2-billion capital campaign, the University of Chicago has had to raise an average of about $1 million a day. Ned Jannotta, the campaign’s initial chair, found the goal figure daunting and had to be persuaded to pursue it: “My knees were knocking a bit.”

The gigantic goal, three times larger than the university’s previous campaign, is actually par for the course these days. Institutions are setting their sights far higher than ever before. The University of Illinois recently announced a $2.25-billion drive, $750 million more than its previous high. The Art Institute’s current campaign has already raised $300 million, five times more than it raised in its last campaign. By spring of next year, Children’s Memorial Hospital is set to announce a goal at least four times its previous record.

Some key changes in the world of philanthropy made these huge goals realistic. First, strong wealth creation in the 1990s minted thousands of new millionaires with money to give away. Studies show 175,000 millionaires now living in the Chicago area—and that number should rise 50 percent by 2012.

Second, new technologies were developed that could track wealthy donors and their philanthropic passions. The information-technology company Noza, Inc., for example, has developed a searchable and sortable proprietary database recording more than 26 million charitable donations from public data.

Third, newer philanthropists have been willing to open their wallets to make gifts with a visible impact. “In old philanthropy, people gave upon death,” says Terry Mazany, president of the Chicago Community Trust. “In new philanthropy, they want to be involved and see results in their lifetime.”

The U. of C.’s is the only local megacampaign so far to have reached its goal. While that’s no guarantee of success for the U. of I., the Art Institute, or Children’s Memorial, the demographic trends look rosy. You can take that to the bank.


Photograph: One Pop Photo/Stockphoto.com


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