PSU campaign eyes deep-pocketed donors

Portland State used the sixth annual Simon Benson Awards Dinnerat the Oregon Convention Center last night to a publicly promotethe university’s campaign to attract large private donations.

While the event is described as a celebration of philanthropy ingeneral, PSU officials kept the focus on the university’s “Buildingour Future” capital campaign. Working behind the scenes, thecampaign has attracted $74 million in donations since 1999 and isnow being publicly promoted in order to reach the campaign’s $100million goal by 2006.

Despite not being officially public until now, the “Building ourFuture” campaign has been lurking in the background of PortlandState’s progress since 1999, contributing millions of dollars toover 75 projects throughout the university.

Projects already funded by the campaign include the NativeAmerican Student and Community Center, which opened last fall, andthe Northwest Center for Engineering, Science and Technology, whichis currently being built.

In 2003-04, nearly 1,500 scholarships supported by funds fromthe campaign were awarded to students.

The university was quiet about the campaign for the past fiveyears, waiting for the most opportune moment to publicly announcetheir campaign.

“Portland State, like most universities, used the quiet phase toraise a significant part of the goal so that when it is announcedto the public, we are well on our way to success and have momentum,media attention and publicity for the final stages of fundraising,”a statement on the PSU web site said.

High-sum private donations have played an increasing role inPSU’s funding scheme in recent years.

Currently the university has received 26 donations for over $1million. When Daniel Bernstine began his presidency at PortlandState eight years ago, the university had only received two.

Faced with continually dwindling funding from the state, PSU hascontinually increased its efforts in attracting big-ticket privatedonations. The awards dinner last night represented yet anotheropportunity for the university to court big potential donors.

Billed as Portland’s premier philanthropy event, over 1,000guests paid the $200 price tag for a plate at the dinner. Thepotential donors were treated to a gourmet meal, live music and aspeech by celebrated former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite.

“This is really a visibility thing,” said Cassie McVeety, vicepresident for university relations.

PSU fundraisers use events like the awards dinner to buildnetworks of potential philanthropists and attract more donations,according to McVeety.

Many of PSU’s highest-rolling donors were among the crowd oflast night’s dinner, including Dr. Fariborz Maseeh, who at $8million is PSU’s largest private donor in history.

“Any place we can get money with no strings attached is great,”said Caroline Stoel, one of the Simon Benson Award recipients, whohas herself donated over $100,000 to PSU to establish a fellowshipin the history department.

The glitz and glam of the awards dinner may seem out of placefor Portland State, which has built its reputation on being adown-to-earth, urban, community-based university. But universityofficials say that it is the community aspect that they want topromote to potential donors.

While PSU is no “ivory tower institution,” the university’sdevotion to the community is its best aspect, according toMcVeety.

“PSU is really woven into the community,” she said.