Alumni Relations and Development


Fiscal year 2009 offered a challenging financial climate, with economic losses and uncertainty affecting the plans of many individuals and organizations on whom the University of Chicago has relied for support. Paradoxically, the year also marked the largest gift in University history, setting a new University record in annual fund-raising. Thanks to the generosity of loyal alumni and friends, who continued their support at every level, the University raised $516.5 million. In all, 43,163 individuals and organizations made gifts, a pattern of support that reflects strengthened efforts to engage the University’s worldwide community of alumni and friends.

In partnership with the Alumni Association Board of Governors, the Alumni Relations and Development Committee of the Board of Trustees undertook a systematic review of engagement efforts, with the goal of engaging a majority of the University’s alumni in the life of the University through volunteerism, attendance at events, or philanthropic support. Responding to the career needs of alumni affected by the recession, the Alumni Association joined with the University’s Career Advising and Planning Services office to help via networking events, seminars, and free, one-on-one sessions with career counselors. Networking was also a featured activity at June’s Alumni Weekend, which brought more than 4,000 alumni, friends, and family to campus. Off campus, the Harper Lecture Series took several dozen faculty to 40 cities for UChicago-style discussions on topics from “The Rise of Imperial Liberalism” (Associate Professor in Political Science Jennifer Pitts, in Paris) to “Energy: A Challenge in Every Possible Way” (R. Stephen Berry, James Franck Distinguished Service Professor in Chemistry, in Boston).

A Record of Consistency

Beginning with a $5 donation when he was a sophomore at the Laboratory Schools, Michael Weinberg, U-High’43, AB’47, has made gifts to the University ever since: Fiscal year 2009 marked his 68th consecutive annual gift. Nearly half of UChicago alumni donors have given in seven years or more; many have given for at least 20 years. In 2009, 22 percent of College alumni donors had given for the past 10 consecutive years. Looking to the future, participation by young alumni and students in the College is on the upswing. Five years ago, just 12 percent of graduates from the previous ten years had made a gift to the University. In 2009, 22 percent—more than 2,000 of the College’s young alumni—made gifts. Similarly, in 2004 the College’s Senior Class Gift campaign had a 56 percent participation rate; this year, a record-setting 80 percent of the Class of 2009 made their first gifts to the University.

Hundreds of committed student and alumni volunteers fueled these and other community-building efforts. In February 2009, a group of UChicago undergraduates launched the Student Alumni Committee to provide opportunities for ongoing interaction and engagement with the University. In 2008 and 2009, close to a third of all alumni volunteered on behalf of the University, made a gift, or attended an alumni event—on campus, around the nation, or around the world.

UChicago also saw consistent giving at leadership levels. Members of the Chicago Society, composed of alumni, parents, and friends who have given $2,500 or more in the previous fiscal year, contributed more than $129 million, or 53 percent of all cash gifts received by the University in fiscal 2009. The Harper Society—which honors alumni, friends, corporations, and foundations that have made lifetime gifts of $500,000 to $999,999 to the University—welcomed 120 new individuals, bringing its total membership to 885.

$300 Million Gift Reflects UChicago Values

In November 2008, the University announced the largest donation in its history and the largest gift to any business school in the world. University Trustee David G. Booth, MBA’71, pledged $300 million to the University, for the benefit of the business school. To honor Booth and his family, the school was renamed the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Booth credits the success of his company, Dimensional Fund Advisors, to the principles he learned and guidance he received from UChicago professors. To build on that legacy, the school will dedicate much of Booth’s gift to attracting and retaining eminent faculty, expanding existing research centers, and launching programs to leverage Chicago Booth’s intellectual capital.

Odyssey Challenge Inspires More Giving

The University created the Odyssey scholarship program two years ago with an unprecedented $100 million gift from “Homer,” an anonymous alumnus of the College. In the past year, Odyssey has made tremendous progress toward its goal of reducing or eliminating loans for UChicago undergraduates from low-income families. When he established the Odyssey scholarships, Homer guaranteed half of his $100 million gift, but promised that the balance would become available only when the University met the challenge to endow the program in perpetuity.

Responding to the challenge, nearly 2,000 alumni, parents, and friends had made gifts to the Odyssey endowment by the end of the fiscal year. To spur further participation, University trustees pledged to match every contribution dollar-for-dollar. By June 2009, the Odyssey scholarship challenge had raised $35.5 million, including 71 named scholarships.

Odyssey now benefits nearly one in four students in the College; more than 1,300 undergraduates have been able to replace all or a portion of their loans with grants. The scholarships extend UChicago’s proud legacy of providing opportunity to students regardless of race, gender, religion, or ability to pay. A third of last year’s Odyssey scholars were the first in their family to attend college; half were students of color. Among first-year Odyssey scholars, 32 percent came from families earning less than $60,000.