The initiatives outlined in Stanford’s Long-Range Vision are inspiring philanthropic support, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest and the economic downturn.

screenshot of Faculty Senate Zoom meeting of Nov. 12, 2020

The Faculty Senate on Thursday heard from President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Jon Denney, vice president for development, how the Long-Range Vision initiatives are inspiring Stanford supporters even as the university adapts to a changed fundraising environment. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

That good news was shared by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Jon Denney, vice president for development, in a presentation to the Faculty Senate on Thursday. Tessier-Lavigne thanked faculty members who have contributed to a fundraising planning process around the Long-Range Vision (LRV) initiatives. The planning engaged some 60 department chairs and academic unit leaders, as well as half of the senators themselves.

The presentation by Tessier-Lavigne and Denney outlined how the university is now moving from the planning phase to the fundraising execution of LRV initiatives and core university needs.

“In addition to the work that the faculty has put in to advance our initiatives this year, the fundraising response has been very encouraging,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “A significant portion of this year’s philanthropy was directed to the initiatives emerging out of the Long-Range Vision.”

Among the examples he cited were two significant gifts that endowed the Stanford Science Fellows program, which is designed to build an interdisciplinary community of independent postdoctoral scholars from throughout the world.

See the annual report that summarizes the Long-Range Vision initiatives progress.

Uniquely Stanford approach

The recent gifts result both from encouraging donor support for the LRV initiatives and from what Tessier-Lavigne and Denney called a “uniquely Stanford approach to fundraising.”

University fundraising in the past at Stanford and elsewhere has often relied on large-scale, multi-year campaigns with publicly announced ambitious financial goals. But the myriad of challenges posed by the pandemic and economy have prompted Stanford to adopt a different and far more flexible approach, according to Denney.

Denney described a fundraising landscape unsettled by economic uncertainty, the global pandemic, social unrest and declining public opinion of higher education. In addition, the university’s ground-up approach to initiative development has meant that program launches are staggered, meaning that a coordinated campaign start would be hard to achieve.

“As we look at the external environment, we see that the landscape today is quite different from the environment we faced in 2005 and 2006, when Stanford launched its last comprehensive campaign,” Denney said. “Today, markets and unemployment rates have reached record highs as we face a global pandemic, natural disasters and social unrest – so this creates economic uncertainty as evidenced by ongoing market volatility.”

In what he called a “uniquely Stanford campaign for this particular moment,” Denney described a concerted effort among university schools, departments and offices that has many similarities with a conventional fundraising campaign, including a unified message and a parallel public awareness effort. Stanford fundraisers also have pursued a traditional approach to ascertaining core university and initiative needs in conjunction with faculty members and obtaining feedback from donors about how those needs might resonate with their giving objectives. But the new approach eschews dollar goals or set timelines.

Instead, Denney said, the university will measure success and hold itself accountable based on the impact individual initiatives hope to have.

“We will seek to focus on the impact our faculty and students, with the help of our supporters, can make on the world,” he said.

A purposeful university

Although the fundraising strategies have adapted to changing times, the goals associated with the university’s Long-Range Vision efforts have not wavered. The overarching goal, first articulated by Tessier-Lavigne at the beginning of his presidency and reiterated at the May Academic Council meeting, is to create “a purposeful university” where new knowledge is converted to solutions in order to accelerate Stanford’s impact on the world.

In his presentation on Thursday, Tessier-Lavigne reviewed the launching of the LRV initiatives, whose research and education activities were supported by an initial $100 million university commitment. Two-thirds of those funds have been allocated to date. An additional $29 million in annual funding was subsequently added to support growing affordability challenges faced by faculty, students and staff.

When COVID-19 hit, Tessier-Lavigne said the university’s fundraising goals quickly pivoted to financial aid in support of struggling students and to activities related to the pandemic. Beginning in the summer, the university was able to reengage with the LRV goals.

The LRV continues to be organized around three interlocking and interrelated themes: advancing knowledge for humanity, accelerating solutions for the world and educating students for a life of purpose. Intertwined among the three is the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment initiative – or IDEAL – which Tessier-Lavigne called “critical to the success of all that we do.”

At the center of Stanford’s efforts to create a purposeful university is the concept of accelerating impact, Tessier-Lavigne said.

“Today’s world is changing faster than ever, and we need to equip our community to adapt quickly – a truth made all the more evident by the challenges we have faced throughout 2020,” he said. “Under our vision, we plan to accelerate Stanford’s contributions across all three of these themes: foundational knowledge, applied solutions and education.”

As fundraising efforts move forward, Tessier-Lavigne said more than half of the focus is anticipated to be on core school priorities, including faculty needs related to basic research, such as seed funding, programmatic support, support for research that is not part of the initiatives and start-up packages. Some 75 endowed professorships have been identified for support under core school needs, as well as more than 200 graduate fellowships over the next five years. In addition, some 7 percent of the overall fundraising target is projected to go toward undergraduate financial aid. Under the auspices of the initiatives, 36 professorships and 100 graduate fellowships have been identified as needs.

But the president noted that needs are expected to evolve over the course of the five-year time frame envisioned for the fundraising efforts as new targets of opportunity emerge.

In response to a question from political scientist Bruce Cain, the Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and the Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, Tessier-Lavigne said those new targets are unlikely to be additional buildings. Past campaigns have, by necessity due to modernization needs, focused on new facilities. But Tessier-Lavigne said the university does not expect to build as many new facilities as it has over the past 20 years. Part of the reason, he acknowledged, is the lack of a new General Use Permit for campus planning with Santa Clara County.

Moving forward

Denney said that Stanford is now in the position of finalizing the campaign framework and structure, refining messaging and developing strategies based on an understanding of the intersection between supporter interest and institutional needs.

He hopes faculty will continue to participate in the process by joining the development staff to talk about their work with Stanford supporters, whether in one-on-one or small-group settings like the Stanford Vision Conversations, where key supporters will gather to learn about initiatives.

Despite the daunting challenges of 2020, Tessier-Lavigne assured senators that Stanford is up to the task of supporting both the university’s core needs and the LRV initiatives using the fundraising approach he and Denney outlined.

“Indeed, the current crisis provides an historic opportunity to make significant contributions to humanity,” he said. “History has demonstrated that great ideas and innovation have been born out of times of crisis.”

He concluded, “I am confident that, galvanized by the urgency of the present and focused on the promise of the future, we will achieve our vision of a purposeful university, producing knowledge and ideas, innovation and education to create a better world.”

Other senate action

In other action, the Faculty Senate heard a memorial resolution for Bruce Johnston, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the Food Research Institute. He died in February 2020.