The university’s foundation has hired the J.F. Smith Group of Auburn to conduct a feasibility study to determine the university’s potential for securing donations for projects throughout the university.
Ultimately, said Charles Lewis, vice president of university advancement, the study seeks to answer the question: “What are the projects that people are excited about and would consider funding through a private capital campaign?”
On Monday, an email was sent to JSU alumni, announcing the potential capital campaign and providing them with a link to a survey where they can sound off on investment priorities put together by university leaders.
“This study requires candid input from individuals like you, and we are seeking your advice and guidance on opportunities before us,” reads the message from Bill Meehan, JSU’s president.
The list of $125.1 million in potential investments range from endowed academic opportunities to sports facilities to an art gallery.
Endowed academic opportunities include $10 million worth of undergraduate scholarships, $3 million in faculty positions, and $7 million in international programs such as scholarships for JSU students to study abroad.
Priorities for sports include a $15 million renovation to Pete Mathews Coliseum, $5 million in improvements for the baseball stadium, and a new “Athletic Excellence Fund” to assist with ongoing expenses such as team travel, equipment and recruitment.
Other large projects include a $10 million science annex for the colleges of Arts and Sciences and Nursing for classrooms, laboratories and offices and a $25 million state-of-the-art wellness center, which would include a new Student Health Center, Wellness Office, fitness and weight facilities and classroom and office space for the departments of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and Family and Consumer Sciences.
The university last undertook a capital campaign in 2004, which eventually raised about $31 million, Lewis said, far more than the initial goal of $17.5 million.
Some of the big ticket items from the last campaign remain as potential projects for funding if the university decides to kick off a capital campaign.
A $20 million proposal to replace the facilities in Mason Hall with a new music building has been pared down and reappears on a university wishlist this time as a $10 million music performance hall, which would include a 400-seat concert space, a 150-seat recital hall, rehearsal spaces and instrument storage.
A prior $7 million project to upgrade the College of Education and Professional studies has grown to a $10 million project to upgrade infrastructure and create additional classroom and collaborative learning spaces.
Lewis said that the university’s priorities did not change during the course of the last campaign, but projects such as these were simply less likely to draw donors.
“When someone says I want to give you a gift for this particular reason, we have to honor that,” he said. Most of the funds that come in through a capital campaign tend to be designated for specific projects, Lewis explained. During the last campaign, for instance, the foundation was very successful in raising funds for scholarships, and projects such as the Little River Canyon Project Center have since been completed.
While the foundation did get funding for music and education, Lewis said, “We just didn’t get the funding needed to build those buildings to that level.” Some donations were pledges of planned gifts that were not immediately given to the foundation.
Lewis said he expected the study to be completed in time to present to the university’s board of trustees at either its April or July meeting. The report would suggest fundraising goals and identify projects with broad support, he said. Lewis declined to provide the foundation’s cost for the study, citing the foundation’s status as a private non-profit organization.
“I have no idea what the suggested goal will be after the feasibility study,” Lewis said, “nor do I know what projects will resonate.”
Jerry Smith, president of the J.F. Smith Group, said his firm highly recommends clients conduct a feasibility study before beginning fundraising.
“It’s a way to test the positives and negatives, the plusses and minuses, anything that might affect the outcome of the campaign,” he said.
In addition to the online survey sent out to all alumni with an email address, J.F. Smith employees have been conducting one-on-one interviews with potentially large donors and will be holding several focus groups in the coming weeks. The resulting calculations based on their feedback and a number of other factors will provide the university with a “pretty comprehensive plan” so leaders can make informed decisions, Smith said.
“It’s just a step to take if you’re going to be successful,” he said.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.