Lighting the Way

For the Bold campaign inspires William & Mary pride, illuminates the path ahead

For the Bold has allowed us to feel greater pride in William & Mary, and that’s been a real shining light,” said Matthew T. Lambert ’99, vice president for university advancement. “What stands out to me is the way our community has rallied to support a transformational vision for the Alma Mater of the Nation. The William & Mary family’s compassion, loyalty and generosity is unparalleled.”

As the most ambitious campaign in William & Mary’s 327-year history concluded June 30, Lambert reflected on some highlights from the past five years. From the start, the campaign goals were lofty — raise $1 billion, dramatically grow alumni participation and strengthen alumni engagement.

Setting a high bar for the campaign was important to ensure the long-term sustainability of William & Mary’s academic excellence and the university’s accessibility for talented students from all walks of life. So was the emphasis on engaging a wide range of donors and encouraging gifts of all sizes.

“That’s going to benefit William & Mary long after the campaign is over,” Lambert said. “People understand the importance of engaging in the university and giving back. Philanthropy is essential to ensure William & Mary will survive and thrive for all time coming.”

The impacts of For the Bold are already being felt on campus and beyond, through increased scholarship support, endowed professorships, new facilities and technology, diversity and inclusiveness programming, entrepreneurial initiatives, student and faculty research, study abroad opportunities, internships, assistantships and fellowships, career development and networking activities, among other benefits.

Money raised for scholarships — the top campaign priority — totaled more than $303 million, creating 548 new opportunities for students to receive need and merit scholarships in undergraduate, athletics, international and graduate and professional programs. That’s a 60% increase in W&M’s number of named scholarships, many of them need-based. Said another way, more than one third of all scholarships at W&M today were created during For the Bold.

“Scholarships are incredibly important at a time like this, when so many families are under increased financial strain,” Lambert said.

That W&M Chancellor Robert M. Gates ’65 L.H.D. ’98, the U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011, attended on a scholarship is just one example of the importance of bringing together the best and brightest students, regardless of their ability to pay tuition, Lambert said.

“A student attending on a scholarship could be the next president of the United States, or the next Maya Angelou,” he said. “They could discover a cure for COVID-19 or some future virus.”

The recently announced Institute for Integrative Conservation, funded through a $19.3 million gift from an alumna who wishes to remain anonymous, has the potential to make an impact in addressing the world’s most daunting environmental challenges.

“This donor, working with President Rowe, wanted to see how William & Mary could give students and faculty a chance to be at the center of global conservation issues,” Lambert says.

A groundbreaking new Veteran-to-Executive Transition program (W&M VET) made possible by a $10 million gift from an alumna will build on William & Mary's interdisciplinary strengths, its online offerings and its expanding active-duty and veterans programs to prepare men and women who serve our country to excel in civilian leadership roles.

Another investment will allow the expansion of Camp Launch, a summer program that encourages academically promising but economically challenged Hampton Roads-area youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Thanks to a $4.55 million gift, the residential camp is poised to double the number of students who attend — to 300 by 2022 — while also deepening their connection to William & Mary by inviting them to participate for four years.

Other major projects made possible through private support include the expanded Alumni House, which will be completed this summer, and the $57-million reimagined William & Mary Athletics Complex, including a revitalized Kaplan Arena and a new state-of-the-art Sports Performance Center. In addition, plans are moving forward for The Martha Wren Briggs Center for the Visual Arts, a state-of-the-art facility that will include the expanded Muscarelle Museum of Art. 

William & Mary also opened the McLeod Tyler Wellness Center and the Shenkman Jewish Center, the first dedicated facility at the university for Jewish students to practice their faith. In addition, the business school launched a new Center for Online Learning, the Law School initiated new clinics and the announcement of a new Tribe Field Hockey Center in 2018 commemorated the 100th anniversary of coeducation and women's athletics at William & Mary.

The trend among donors has been toward greater targeting of their gifts, Lambert says. But the university also benefits greatly from unrestricted private revenue sources, such as the Fund for William & Mary, which allows administrators to direct money where it’s needed the most and to invest strategically in innovative initiatives. The Fund for W&M supports research, curriculum enhancements, student programming and general operating funding that advances the pursuit of excellence and ensures the university’s competitive edge. The Scholarships Impact Fund allows William & Mary to boost financial aid packages, and 13 impact funds across various schools and departments support programs and faculty projects.

About $25 million of the more than $1 billion raised is dedicated to such unrestricted resources. This is especially important during an economic downturn.

“Now, more than ever, we do need unrestricted dollars,” Lambert says. “The world is changing and we need to be able to adapt.”

Through the campaign, William & Mary is now the No. 1 public university for undergraduate alumni participation — its percentage of undergraduate alumni who give to the university. Among all schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report, the average alumni giving rate from 2016-2018 was 9%. William & Mary’s rate is 30%, according to U.S. News & World Report, which places W&M first among all public universities in the U.S. and 17th  including private schools. 

The campaign’s emphasis on participation has yielded impressive results: Since the start of For the Bold, gifts of less than $100 have totaled approximately $14.7 million. That level of alumni commitment is especially important as public funding through the Commonwealth of Virginia continues to decline. In the 1980s, money from the state government made up 40% of William & Mary’s operating budget. Today, state funds pay for just 11% of the university’s operating budget, while private support contributes about 16%. Tuition and fees, mainly from students, make up the largest share of the budget at 62%.

“The more we can build a sustainable stream of revenue from philanthropy, the better off we’ll be,” Lambert says. “When we first started this campaign, we talked a lot about how we were trying to effect generational change through a culture rooted in engagement and philanthropy.”

A network of alumni who are connected with each other and with William & Mary is crucial to the university’s sustainability in the 21st century and beyond. That’s why one of the three goals of For the Bold is strengthening alumni engagement through new programs, activities and support services. 

“I’m extremely proud of the way we’ve been able to transition our programming from what had been mostly social to a more robust and diverse mix that is cultural, professional and intellectual — and now also virtual,” Lambert says. “We wanted to create the next generation of donors for the next campaign and the one after that and the one after that.”

As the campaign closed, W&M President Emeritus W. Taylor Reveley III described the setting of its ambitious goals as taking a leap of faith. Both he and President Katherine Rowe marveled at the overwhelming response from alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff and friends.

“When we adopted the moniker For the Bold, there were questions from donors and alumni about whether we could really call ourselves ‘bold,’” Lambert says. “But throughout our history, this has been an extremely bold institution.”

He points to the university’s resilience over more than three centuries — enduring through multiple wars, fires and economic downturns — and now becoming the smallest public university without an engineering or medical school to complete a campaign of such magnitude.

Still, there wasn’t immediate agreement on the $1 billion fundraising goal. When Lambert arrived at William & Mary in 2013, the proposed amount was $600 million, a target that consultants had advised was the highest within reach, he says.

“I didn’t think it was ambitious enough to inspire donors to push the boundaries of excellence,” Lambert says. “I’ve been deeply gratified to see how our community has really rallied to rise to the occasion and how many donors have come forward.”

The campaign’s public phase began in October 2015, with hundreds of students and donors holding candles and singing the alma mater in the Sunken Garden. Building on that uplifting moment were events in major cities that brought the William & Mary community together in a strikingly visible way: the Empire State Building lit up in green and gold, and William & Mary’s colors shining from the Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel, the King and Queen towers in Atlanta and Kensington Palace in London.

By the public launch, For the Bold was more than halfway toward its goal with over $532 million raised, exceeding the entire amount generated during the university’s last campaign, which ended in 2007. Bolstering the 2015 launch was the announcement of a $50-million anonymous scholarship commitment — the largest gift in William & Mary’s history.

After the campaign surpassed $967 million by Dec. 31, 2019, Lambert credits One Tribe One Day with helping to push it over the top, with a final total of $1.04 billion given by 106,644 donors. The annual day of giving, postponed this year from April 21 to June 23 because of COVID-19, has proven successful both in increasing alumni participation and bringing the community together to celebrate William & Mary. Before the event started in 2014, the previous high-water mark was 500 donors in one day, Lambert says. For its first year, organizers set a goal of 1,693 donors — an homage to the year of the school’s founding — and narrowly surpassed that with 1,700. In 2019, the number of participating in the event climbed to 13,000.

“That far surpasses any other institution of our size,” Lambert says. “It speaks to cultural change, because the feeling on that day is really one of pride and love. We see people sharing posts about their favorite memories and experiences.”

In response to the pandemic and nationwide protests of racial injustice sparked by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, the focus of this year’s One Tribe One Day shifted away from fundraising totals to emphasize ways in which the William & Mary community can come together and achieve positive, meaningful change. Efforts focused on scholarships and initiatives that support diversity and inclusion, historical research and commemoration of African Americans at the university, and the Fund for William & Mary. The W&M community responded in a big way. More than 7,000 alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends raised $2.5 million, the largest amount in the event’s seven-year history.

The newly established Health, Emergencies, And Resources for the Tribe (HEART) Fund is one example of the key role private funds can play in challenging times. Created to help students facing unanticipated expenses, the fund was one of the sources William & Mary tapped to distribute more than $230,000 to 226 students between March 23 and May 6 for emergency needs such as housing, food, lodging and transportation.

When all classes moved online during the spring semester in response to COVID-19, the Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation was well positioned to step in and help students and instructors, thanks in part to the use of private funds. 

“We didn’t know three months ago how important it would be to be able transition faculty online,” Lambert says. “Who knows what the next crisis will bring?”

As William & Mary and other institutions of higher learning face financial uncertainties resulting from the pandemic, private support will be even more critical.

“We try not to think of philanthropy as filling budget gaps, but as allowing us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do that support William & Mary’s core values and our excellence in everything,” Lambert says.

Ultimately, the purpose of the campaign — and of University Advancement — is to build, strengthen and maintain lifetime bonds.

“If someone comes to us as an 18-year-old, we want to think about a relationship with them until they hit at least their 100th birthday,” Lambert says. “We’ve also found that by working with donors to identify projects that excite them and are also needs of the university, we find ways they can achieve a much larger global impact through William & Mary.”