Impact uncertain on Penn State fund-raising

Posted: November 10, 2011

The child-sex-abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University could deliver a blow to fund-raising at the institution, which collected $170.5 million from individuals during the 2010-11 academic year.

This week, the university postponed or canceled several events related to fund-raising, including the President's Tailgate before Saturday's football game against Nebraska, though guests are still invited to watch the contest.

As of Monday, however, student workers were still making calls to alumni asking for donations. During one such call described by a Penn State graduate, a student was prepared to remind alumni expressing unhappiness about the university's handling of the sex-abuse allegations that their donations would support academics, not football.

Resistance from small donors could cause a dip in giving, but major financial supporters could throw even more weight behind the school, rather than pulling it away, fund-raising experts said.

"That is certainly an effect that institutions do see in times of crisis, especially if it's seen that it's not the fault of the institution writ large," said Robert Capanna, who led the nonprofit Settlement Music School for 35 years and is now a director at Prudent Management Associates, a Philadelphia investment firm.

Joseph Kernen, a partner in the Philadelphia office of the law firm DLA Piper and a Penn State graduate, said he feared that fund-raising would fall in the short term.

"I personally intend to increase my donation, and I hope others do as well," said Kernen, a member of Penn State's Schreyer Honors College Scholar Alumni Society Board. He is satisfied with the steps the university is taking.

"I think at the end of the day it will be a very small number of culpable people," he said.

Jay Plunk Jr., a Hainesport resident who is president of the Penn State Alumni Association - Southern New Jersey, said he had not seen or heard anything that would make him think that alumni fund-raising would suffer.

"We're all shocked, saddened," Plunk said. "It was a tragic thing, but many of us believe strongly in Coach Paterno and the institution."

Big gifts from the wealthy are key, and those relationships are built over many years, said Lona M. Farr, of Farr Associates Consulting L.L.C. in Macungie, Lehigh County.

"I can't believe they aren't doing damage control with every big donor who is out there," she said.

Child-sex-abuse scandals do not always hurt fund-raising. In January, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia completed its Heritage of Faith, Vision of Hope campaign, raising $220.7 million, 10 percent more than its $200 million goal.

Contact staff writer Harold Brubaker

at 215-854-4651 or

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