Villanova embarks on $600 million capital campaign

At Villanova University, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue (left), president of the institution, with Michael J. O'Neill, vice president for university advancement.
At Villanova University, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue (left), president of the institution, with Michael J. O'Neill, vice president for university advancement. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 28, 2013

While welcoming some 5,000 alumni for homecoming hoopla, Villanova University on Saturday presented its largest capital campaign ever: a $600 million fund-raising effort to increase financial aid for students, upgrade classrooms and academic buildings, and build a new performing arts center.

The effort, dubbed "For the Greater Great: The Villanova Campaign to Ignite Change," is double the size of the previous campaign of $300 million that concluded in 2007.

Villanova already has raised $285 million in the campaign's "quiet phase," which began in 2010. The school aims to complete fund-raising by 2018.

Among the donations so far is $50 million from 1981 alumnus and board member Jim Davis, who started the Allegis Group, a private staffing-services company in Hanover, Md., that bills itself as the biggest of its kind nationally. The gift from Davis and his wife, Kim, is the largest received by the private Catholic university in its 170-year history.

The gift is in rare company among local colleges.

Only the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania State University, and Rowan University can boast of receiving gifts of that magnitude, according to a 2013 report in the Chronicle of Higher Education that listed the more than 300 gifts of $50 million or more to universities since 1967.

"I wanted to give back to a place that gave me so much," Davis said. "I valued my time here, and I really liked the great values-based education."

More than $90 million raised so far has come from the university's 34 board members, including professionals in medical, legal, banking, education, and other fields.

Davis' gift is earmarked for improvements at the business school, including new internship opportunities, scholarships, study-abroad experiences, mentorship, and technology upgrades, said the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, Villanova president.

The campaign also drew two $10 million gifts, one from an anonymous donor toward a new performing arts center and the other from campaign cochairman Terry O'Toole, a 1980 graduate, and his wife, Paula, toward a scholarship program.

Forty-seven donors have made gifts of $1 million or more each, for a total of $164 million, the university said. In all, more than 44,000 contributed during the quiet phase.

The university plans to use $250 million to grow its endowment, now at $425 million.

That will help Villanova, which educates 6,300 undergraduates and more than 3,000 graduate students on its 260-acre Main Line campus, increase financial-aid awards to students, Donohue said. Villanova gives more than $100 million annually and plans to increase that by $13 million to $15 million, he said.

About $125 million will go toward academic priorities, including faculty recruitment.

A further $150 million will fund renovations and upgrades to the library, main administration building, athletics pavilion, residence halls, and other sites.

The performing arts center is part of the university's Lancaster Avenue development plans. So far, however, its proposals for construction on Lancaster Avenue, which are subject to Radnor Township approval, have drawn the ire of neighbors.

"I hope one day I see it," said Donohue, who has directed theater productions at the university.

In addition, $75 million will be applied to the annual fund, covering a variety of needs around campus.

Davis, who returns for basketball games and board meetings, said he was moved by Villanova's warmth, strong sense of community, and spirit.

Those traits have helped connect more alumni to the university, said Davis, who cochaired the campaign.

In fact, the number of alumni donating has grown from 16 percent to 24 percent in the last five years, said Michael J. O'Neill, vice president for university advancement. Villanova hopes to reach 30 percent before the campaign concludes, he said.

"Father and I and others visited 32 cities around the world to engage our alumni over about an 18-month period as part of the quiet phase," O'Neill said. Locales included Panama City, London, and Dublin.

Over the last three years, Villanova also has opened development and alumni relations offices in five cities: New York, Boston, Washington, Los Angeles, and, most recently, Chicago.

"We're really increasing our visibility," Donohue said, "and it's increased the ability of our fund-raisers to be in the places where our alumni are living and working."

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