Capital campaign pressing forward in struggling economy

Even with a struggling economy, St. Thomas is moving forward with its capital campaign. Construction on the new athletic facility and student center are the first visual signs of the two-year-old Opening Doors capital campaign.

The goal of the campaign is to raise $500 million by fall 2012. In addition to the new athletic facility and recreation center, the capital campaign was started in fall 2007 to create more student scholarships and a list of other projects. Even with an economic recession, this goal is still a realistic one, said Executive Director of Development Steve Hoeppner.

“We’re in very good shape, in particular with the economy, which you can’t predict before you do something like this,” he said. “Last year [we] had an increase of over 1,000 donors to St. Thomas and that was very unusual. Lots of places had fewer donors, so we had a lot of really strong things going on and we still have three years to go.”

So far the campaign has raised between $376 million and $377 million since the campaign’s kickoff in 2007 and the university is confident that it will reach the $500 million mark by 2012. The development office, which runs the day-to-day operation of the Opening Doors capital campaign, has seen an increase in the number of people donating, but a decrease in the amount they are giving.

“There are lots of donors who give $10 and $20,” Hoeppner said. “The ones that hit the media because they are so interesting to read about are the $60 million donors, and $25 million and $10 million. But thousands of people will give what they can, and that’s what they want.”

Hoeppner said that with the economic downturn, people are not as confident in donating as much as they did when the campaign began. Even with more donors and the fact the university believes that the campaign is on track, the Opening Doors capital campaign is in the news less because there are fewer large donations coming in.

Keeping the campaign in the news

The development office also plans to start a new marketing campaign in addition to the advertisements it does in local publications and Web sites like the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.

“We actually have some billboards which are going to be going up this fall related to the campaign and our 125-year anniversary,” Hoeppner said.

Even with the new marketing plans, some students just want to see the results for themselves.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” junior Carl Lymangood said. “I think the alumni care about it more than the actual students, unless the students can see it visually and visually benefit from it.”

Students should continue to see the changes of the capital campaign even with a bad economy.

“In order to have more of a vibrant improving university, we have to address multiple things at one time,” Hoeppner said. “We can’t just take one at a time and say, ‘Well for this five years because of the economy all we’re going to do is this one thing, then hopefully the economy gets better, then for the next five years will do this next one thing.'”

And for Hoeppner, these changes have been a long time coming.

“When you look at our student center and Murray-Herrick, it was built in 1960 for a completely different student population,” he said. “And when you look at what will enhance our students’ experience of college, of choosing St. Thomas and going to St. Thomas, and the feedback from students was we really could use a different student center.”

Hoeppner believed the time was right to start the campaign and so did some students.

“I think it was about time,” junior Tommy Francisco said. “I wish they could have thought about it a little earlier because I’ll be gone, but I think it will help the university.”

Francisco added that he was excited about the changes that this campaign will bring and that it will “push St. Thomas to the next level.”

Ashley Bolkcom can be reached at

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