By Peter Rooney

[Finance] In October 2008 Amherst faced a question that would shape its plans for years to come: With the stock market plunging and its own endowment taking a 23 percent hit, should it abandon its nascent fundraising campaign?

The college chose to push forward. Almost five years and more than $502 million later, it’s safe to say the decision was sound.

“The campaign was not only launched during a challenging time,” said President Biddy Martin in September, “but it succeeded during the worst downturn since the Great Depression.” The effort—which concluded Sept. 20–21 with a campus celebration—roared past its initial goal of $425 million. The number of donors was an extraordinary 20,338.

To Martin, the campaign’s success is an endorsement of its objectives: maintaining need-blind admission and financial aid, capitalizing upon an increasingly diverse student body and fostering faculty-student research.

Also noteworthy are the high number of anonymous donations, totaling more than $138 million (including separate anonymous gifts of $100 million and $25 million), and the high proportion of unrestricted gifts, about 47 percent of the campaign total, Martin says.

The campaign was the responsibility of Chief Advancement Officer Megan Morey, who worked with staff, trustees and a Campaign Executive Committee chaired by trustees Brian J. Conway ’80, Hope E. Pascucci ’90 and Jide J. Zeitlin ’85. 

Acknowledging the severity of the recession, organizers did not simply ask for money: “We encouraged and recognized alumni engagement as a form of giving,” Morey says. This engagement included volunteering, offering internships, attending Amherst events and interacting with the college through social media and on its website.

“I’ve been hard-pressed to come across somebody who didn’t at some point connect with the college in some way,” Morey says. “It’s incredible.”