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A Commanding Vision

Yes, the campaign raised $1 billion. But it also created a community committed to seeing U of T stand tall with the best in the world

As I enter the meeting room beside his Simcoe Hall office, Jon Dellandrea is standing over the table reading a news item about the possible redevelopment of the Varsity Stadium site – a complex deal in which he is heavily involved on the university’s behalf. He looks up and invites me to take a seat.

As he completes his 10th year as U of T’s vice-president and chief advancement officer, Dellandrea (BA 1973 UTSC, MEd 1980, EdD 1987) has agreed to another term and seems just as energetic as he was when he first took office. He sees the university’s unprecedented $1-billion fundraising campaign as just the beginning.

“This is 1994 all over again,” he says. “What we have now, with the achievement of the $1-billion milestone, is confidence. We have 55,000 individuals and corporations who made their first gift ever to U of T in this campaign. We have people feeling very involved in the university. Advancement is now a core part of what we do.”

Dellandrea’s optimism is directly related to the outcome of a campaign that at the outset was expected to raise approximately $300 million. Once set in motion, however, expectations rose, and $400 or $500 million began to seem possible. But $1 billion? “I never imagined in April of 1994 that we would be sitting here in 2004 and celebrating the success of a $1-billion campaign – never.”

“We had a big job in the beginning to convince a donor community accustomed to supporting bricks and mortar to invest in endowment. We had to work very hard to persuade people that we really did need a significant investment in human capital, whether student support or endowed faculty positions.”

Alumni and friends of the university responded, as Dellandrea believed they would, but their generosity exceeded early estimates. “Million-dollar gifts were a rarity 10 years ago,” Dellandrea recalls, “but this campaign has had 217 gifts of $1 million or more, 30 of which have been over $5 million.”

He attributes the extent of support, in large part, to the engagement of faculty members in pursuit of academic objectives. “Some of the most important gifts have come about because of the involvement of faculty members, department chairs and deans. I take pride in the fact that we’ve been able to craft an advancement program that really is tightly connected to the academic priorities and has the university community involved.”

Academic planning has been predicated on the idea that the university can take its place with the best in the world, and Dellandrea’s efforts and those of his staff have been in the service of the academic plan. “The distribution of the 175 endowed chairs is very balanced,” he says. “Twenty-three per cent of the total has gone to the humanities and social sciences, for example.”

At the same time, the campaign has been about building and maintaining a large group of committed U of T supporters. “What we set out to do very early on was to create a sense of family, to build connections. People don’t make a gift and then go away. It really is a process of involving them in the university. The involvement of a large number of people is fundamental to everything we do. It is very important to us in terms of the influence on public policy, on how government treats us. We can’t achieve what we aspire to achieve if we don’t have a very large family that cares about the University of Toronto.”

In the context of a new academic plan, U of T president Robert J. Birgeneau has articulated a four-part strategy to increase research funding, government operating grants, and private support from alumni and friends, and to further deregulate tuition fees with corresponding attention to the provision of student aid. A continuing high level of private funding is a key component.

“We’ve achieved a great deal, but there’s a lot more to be done,” says Dellandrea. “Our challenge now is to engage the next generation of leaders, volunteers and donors so that we leave for our successors an advancement operation that is significantly better than the one we began with.”

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