NSU in Oklahoma Surpasses Prior Campaigns in Under a Year
By Peggy Glenn, Executive Director of NSU Foundation
The tree-lined campus of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma revolves around the iconic Seminary Hall, a former school for Cherokee girls built in 1889. Despite a rich cultural heritage, NSU was still struggling to make philanthropy part of the equation. Its most recent campaign raised a record $8.5 million, which was considered a relative success given a controversial mascot change and five presidents and interim presidents in six years. But its administration and Foundation board of trustees knew there was still great potential to do more for its 10,000 students.
After meeting with every college and NSU administrative staff to determine needs, the NSU President Steve Turner and the NSU Foundation hired the JF Smith Group to conduct a feasibility study to test $74.3 million in funding opportunities. They interviewed 99 individuals, conducted three focus groups, and received online survey responses from 1,361 individuals. The study found that 98% believed in NSU’s mission and that NSU was fulfilling that mission. The same percentage rated scholarships and new and revitalized facilities as high priorities. Respondents also had high regard for the quality of the faculty and for enhanced faculty support. The JF Smith Group recommended a working goal of $20.925 million, which was approved by the NSU Foundation in December 2014. The campaign name is “Preserve our past. ENSUre Our Future.”
Less than a year later, NSU has raised nearly $13 million toward its goal, with faculty and staff support at an all-time high. NSU has recently announced the largest individual donor gift in its long history, with $2.5 million pledged by alumnus and entrepreneur Gregg Wadley and wife Dr. Betsy Brackett. These funds will support the College of Science and Health Professions with two endowed chairs, scholarships, and professional development funds. In addition, the Cherokee Nation, led by alumnus and principal chief Bill John Baker, has committed $4 million to renovate Seminary Hall and create a museum within its storied halls.
JF Smith Group has been instrumental in training and supporting the President and development officers to make successful solicitations, as well as making sure the data and processes are in place to effectively monitor and steward those gifts. Working “top to bottom and inside out” means that NSU is shoring up support early, creating a sense of excitement that makes others want to get on board. Having surpassed all previous campaign totals in less than a year, NSU is truly preserving its past and ensuring its future –and the futures of its students, faculty, and community — for generations to come.