The following story shares a highlighted history of the University of Nebraska Foundation, including a few of the people, events and milestones shaping us over the years.
When Edgar A. Burnett became chancellor of the University of Nebraska in 1929, he faced the task of leading the university through the darkest years of the Great Depression. As state appropriations dwindled, campus buildings were condemned and student enrollment decreased. During these challenging times, Burnett began a campaign to solicit private support that would sustain a level of academic excellence not possible through state funding alone.
Burnett looked beyond the trying times of the 1930s to the uncertain, yet promise-filled future. He recognized investment in higher education is an investment in a “greater commonwealth,” a concept embodied in the University of Nebraska Foundation, whose founding he encouraged and nurtured in 1936. The foundation is the realization of Burnett’s dream – that an endowment built upon the accumulation of individual contributions would lay a foundation for continued excellence at the University of Nebraska.
Throughout its history, the foundation has marked many milestones as private individuals and organizations joined its mission of support. The foundation received its first gift from J.C. Seacrest of Lincoln in memory of his sister. The gift was used toward construction of a student activity building. A year later in 1937, the foundation’s first bequest came from the estate of former university faculty member, David R. Major, in the amount of $325. The foundation’s first investment was in U.S. Treasury Certificates in the amount of $1,400, which paid 2.5 percent and matured in December 1953.
Sixteen years after its incorporation, the total assets managed by the foundation exceeded $1 million. In 1967, total assets passed the $10 million mark. In 2000 and 64 years after its founding, the foundation’s total assets exceeded $1 billion.
The foundation’s formative years were also marked by strong leadership provided by the individuals serving as chief executive officers of the foundation. Perry W. Branch, the foundation’s first full-time director, was employed on August 16, 1943. That same year, the foundation opened its first office, located in the Nebraska Student Union on the UNL campus. Upon Branch’s retirement in 1963, Harry R. Haynie was hired as his successor.
In 1977, a number of significant events occurred that shaped the future of the foundation. The foundation officially launched its first major campaign called “The Nebraska Campaign: A Commitment to Excellence,” with a $25 million goal. D. B. “Woody” Varner, who retired as president of the university and joined the foundation, helped lead the three-year campaign. In 1980 the campaign concluded, having raised more than $51.3 million. Harry Haynie retired and Woody Varner accepted a combined role of chairman of the board and president of the foundation.
In 1984 William Wenke became president, a position he held for two years, and Varner remained chairman of the board. Edward Hirsch, a longtime foundation staff member, then served as president for a year. In 1987, Terry L. Fairfield was hired as president and chief executive officer of the foundation.
In 1987, the Dow Jones Industrials collapsed 20 percent in a single day, which launched a serious look at the foundation’s investment policies and asset allocations. The assistance of the members of the foundation’s board of directors, with their expertise in finance and investments, was invaluable during this time.
In addition, the board approved a plan in the early 1990s to dramatically increase the size of the foundation’s staff in Lincoln and Omaha. In 1992, foundation trustees gave overwhelming support for a plan to merge the Kearney State College Foundation with the University of Nebraska Foundation, and a third foundation office, in Kearney, was opened.
In 1996, the foundation announced a comprehensive campaign, the “Campaign Nebraska: One Nebraska. One University.” This campaign concluded in 2000 and raised more than $727.7 million. NU President L. Dennis Smith called this largest effort ever to raise private funds for the university a “tremendous gift” to the state.
In 2005, the board of directors announced a leadership succession plan. Terry Fairfield remained chief executive officer and became vice chairman. Clarence Castner was named president; in 2008 he was named CEO. Terry Fairfield remained with the foundation as vice chair, raising major gifts on behalf of the University of Nebraska.
On Oct. 16, 2009, the foundation announced its third comprehensive fundraising campaign led by a prominent team of volunteers. The $1.2 billion “Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities” is scheduled to conclude in 2014 and is the university’s most ambitious fundraising effort ever.
In 2011, the foundation celebrated its 75th anniversary. That year was also marked as the best fundraising year in its history, with $172.1 million given in support of all areas of the university. All other previous records were broken that year as well, with $130.2 million transferred to the university and total assets reaching $1.7 billion.
On Feb. 1, 2012, the board of directors appointed John Gottschalk as interim president and CEO, following Clarence Castner’s resignation. A longtime supporter of the University of Nebraska, Gottschalk is the retired CEO and publisher of the Omaha World-Herald.
On Sept. 24, 2012, Brian F. Hastings was named president and CEO.
From the seeds sown in 1936, the University of Nebraska Foundation has grown to become one of the largest foundations for public institutions of higher learning in the United States. This is an accomplishment that speaks to the quality of the foundation’s volunteer leadership and to the generosity of Nebraskans and others who support the university.
Today the foundation remains committed to the same cause which created it – to advance the University of Nebraska. While independent from the university, we are intrinsically linked to it, connecting the dreams and passions of donors to the mission of the university and stewarding donor generosity across its four campuses.