Vice-Principal of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) Marc Weinstein sat down with The Daily, Le Délit, and the McGill Tribune to discuss Campaign McGill, the University’s five-year, $750 million fundraising campaign set to wrap up this April. Issues discussed also included University financing more generally, as well as McGillLeaks, the anonymous website which leaked confidential donor profiles from the DAR office last March.
Weinstein emphasized the use of a donor-centric approach to fundraising during the campaign, which allowed donors to earmark their donations to specific departments, goals, or programs.
The $230 million raised and earmarked for student support – which can include anything from scholarships, fellowships, internships, and advising – represents the largest fundraising unit, according to Weinstein.
“It’s been our most successful piece of the puzzle to date,” he said.
DAR Director of Communications Derek Cassoff also noted that since the beginning of the campaign, 154 new scholarships, 94 new bursary programs, 118 fellowships, 77 new academic prizes, 24 new athletic awards, and 56 new internships awards have been created.
Total enrolment at McGill has gone up by 13.8 per cent since 2006, and some funding opportunities – such as the research grants available to undergraduate Arts students – have dried up or downsized in recent years.
The Daily asked whether, given these facts, student aid was more or less accessible in spite of Campaign McGill.
Weinstein pointed to figures which showed that philanthropic giving had helped minimize the gap between doctoral funding at McGill and other research-intensive Canadian universities, but admitted, “I don’t know if on the aggregate we are – I mean, I presume we’re making a difference […] but I don’t have those numbers.”
Weinstein also attempted to address concerns about the corporate influence at the University.
“There is a feeling, depending on who you talk to…that this is somehow corporatizing the University, and to set the record straight, corporate giving represents less than 15 per cent of our total raised to date.”
Le Délit asked whether or not donations made by prominent members of corporations were accounted for in this figure. Weinstein explained that they were not, and that only gifts made explicitly by corporations were recorded as corporate gifts.
“At the end of the day, it’s who writes the cheque, if we’re going to be really crass about it,” he said.
The Tribune asked how these numbers compared to other Canadian universities, and Weinstein replied that because universities do not record donations in a consistent manner, accurate comparisons could not be made.
However, he did say that “McGill is extremely strong on raising philanthropic dollars from individuals compared to some of our sister universities across Canada and especially in Quebec.”
Le Délit asked if McGill’s reliance on private donations made it more susceptible to economic downturns, and, while Weinstein did not directly address whether or not a reliance on philanthropy made McGill more financially vulnerable, he did note that the 2008 recession marked an important shift in the character of philanthropy at McGill.
“People are a lot less concerned about the long-term than the short-term now, so we’ve seen a shift in the donor community wanting to move away from endowment to more direct-funded programs,” he said.
Endowed money is not immediately spent, but is instead invested to create a steady income in perpetuity, paying out a limited amount every year while principal grows.
Director of Internal Relations Doug Sweet also noted that “an abnormally long period of time for low interest rates” had also adversely affected McGill’s endowment.
In the final minutes of the interview, Le Délit asked how McGillLeaks had affected Campaign McGill’s fundraising efforts.
Weinstein and Cassoff explained that the immediate priority of the office had been to relay information to donors – especially those who had sensitive information leaked – and that this had been a successful tactic.
“Well, we knew about it, and that it would get in the media the next day, and we said let’s get emails out to our donor community tonight, we don’t want anyone to have to pick up the newspaper in the morning…and hear about this and wonder,” said Cassoff. “I don’t think we lost a single penny of potential donations.”
The University threatened The Daily with legal action after it published an article on March 5 about McGillLeaks, which included a link to the now-defunct website.