LSU aiming to build donor trust as $1.5B campaign launches

As LSU launches its $1.5 billion, system-wide ‘Fierce for the Future’ campaign, several lingering controversies are posing a unique challenge for fundraisers, who must raise $930 million by 2025 to meet the ambitious goal.

Among recent headline-toppers: Basketball coach Will Wade’s voice appearing on an FBI wiretap; multiple hazing controversies within LSU’s Greek system; a controversial holistic admissions policy; and an alleged link between the university’s athletics program and the embezzlement scandal involving John Paul Funes, the former head of the Our Lady of the Lake Foundation.  

Out to assuage any donor concerns, LSU fundraisers say they will highlight how contributions will support tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff through scholarship funds, new buildings and research funding.

“We respect that there are concerns, and the positive nature of this campaign doesn’t negate those concerns,” says Sara Whittaker, senior director of communications and marketing for the LSU Foundation. “We want to build trust while demonstrating the critical role of philanthropy and the many, many good things happening at LSU.”

Still, the question remains: Will the controversies negatively impact donor giving? It took nearly four years for the university to quietly raise some $571 million prior to the campaign’s public launch. Yet, LSU fundraisers are optimistic.

Preparing for the campaign, the foundation last year retained national consulting firm Marts & Lundy to administer a survey asking potential donors how much money they would be willing to spend on the different priorities outlined in the Strategic Plan, as well as which ones were most important to them.

In all, 60% of dollars raised will go toward academics, while 40% will go toward athletics, including $387 million for Tiger Athletic Foundation scholarships and capital projects and another $216 million for LSU Athletics—which could raise some eyebrows, considering the department’s recent issues and the department’s already lucrative revenue streams.

However, Whittaker says the foundation is looking to the future of the LSU System, with LSU President F. King Alexander “seeing the potential of LSU to channel [LSU] supporters’ passion into philanthropic investment.”

“We understand how deeply people care about LSU, because our students, faculty, and staff share that passion,” she says. “We believe it’s time to unite behind a shared vision for making LSU all that it can be to improve lives in Louisiana and around the world.”

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