At 9:45 a.m. on an unseasonably warm Thursday morning in March, Don Bielecki, vice president for institutional advancement at Niagara University, called the staff together in the Clet Hall conference room. “Today,” he said, “is the ﬁrst day of our next capital campaign. Congratulations from the bottom of my heart, and from Father Levesque and the Board of Trustees, for all the hard work it took to complete the Promise of Niagara campaign.”
It was a long, hard road that took almost 10 years and more than 14,500 donors to complete. Along the way, there were obstacles to overcome: a campaign goal that was nearly three times more than the university’s campaign consultants recommended could be achieved; an 18-month recession that started in December 2007 and has been called the longest and deepest downturn for the U.S. economy since the Great Depression; the fact that the university had never, up to this point, engaged in a comprehensive campaign and had no strong history of philanthropy; and a growing public questioning of the value of higher education. But through the perseverance and steadfastness of those charged with undertaking this extraordinary endeavor, the Promise of Niagara campaign not only met its goal, but exceeded it, raising $82.5 million for the university.
The Planning Stages
The ﬁrst discussions about taking on a campaign began in January 2003, at a dinner at the home of Robert Dwyer, ’65. Bob, who had just been named chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees, was one of the ﬁrst to recognize the need for the university to undertake a comprehensive fundraising campaign. At the dinner, he encouraged those in attendance to consider launching one. Read more.
The Silent Phase
During the ﬁrst three years of the campaign, the “silent phase,” some $26 million was raised. Alumni and friends of the university stepped forward in support of the vision of a transformed campus. Read more.
The Public Phase
Just seven months after the Promise of Niagara campaign went into its public phase, the United States went into a recession. Members of the cabinet and the advancement staff were persistently working toward securing the money necessary to complete the campaign, but the economic downturn was impacting their efforts. Read more.
The Campaign Leadership
When the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., was named president of Niagara University in January of 2000, he was unaware that the university would be undertaking a comprehensive campaign in the near future. While his background encompassed teaching and administrative work, he had never done any fundraising before, so he was uncertain about his ability in this area. However, he was determined to learn what he needed to, and to seek help when necessary, in order to fulﬁll his role in the campaign. Read more.
The People Who Made it Happen
This remarkable achievement could not have happened without the generous support of donors, both alumni and friends of Niagara University. During the numerous visits that were made throughout the country, donors were apprised of the ways in which the university demonstrated its faithfulness to its mission, and they responded with their support of that mission and the vision for the university’s future. Read more.
A New NU
One needs only to step onto the Niagara campus to see the transformation already taking place as a result of the success of the Promise of Niagara campaign. Read more.
Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of the Promise of Niagara campaign is the way it positioned Niagara University to continue to build resources for the future.
"This campaign, and the future campaigns, will continue to be critical in that regard,” says Jeffrey Holzschuh. “Niagara’s ability to continue to invest in technology, student scholarship, faculty education, and increased infrastructure will ensure that the university is kept in its right place for the next 50 or 100 years. I think we will continue to try to raise the proﬁle of the university as it relates to advancement, and this is a great ﬁrst step.”
Marsha Joy Sullivan notes that the realization of the gift from B. Thomas Golisano was a turning point in the university’s ability to attract future gifts of that size. “There were many other universities, particularly some of our closest competitors, that were in the running for that gift,” she says. “It’s a very, very competitive philanthropic environment, so I felt tremendous pride in the university’s ability to set the right course and engage donors at that level.”
For Father Levesque, the success goes beyond that.
“It’s the reaffirmation of the university that is so important to me,” he says. “The donors appreciated that the mission they learned and proﬁted from still exists, and they showed this appreciation by giving back. This support, which is so vital in enabling us to continue to educate generations of students, was a resounding conﬁrmation that what we have been doing for more than 150 years is making a difference in the world.”