The Last Word
Written by: Robert J. Dwyer, '65, '90 (Hon.)

The Last Word

March 22, 2012, is a momentous date in the history of Niagara University. It’s the day that we successfully completed our $80 million campaign, “The Promise of Niagara … The next 150 years.

And I say “we,” because without the generous support of you, our alumni, we would not have been able to do it.

When I was asked, 10 years ago, to be national chairman of this aggressive campaign, I had some questions. How effective would I be in this position? Would the Rev. Joseph Levesque, C.M., who was new in his role as president of Niagara, be a good fundraiser? It was a pleasant surprise to discover how good Father Joe was at raising money, and in the end, I think we made a good team.

But perhaps the most pressing question I had was about alumni giving. At the time, our alumni giving rate was 12 percent, extremely low in comparison to other institutions. Conventional wisdom says that it is very rare for someone to give a major gift to an institution if they had never before contributed to it, and campaign consultants advised us against setting such a bold campaign goal. We would need to change the culture of philanthropy at Niagara before we could ever expect to raise $80 million.

Despite the questions I had, I never doubted our ability to achieve our goal. I was confident about Niagara’s potential, and I knew that, even if we failed to raise the $80 million, we would still be much farther ahead than we’d be if we set and achieved an attainable goal. We had to do this, and we had to do it now, if Niagara was to stay competitive in the changing academic environment that was impacting all the universities in our peer group.

So we had to roll up our sleeves and work a little harder. It was vital that Niagara succeed in this campaign, and to do that, we needed to create our own luck by believing in ourselves, having a plan, and expecting to win. This strategy served us well and encouraged donors to support us with unprecedented gifts, like those from Tom Golisano and alumnus Jerry Bisgrove.

However, campaigns are not successful solely because of the large gifts. They are successful because of the strong support of those closest to the cause, in this case, you, our alumni. You understood the importance of helping Niagara to continue to graduate individuals who are not only leaders in their professions, but people with values and morals that make a difference in the world. You knew that this is what differentiates Niagara from other academic institutions: Not only does it deliver a first-class education, but it also instills exceptional values in our students. And you became much more aware of the importance of annual giving. Together, we accomplished something thought to be unattainable, in an extremely challenging environment, and we all have to feel good about what has just taken place.

As a result of your generous support, the campus atmosphere has changed dramatically. There’s an excitement here that sends a strong message to potential students — that this is the place they want to be for the next four years. The faculty and staff are energized by the transformation taking place, and you, as alumni, can continue to be proud in saying that you are a Niagara University graduate.

So congratulations! This is a tremendous achievement, and one that will elevate Niagara to prominence as a regionally important Catholic university.