Chesto Means Business

UMass Boston sets a new fund-raising record

UMass Boston interim chancellor Katherine Newman has worked hard to connect the campus and the city’s business community during her first year on the job. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

UMass Boston has long wrestled with a reputation for financial shortages and construction overruns. But here is a different outcome, one that should help the school shake its past.

The Boston campus set a new fund-raising record in the fiscal year that ended June 30. We’re talking $23.8 million in pledges — triple what it raised the previous year. The last time UMass Boston, which serves roughly 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students, set a fund-raising record was in 2008, at $17.6 million.

For the wealthy private universities in Greater Boston, these amounts might seem like pocket change. For a struggling state school that serves a significant number of immigrants and low-income students, they represent important progress toward financial legitimacy.

Two large corporate donations played a particularly big role this time around: a $5 million pledge from New Balance to establish a sports leadership and administration program, and another $5 million from Wipro Technologies for the school’s Science Education Fellowship program. Even without those two gifts, UMass Boston would have easily surpassed the roughly $8 million it raised in the prior year — and the target of $10.5 million it had set for the year that just ended.

Interim chancellor Katherine Newman has worked hard to connect the campus and the city’s business community during her first year on the job. But many of these gifts have been in the works since before her tenure.

The New Balance donation, for example, has its roots in the Keith Motley era. Amy Dow, director of public relations and government affairs at the Boston-based shoe company, says the gift grew out of discussions that owner Jim Davis had with Motley, a former college basketball coach who was chancellor until 2017, and Charlie Titus, the head of athletics at the school.

Few kids will end up playing for the Celtics or the Bruins. But many have an interest in sports. Titus wants to help them capitalize on their passion and get into the sports business. The New Balance-funded program, which starts accepting students this fall, will help make that happen. The gift, announced nearly a year ago, can also aid New Balance by helping grow its potential talent pool.

Executives at the company have watched what the UMass Boston leadership team has accomplished so far. This gift, Dow says, reflects the company’s confidence in the school’s energy and trajectory.

Then there are donors like Talita Guerrero, who gave $25,000 in late 2018 to endow a scholarship. Guerrero moved here from Brazil at age 12, and attended UMass Boston on a scholarship. She graduated in 2015 and cofounded Right Key Mortgage in Lakeville the following year. Now she wants to help other students who faced adversity while growing up. It’s exactly the kind of success story UMass Boston wants to be known for.

Newman is already talking about beating the record in 2020. To pull it off, though, she’ll need to court the big fish — the next New Balance — as well as successful alums such as Guerrero who want to give back.

Newman attributes much of the success to her advancement office, led by vice chancellor Adam Wise. He was Newman’s first hire, recruited out of Boston University’s fund-raising juggernaut a year ago. Newman says she and Wise have been busy in the past year meeting with prospective donors, here and across the country.

The fierce fund-raising comes as UMass embarks on a new search for a permanent chancellor at the Boston campus. The search committee holds its first meeting on Tuesday. Newman declined to comment about the search — she is seen as a likely potential candidate — but did say it’s important to lay the groundwork for whoever ends up leading the school next.

Newman and her predecessor, Barry Mills, have had to make unpopular decisions to close gaps in the school’s $400 million-plus budget. Among those: a new round of voluntary buyouts to prevent yet another deficit. Newman knows successful fund-raising helps, but doesn’t make the tough calls go away.

Oftentimes, big donations launch new programs, rather than subsidize existing ones.

But Newman also knows the power of momentum, the kind of success that breeds more success. For UMass Boston to thrive in the long run, it will need more winning years on the fund-raising front, regardless of who holds the chancellor’s title.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.

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