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SUNY Potsdam nets millions, halfway through six-year campaign

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POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam hopes to rake in the big bucks with a six-year fundraising campaign that already has netted millions.

The college is in the midst of its “Take the Lead” campaign, which already has exceeded early projections.

The campaign began quietly in 2010, with the college wooing potential donors behind the scenes, preceding the official rollout early this year.

This is the college’s third major fundraising campaign. The last one ran from 1999 to 2004 and netted $12.5 million. This time, the school is shooting for $27 million by 2016.

The objective looks well within reach. The campaign already has pulled in more than $19 million.

The goal originally was set at $20 million, but when officials saw how fast the money was coming in, they decided to set their sights higher.

The massive multiyear drives are an attempt to set a new standard for giving, encouraging well-off donors to reach deep, not just now, but in the future.

“That’s really one of the goals for a campaign in a college, to raise the bar and keep it raised,” said Vicki L. Templeton-Cornell, executive director of the Potsdam College Foundation, which handles charitable giving at SUNY Potsdam.

One of the objectives of this campaign is to prove that SUNY Potsdam can bring in the big donations more often associated with prestigious private universities. The school already has received five donations of more than $1 million each, compared with only one in the last campaign.

The school has the highest percentage of alumni who donate among its 13 SUNY peer schools, with 8.7 percent of alumni giving back.

There was plenty of worry early on that the goals would be impossible to reach. Planning for the campaign began in 2008, just after the economic collapse, but the college decided to proceed anyway.

SUNY schools cannot use the money raised through fundraising in their normal operating budgets. Instead, this money is used to provide scholarships, purchase equipment, provide research funding and fund service-learning programs.

“That’s the real theme for this campaign — support our students,” Ms. Templeton-Cornell said.

Lynne A. Boles graduated from SUNY Potsdam in 1974 and eventually rose to become a vice president at Procter & Gamble. She now works as a consultant in Cincinnati, while volunteering as president of the Potsdam College Foundation.

“I’m kind of the head cheerleader, really,” she said.

She donates her time and money to the college because of the support she received while a student here, and she encourages her fellow alumni to do the same.

“A lot of people I talk to, including myself and my husband, are giving because people helped us,” she said.

This campaign has been marked by a new focus on research and outreach. Officials will travel to California, New York City, Boston and Texas to meet with financially successful alumni, while relying on social media to keep the attention on the campaign over the next three years.

“I think getting the word out nationally is a challenge for a small group,” Ms. Templeton-Cornell said.

The college plans to hold events with some of its biggest “star power” donors in the months and years to come to attract even more attention, Ms. Templeton-Cornell said. It also will tie the campaign to the changes that are expected to come to campus soon with the search for a new college president.

The campaign will wrap up in 2016, just in time for the school’s bicentennial.

Despite the early successes, Ms. Boles said, it’s important not to let up now that the campaign is in its public phase.

“We want to make sure we can reach our goal. We can’t coast,” she said.

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