University of Maine alumni Allen and Sally Fernald knew they’d feel personally good about giving $1 million to their alma mater. After all, they are immensely proud of the flagship University and are committed to helping it continue to provide a first class education for Maine students; function as a vibrant economic engine for the state; and serve as a cultural center for the region. But they weren’t prepared for other people’s reactions to their generous gift when it was publicized last June both in state and local newspapers and on UMaine websites.
“It’s a rare day that somebody hasn’t come up to me and said ‘thank you for what you did for the University,’” says Allen, a member of the Class of 1954 and chairman of Down East Enterprise, publishers of Down East Magazine.
“In the first two or three weeks after our gift was announced it wasn’t unusual to have several people a day call us or write us notes.”
One resident approached her at the grocery store, Sally recalls. “Thank you for giving such a generous gift to your University and mine,” the grateful woman told her.
The Camden couple has been loyal Black Bears over the years, providing generous financial support and serving on a multitude of boards and advisory groups. They are grateful to the flagship University for providing them with the opportunity to receive a quality education, make lasting friendships, and be taught and mentored by caring professors who inspired them and broadened their horizons.
“UMaine has always been very close to our hearts,” says Sally, who graduated in 1955. “We believe in the mission of the University. It does a good job and needs money to attract and retain excellent professors and students and to have programs of excellence.”
The Fernalds have yet to decide what initiative their gift specifically will target. “We know we want to support the University, its students, and its mission,” says Allen. “Where it ends up will be in areas we think have the most need.”
Co-chairs of UMaine’s Campaign Maine, which seeks to raise $150 million by 2011, the Fernalds hope their gift has set an example for others. Private support is more important than ever, they point out, since the state provides only one third of UMaine’s funding.
“Meantime,” says Allen, “we’ve got a wonderful campus that has buildings that are historically and architecturally significant but are not state-of-the-art for the 21st century. Education has changed, labs have changed, student expectations have changed. And in order for us to be fulfilling the University’s mission of teaching, research and service, we have to be the best for Maine. The Campaign is pointed exactly at that.”
The couple says they are pleased to lead Campaign Maine — the University’s first capital campaign in a decade. “It feels good to devote our time and energy doing something for this University which is so important to the State of Maine and its people,” says Sally.
While they enjoy drumming up support for the University’s largest-ever capital campaign, the Fernalds try to begin conversations with prospective donors by talking about the exciting things happening on campus and the vital role UMaine plays in the state. They often invite would-be donors to tour the campus.
They note that the cutting edge research being done at UMaine helps the economy by spinning off businesses and patents and generating new jobs; that the Maine Center for the Arts concert hall and museum is the cultural center for eastern, central and northern Maine; and that the vast majority of University graduates get their first job right here in Maine.
“Fundraising has to be friend raising,” says Allen. “First you have to generate interest in the University and give people a reason to think it’s worthwhile to even consider giving. I want them to think first of all about telling students that this is a good place to be.”
He not only tells them – he shows them.
“Whenever a kid says to me that he or she is thinking of college, I ask what their interests are. Then I say, ‘there’s a program at UMaine you might be interested in. Can I arrange an interview or take you up there?”’
Allen has given tours of the University to many area young people, introducing them to faculty, showing them laboratories and other facilities, helping them schedule interviews with deans, and letting them see first hand the exciting and innovative research projects being worked on by UMaine undergraduate students with their professors.
“Of the students I bring here, probably four out of five decide to come to UMaine,” says Allen. “They come away saying, ‘I never realized how good the University is.”
Promoting UMaine is the responsibility of every graduate, he says, but to do it effectively one must be familiar with the campus. “You can’t wait until your 50th reunion to come back. The vast majority of alumni haven’t been on campus since they left. Their memory of the University is not what it is now,” says Allen, referring to the plethora of new buildings, academic programs, and research and development projects.
With the Campaign about to enter its third year, the pace is stepping up and the Fernalds find themselves busier than ever. There always are telephone calls to be made, meetings and events to attend, University administrators to confer with, and prospective donors to pursue, Allen says.
“President Bob Kennedy, [Vice President for Development] Barbara Beers and we are in email contact almost every day.”
Leading the Campaign affords them a wonderful opportunity to be ambassadors for the University and its mission, the couple agrees.
“Whenever I mention the capital campaign I say it’s not a campaign for UMaine,” Allen says. “It’s a campaign for the state.”
Image Description: UMaine alums Allen and Sally Fernald