Underdogs no more, JMU donors defy expectations

Scholarships most popular priority

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In 2014, the Madison community started out on an ambitious journey—to set JMU apart and position it among the nation’s top universities. Through the generosity of donors who have given more than a quarter billion dollars, Unleashed: The Campaign for James Madison University is helping to achieve that—while making an incalculable impact on the lives of Dukes for generations to come.

For scholarships, programs and new buildings, giving to JMU from 63,976 donors totaled more than $251 million, pushing the eight-year comprehensive campaign past all of its goals. It’s yet another instance of defying conventional wisdom, with JMU donors exceeding the goal of Unleashed by $51 million and exceeding expectations by almost twice that.

The campaign began July 1, 2014, with initial planning projections of $150 million. Going public in 2018 with a total giving goal of $200 million, Unleashed concluded June 30, 2022, riding a growing wave of alumni advocacy and generosity and persisting through crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, associated financial hardship, and social upheaval.

Donors’ giving not only eclipsed the $200 million Unleashed goal 18 months early back in March 2021 but also continued for the rest of the campaign in response to JMU President Jon Alger’s call for more scholarships for more students and accounting for 25 percent over goal.

The largest cash gift to the campaign came from Paul Holland (’82) and Linda Yates, who contributed $5 million, primarily for scholarships for student access, study abroad and entrepreneurship. Their gift also renames the building that houses Admissions and The Center for Global Engagement to Holland Yates Hall.

“This success is an incredible moment for JMU,” said Nick Langridge (’00, ’07M, ’14Ph.D.), vice president for University Advancement. “It’s something shared by each person who gives, loves and cheers for JMU. When we put out the call, the JMU nation rallied and said, ‘let’s do this, it’s time to take this university to the next level.’”

In fact, it was 10 years ago during a brand new President Jonathan Alger’s “Why Madison?” Listening Tour that alumni, parents and friends began to see themselves as part of the university’s 10-year strategic plan, which called for a major fundraising campaign to increase the endowment.

After a tour stop in Reston, the president was encouraged: "People told me, 'We understand the need to give back.' And ‘This is a new era for the university.' I heard people say tonight that they were ready and willing." Brian Bostic (’83) attended another “Why Madison?” event. "JMU is family," he said. "It's a huge part of our lives. It's our responsibility to give back any way we can."

As the Unleashed campaign took shape, vocal and passionate alumni made it clear they wanted to see their university on the national stage and that they were ready to help take it there.

“It’s coming true,” Langridge said. “The big things donors wanted to see for JMU began to converge just as our donors were becoming a rising force in the life of the university. We became an R2 university and joined the Sun Belt athletic conference. Now we’ve landed at 72 in the national U.S. News and World Report Top Public Schools listings and in October we broke into the Associated Press football poll at 25. It’s time for donors to celebrate their role.”


Greater things to come
Perhaps modest in comparison to the endowments of the richer flagship schools JMU is compared to academically, the $251 million achievement of the university’s second comprehensive campaign is an important benchmark. 

“It’s no secret that our university has big aspirations,” Langridge said, “so it’s clear philanthropy must play a significant role in complementing tuition and state funding. Donor investment in the Unleashed campaign is a signal that we’re on our way. It gives us the confidence to be ambitious, knowing that alumni, parents and friends have the passion, willingness and pride to sustain a bold philanthropic trajectory into our future.”

The big story? Scholarships
Of the five overarching goals of the Unleashed campaign, “Opening our Doors” attracted the most support at $102.6 million, with donors expressing a universal desire to increase access to the Madison Experience for more students and reward their exceptional performance. Their gifts funded scholarships for academics, athletics and Valley Scholars as well as student support.

“Philanthropy means ‘love of humanity,’” Langridge says, “and clearly that sentiment motivates all of our donors. They are telling us they want to make a difference, to positively affect students' lives, and to open a world of possibilities to as many people as possible. This type of leadership shows us all how to live out JMU's call for being the change.

Donors invested in scholarships across campus, for specific academic programs as well as focused scholarship initiatives, including financial aid to make the Madison Experience accessible for promising students with economic need.

Even greater than at first glance
More than 770 Unleashed gifts totaling more than $22.4 million have so far provided academic scholarships for at least 6,212 students, making an even bigger and more lasting impact than statistics might show. For instance, many of these students received renewable awards, which further compound the influence of donors’ gifts on student lives. Moreover, the number of student beneficiaries will continue to increase over time due to endowed scholarship gifts that are invested in the stock market and yield an ongoing yearly scholarship award. Further increasing scholarship giving, donors who gave to academic departments might also have supported additional student scholarships as departments often use their general funds for a variety of student, faculty and program purposes.

Donors’ scholarship giving also addressed a larger strategic reality—the need to increase JMU’s competitive ability to recruit students in the higher education landscape. 

"I'm grateful to our donors for wanting to help bring scholarship resources into line with JMU's national academic reputation," said Donna Harper (’77, '81M, '86Ed.S.), vice president for Access and Enrollment. "The Unleashed campaign has raised awareness and raised the stakes. Thanks to our donors, we are improving our ability to compete for the students who want the Madison Experience over universities that have deeper pockets to award scholarships. And we are not done!"

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Published: Friday, October 21, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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