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DSU Heritage Foundation to launch ‘major’ campaign

Four months after its founding last November, the Dickinson State University Heritage Foundation is on the verge of launching a series of new fundraising and awareness-building campaigns.

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DSU Heritage Foundation Executive Director Ty Orton in his current office at May Hall on the university campus. (Press Photo by Andrew Haffner)

Four months after its founding last November, the Dickinson State University Heritage Foundation is on the verge of launching a series of new fundraising and awareness-building campaigns.

DSU Heritage Foundation Executive Director Ty Orton said the supportive institution for the university has, at this early point, been busy building its own organizational foundation while coming up with money for next year’s student scholarships.

“Everything was from zero, everything was from scratch,” Orton said of the foundation’s starting point. “Everything is new and figuring out all the proper ways of doing things and making sure all the steps are done correctly.”

While the foundation has already gained some donations, Orton said the fundraising group will begin what he described as a “major” two-part campaign on April 11 to make gains towards scholarship and endowment funding while marking the university’s centennial.

Orton said the first part, dubbed the Cornerstone Traditions Campaign, is geared toward supporting annual merit-based student scholarships that would follow students through their time at DSU.

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As part of that campaign, he said the Heritage Foundation will be asking 1,000 people to donate $1,100 apiece over a two-year time period, amounting to $1.1 million in scholarships over the next two academic years.

The individual donation amount was chosen for its symbolic value to the university, Orton said.

“In 1916, the average donation was $50, and when you convert that to 2016 dollars, it comes out to right around $1,100,” he said. “We’re trying to show how everything started back then in 1916 and, 100 years later, we’re starting again.”

Orton said the foundation has also gained approval to use the campaign toward a North Dakota Higher Education Challenge Grant, which could provide matching funds to boost the collected total to $1.6 million in scholarship support.

The second part to the broader effort is directed at building the endowment of the Heritage Foundation in drive called the College on the Hill Campaign.

The fundraising goal for this second campaign is to develop 104 endowments for DSU scholarships or for direct use by the university, Orton said.

The endowment campaign would be split into two equal yearly benchmarks of 52 scholarships for a total sum of about $2 million. Orton said the challenge grant could contribute further matching funds, which would raise that total to a potential $3.1 million.
The foundation currently has 11 endowments funded, he said.

Orton said the total endowment number is also a product of historical symbolism that reflects a “going back to the roots” of the school itself.

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“In 1918, the first summer session had 104 students in it -- now we’re using the endowments to represent those students,” he said.

Aside from the two-part scholarship and endowment campaign, Orton said the Heritage Foundation will also soon take over all athletic fundraising for the university’s sports teams.

The foundation has taken on two new people to serve as athletic fundraisers, he said, and has partnered with DSU’s Blue Hawk Touchdown Club and Blue Hawk Booster Club.

Orton described the additional responsibility as a “big task” for the foundation aimed at streamlining the donation process and spreading out the money-building effort.

The athletic fundraising campaign will launch on May 1, he said.

‘We want to answer as many questions as we can’

With a busy agenda ahead, Dr. Tom Arnold, chair of the DSU Heritage Foundation board, said he believed the organization has “made incredible progress over the four short months we’ve been in existence.”

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Moving forward, Arnold said he would like to see the foundation meet four goals, the first of which is the provision of support for all scholarship needs of the students of DSU.

Following that would come the full launch of all Heritage Foundation operations, specifically those pertaining to its individual committees, and the reactivation of the DSU Alumni Association, which Arnold said will soon work under the “umbrella” of the foundation.

“(The Alumni Association) will be more of a portfolio of the foundation board than a separate entity, which I think will improve communication and coordination for activities,” he said.

Finally, Arnold said he’d like to ensure the foundation receives all the matching dollars from the state as it is eligible to get.

DSU President Tom Mitzel said he has found the foundation’s development to be “phenomenal” and praised the leadership of both the foundation board and Orton.

“The enthusiasm among the board has been probably one of the best things,” Mitzel said. “Then we learn from experience, and watching this board come together with the transparency and safety measures that they’re putting in place to make sure that, as we go forward, that people who continue to give to DSU’s future and student education know exactly how their money is being used.”

The efforts of the DSU Heritage Foundation are being undertaken as its predecessor organization, the unaffiliated Dickinson State University Foundation, undergoes dissolution at the order of North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

That first foundation was forced into financial receivership by Stenehjem in November 2014 due to financial and ethical concerns, including the possible use of restricted funds earmarked for scholarships to cover operating costs.

With the formation of the new foundation under former DSU interim President Jim Ozbun came some newly built-in accountability measures, including a chain of command that directly links the director of the foundation to the university’s president.

Mitzel said he and Orton meet “almost on a daily basis” and that the foundation director is on his president’s cabinet.

On his end, Orton said transparency is key to the new foundation’s approach.

“If someone donates money, we want them to know they can come in and say, ‘OK, I donated this endowment -- who received it?’” and we can simply bring that up and show them as quick as possible,” he said.

Orton said the Heritage Foundation is focused on maintaining low operational costs to direct as much of a given donation as possible to its mission of funding student scholarships, which results in levels between 95 and 98.5 percent of donations returning to the students.

In this early stage, he said the Heritage Foundation is trying to earn greater visibility for its message and its goals.

“We want to make sure that our community, as well as surrounding communities, start to understand that the foundation is starting to build back, the alumni are starting to build back and DSU is coming back,” Orton said. “They have to see us out in order to understand that’s coming. Everybody has questions, and our door is open and we want to answer as many questions as we can.”

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