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Berkeley’s record fundraising year kicks campaign into high gear

The year 2020 has presented its share of challenges to UC Berkeley and the world at large, but UC Berkeley celebrated one bright spot this summer — the announcement of an unprecedented year of fundraising.

For the third consecutive year, Berkeley broke the previous year’s fundraising record. But the 2019–20 fiscal year marked the first time that the university raised more than $1 billion in gifts, pledges and private grants. In all, the campus recorded $1.04 billion, a record-setting total that helped push Berkeley’s’s $6 billion comprehensive fundraising effort, Light the Way: The Campaign for Berkeley, into high gear.

“Few universities, private or public, have achieved this milestone, and we are proud to see Berkeley join their ranks,” Chancellor Carol Christ said in making the announcement in July.

The fundraising record includes several major gifts that have anchored the Light the Way campaign, which began its public phase in late February. Chief among them is the single largest gift to the campus to date: an anonymous $252 million to seed the construction of a new data hub building. Berkeley is currently seeking to raise an additional $300 million to complete the project.

Also announced at the launch was a $50 million gift by Gordon Rausser, former dean of the College of Natural Resources, to boost Berkeley’s leadership in addressing environmental and health challenges. In honor of the landmark gift, the largest donation ever received by the college and the largest naming gift of any academic unit at Berkeley, the college was named the Rausser College of Natural Resources.

The fundraising record comes at a time of extraordinary challenge and opportunity for the university and the world. “We launched Light the Way on February 29,” Christ said, “and just a few weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly altered our lives. The ripple effects of the coronavirus are now reaching the university’s finances, signaling the need for cuts in our operating budget.”

While fundraising increasingly supports the core elements of Berkeley’s excellence most gifts are restricted to specific areas designated by donors. Similarly, endowed funds provide a long-term, reliable source of funding rather than immediate support, and are strictly governed by individual gift agreements that set the terms for each of the programs funded and are thus not available to provide direct budget relief.

A portion of the record-setting total, however, is helping to address issues relating to the pandemic. More than 3,800 donors gave over $21 million to support campus COVID-19-related efforts in research and testing, and to provide emergency support to Berkeley students. That total includes more than $1.3 million raised for the Student Emergency Fund from more than 3,400 gifts and pledges, as well as more than $15 million raised to help the Innovative Genomics Initiative fast-track its testing capability for COVID-19 and develop new diagnostic tools and therapeutics.

Amidst the challenges, Christ remains hopeful that Berkeley’s lasting strength as an institution — and the love that people have for it — will help it overcome its difficulties.

“Our resilience as a community has seen us through tremendous challenges before, and I have no doubt that we will find opportunities to address the challenges we are facing as a campus and as a society,” she said. “Our students, our faculty, our staff, and you have all shown me time and again that Berkeley is resilient. And your support, evident by these record-breaking fundraising totals, serves to inspire us all.”

To learn more about Light the Way: The Campaign for Berkeley, visit light.berkeley.edu.

Setting a record, by the numbers

  • More than 61,000 donors gave to Berkeley in 2019–20, reflecting an increase of $404 million in gifts, pledges, and private grants over the previous fiscal year.
  • With $1.04 billion raised in 2019–20, the campus is 62 percent of the way toward reaching the $6 billion campaign goal.
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