With a new president in place and at least one dispute with a past official settled, the University of Louisville is shifting its focus to recouping donors.

Donor pledges to UofL dropped to over $5 million in 2017 from around $15 million when Gov. Matt Bevin disbanded UofL’s board of trustees, replacing them with his own selections. Donations have remained under $5 million, the lowest since at least 2015, according to a chart from the UofL Foundation.

Foundation interim executive director Keith Sherman said last quarter was “good,” but still had lower numbers than in the past.

“We can only go so long with that little money coming into the endowment to be able to do what we’re charged to do, which is provide predictable, sustainable support,” Sherman said at the May 17 board of trustees meeting.

By showing responsible stewardship and actions, Sherman says he thinks donors will feel more comfortable giving money to the university and the foundation.

UofL board of trustees chairman J. David Grissom | Photo by Joe Sonka

“The chart (above) shows the prices of the past, and that’s why Neeli is here,” board chairman David Grissom said at the meeting of the new president of UofL, Neeli Bendapudi.

Now, as UofL begins to rebuild after years of scandals, the new leaders are looking to rebuild trust with current and former donors. For Bendapudi, who began last week, this means selling them on a vision.

“We need to show people that their dollars will be used very, very wisely and that they’ll actually make a difference,” Bendapudi told reporters after the board meeting. “People can’t always fund a need, they have to fund a vision.”

Bendapudi asked the trustees to give her time to develop that vision as she determines what the school’s priorities are.

“When you think about donors and why they give … it really comes down to do you think they’ll be effective with what they do,” Bendapudi said. “Will they actually make a difference?”

Athletics is also looking to rebuild with its donor base, after a tumultuous fall that led to the firing of the former men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino and firing-turned-retirement of the former athletic director Tom Jurich.

Athletic Director Vince Tyra said the $7.17 million Jurich settlement is “probably” one of several things to help regain donors, but it isn’t the most important thing. The hiring of men’s basketball coach Chris Mack and Bendapudi are just as important to fans, Tyra said.

UofL’s athletic director Vince Tyra

“I think we’re doing a lot of good things that have benefitted us and our fundraising,” Tyra told reporters after Jurich’s settlement was announced May 18. “We have had good response from our fans and our donors most recently.”

Around the time of James Ramsey’s forced resignation as president in July 2016, multiple large donors threatened to withhold money from the university’s foundation until a forensic audit of the foundation was complete. The C. E. and S. Foundation and the James Graham Brown Foundation were two of those donors. Insider reached out to the organizations for comment but did not immediately hear back.

The two groups also covered $2 million of the audit, taking care of all but $200,000 of the cost.

In the past months, UofL officials have stressed the importance of filling top roles to attract donors. While the president, AD and men’s basketball coach have all been named since March, UofL hasn’t had a vice president of university advancement since February.

The former interim Vice President Bryan Robinson announced his resignation in February. Robinson had held the job since the former Vice President Keith Inman left in July 2017.

In February, a UofL spokesman said then-interim President Greg Postel planned to select a temporary replacement, but no one filled the role. Postel had mentioned plans to hire an outside firm to handle fundraising for the university, but Bendapudi said she would put that plan on hold to give her time to assess the situation.

“We need you now more than ever before,” Bendapudi said of donors. “We need those people early on who say: ‘I believe. I am here to support you. We are ready for the transformation.’ Because we’re putting the past behind.”

Before joining Insider Louisville, Krauth was a multiplatform reporter at TechRepublic, where she wrote news stories and features about the intersection of technology and business. Krauth is a graduate of the University of Louisville, where she was an award-winning editor of The Louisville Cardinal and obtained a degree in investigative journalism, with a minor in Russian studies. She completed a prestigious Dow Jones data internship at the Austin American-Statesman last summer. Email Olivia at [email protected]


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