Tressel’s fundraising success

Jim Tressel’s fundraising broke many school records. Photo courtesy of President Jim Tressel.

By Shianna Gibbons

Jim Tressel, who will retire as president of Youngstown State University Feb. 1, will leave a legacy of breaking multiple fundraising records at the university.

Tressel was hired as the head football coach in 1985, leading the Penguins to four NCAA Division I-AA National Championships. Tressel resigned from the position in 2000 and later returned in 2014 to become the president of YSU.

In Tressel’s first year as president, he and the Youngstown State University Foundation’s team began workshopping a comprehensive campaign called We See Tomorrow.

The YSU Foundation is a separate private institution that provides scholarships, faculty and staff endowments, and handles fundraising for YSU. 

The Foundation was created in 1966 before YSU became a public institution by then Youngstown University President, Howard Jones, with a $12 million endowment — now worth $109 million today.

Paul McFadden, president of the YSU Foundation, said the We See Tomorrow campaign was the most “ambitious” campaign in the foundation’s history. Still, Tressel exceeded the original $100 million campaign goal.

“The first seven years, we raised $126 million. It’s the most we’ve ever raised before. Ironically, last year, the first year out of the campaign, we raised $24 million, another record for a single year,” McFadden said. “[The donors] believe in Tressel’s vision. They believe in his goals for the university, and they embrace him with support.”

Tressel said the YSU Foundation hired a consultant to see what fundraising goals could be set.

“[The consultant] did a study and said around $65 to $70 million is what he thought we were capable of raising, and [Paul McFadden] and I didn’t think that sounded cool enough,” Tressel said. “We thought, well, let’s do at least $100 million, and we’ll see. Maybe he’s right, maybe we’re right.”

The We See Tomorrow campaign impacted different parts of YSU, but its most significant impact was the amount raised for student scholarships. Tressel said the foundation raised nearly $70 million for scholarships.

Tressel said the increased fundraising efforts had offset the limited state funding while keeping YSU affordable and attractive to students nationwide and internationally.

“When I came here in 1986, nearly 75% of our budget at that time came from the state of Ohio and now about 25% of our budget comes from the state of Ohio,” Tressel said. “Now [the YSU Foundation] gives us $11 million. We’ve been able to use that money for the merit scholarships and all the various scholarships that our students earn to offset the budget.”

The YSU Foundation is the sixth-largest public university endowment in Ohio, with a total of $320 million in assets. Tressel said this is impressive because out of the 14 public universities in Ohio, YSU is ranked 12th in enrollment.

“That just shows you the philanthropic belief that people have,” Tressel said. “I know how important this university is to the region. It’s critical. I think the alumni and region understand its importance [and that’s why they give].”

John Jakubek, chair of the board of trustees, said he believes fundraising success comes from a combination of different qualities the board is already looking for in a new long-term president after Tressel retires and interim president Helen K. Lafferty leaves.

“[Communication] is something we think is important [for] anybody who comes in as president. You’ve got to be vibrant, you’ve got to be engaged with the community and I think that’s so important,” Jakubek said. “When it comes to fundraising, you’ve got to be out there. You got to meet people. You got to show that you’re a great ambassador for YSU.”

Jakubek said the potential to develop and expand community relations through communication skills is essential when the board of trustees selects a president. He also said Tressel was an excellent communicator and had other qualities that allowed him to break fundraising records for YSU.

“It was no surprise that he would be a good fundraiser [because] he worked on campus for 16 years. He had established relationships with people over the years. Having won four national championships here in the 1990s for football makes you somewhat of a celebrity around here,” Jakubek said.

Tressel also has mentioned he believes the fundraising is in a solid position with enough momentum to handle a transition in leadership. Tressel also said a change could be beneficial with the incoming interim president.

“[Lafferty’s] personality is fabulous. So, she’ll be able to continue our momentum for the time she’s here while we go on a nationwide search. We have pretty good momentum going right now in fundraising,” Tressel said.

The YSU Foundation and McFadden said they are eager to work with Lafferty and a future president to set new goals and bettering YSU.