Essential CU, largest fundraising campaign in university history, concludes with $4 billion in donor generosity

By Staff

Donors showed their enduring and passionate commitment to what’s meaningful to them, investing $4 billion in CU to successfully conclude Essential CU, the most ambitious fundraising campaign in university history.

More than 380,000 donors contributed more than 650,000 gifts to support a broad range of university priorities, including student scholarships and fellowships, faculty research and recruitment, health care, academic programs, creative endeavors and other initiatives that improve lives in Colorado and around the world.

“Thanks to our extraordinary donors — and former CU President Bruce Benson, who set it in motion — the Essential CU fundraising campaign achieved a historic level of success,” President Todd Saliman said. “We’re incredibly grateful to the CU alumni, parents, faculty, students, staff, everyday Coloradans and local companies and foundations who contributed gifts of all sizes in support of the university. Donors have a significant impact on CU and the great state of Colorado, as they support student success, transformative research and innovation, advances in health care and so much more. Their generosity ensures CU continues to find strategic solutions to today’s most urgent challenges.”

Essential CU reached its goal in December. Its successful closure was first announced to members of the Benson Society, a community of CU’s most generous philanthropists, during a gala in late April. 

CU publicly announced the campaign in January 2019 after a silent phase that began counting gifts in late 2013. It eclipsed the Creating Futures campaign that ended in 2013 with $1.5 billion in philanthropy.

All gifts, no matter their size, are critical sources of support for CU. Approximately 83% of gifts during Essential CU were less than $1,000 each. Others were transformational, with 633 gifts of more than $1 million, 21 of which were more than $15 million. CU must use every gift how donors intend and can’t redirect them to other priorities.

Significant gifts made during Essential CU benefited a vast number of areas and often coalesced around some of society’s most critical needs. Mental health concerns, for instance, galvanized many of CU’s most generous donors and resulted in transformational gifts across all four campuses, including these:

  • An institute dedicated to children’s mental health and wellness was established at CU Boulder through an endowed gift in 2019. Research programs in the Renée Crown Wellness Institute focus on the study of mindfulness, compassion, belonging, and the voice of young people, families, teachers, schools and communities. Faculty researchers at the institute aim to address Colorado’s high prevalence of mental health problems and inadequate access to mental health care.
  • A gift from Lyda Hill established the National Institute for Human Resilience in 2020 at UCCS in Colorado Springs — later renamed the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience. It focuses on advancing human resilience to adversity through research, therapy, community training and education. Through March, the institute’s GRIT (Greater Resilience Information Toolkit) program had trained more than 3,500 resilience coaches and provided emotional and mental health support to hundreds of thousands of people in all 50 states and 36 countries.
  • The Anschutz Foundation made several significant gifts during the campaign. This included a transformational investment in 2018 to support mental and behavioral health, the recruitment and retention of top faculty talent, research, innovative procedures, more effective medicine, industry partnerships and technology transfer at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. The gift also led to the construction of the 396,000-square-foot interdisciplinary Anschutz Health Sciences Building that opened in 2021. The building is a nexus for personalized clinical care, the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine, the Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and other key areas.
  • A gift from the Salazar Family Foundation supported the construction and ongoing operation of the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center, CU Denver’s first named building. The facility — which includes reflection spaces, a climbing wall, a three-court gym, and a six-lane pool, among other amenities — promotes multiple dimensions of student health and wellness, including programs that address students’ emotional, social, spiritual and physical well-being. The 85,000-square-foot center opened in 2018.

Examples of other notable gifts during Essential CU included:

  • A lead gift from The Anschutz Foundation helped fund the construction of the new Anschutz Engineering Building at UCCS to expand research and academics in aeronautic sciences.
  • Katy and Paul Rady invested generously across CU and Colorado. A transformational gift in 2018 strengthened the partnership between CU Boulder and Western Colorado University with the construction of a state-of-the-art engineering building at Western. Completed in 2021, the Paul M. Rady Building is a key fixture for Western students earning mechanical engineering and computer science degrees from CU Boulder.
  • A separate gift from the Radys in 2022 established the Katy O. and Paul M. Rady Esophageal and Gastric Center of Excellence at CU Anschutz to advance research, clinical trials, screening, surveillance and treatments for esophageal and gastric cancers, as well as recruit leading experts in the field.
  • The Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship at CU Denver was established through a gift by the Colorado businessman to stimulate collaboration among students and entrepreneurs and provide mentoring services, among other initiatives.
  • Large gifts from multiple donors provided continued support for the Benson Center for Western Civilization at CU Boulder to promote intellectual diversity on campus.

Donors also rallied around each campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving generously to support students, faculty and staff who needed financial, physical and emotional assistance. Funds like CU Denver’s Loving Lynx Emergency Fund, CU Boulder’s Student Emergency Fund, UCCS’ Community Support Scholarship Fund and CU Anschutz’s Student Support Fund provided emergency relief. At CU Anschutz, donors also gave to help mitigate the emotional, financial and physical toll on caregivers, as well as to a research fund that helped combat COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

Donors also invested in the future, giving $754 million during Essential CU to the university’s endowment, which distributes donors’ gifts over the long term for CU’s benefit. At the start of the campaign, CU’s endowment was valued at $885 million. By the end of the campaign, it was $2.1 billion. Donors also gave $622 million in estate and other planned gifts during Essential CU.