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Pieces of Eight


Support Grows for Second Century Campaign at ECU

By Christine Neff

Despite facing challenges in a troubled economy, a loyal Pirate nation continues to support East Carolina University’s Second Century Campaign, now entering the second year of its public phase.

Mickey Dowdy, vice chancellor for University Advancement, has been “pleasantly surprised” by fundraising efforts over the last six months. “We have seen the best in people in how they respond during this time,” he said.

Dowdy called March 2008 to March 2009 a “record year.” The campaign raised $41 million in that time, adding to the $90 million previously raised during a “quiet phase” of the campaign. “It is safe to say that we have crossed $131 million,” Dowdy said, which brings the campaign ever closer to its financial target of $200 million by Dec. 31, 2012.

However, the economic downturn has affected the pace of giving, especially since February 2009. Dowdy said the campaign has seen a slowdown in donations to the annual fund. Some donors are waiting for the economy to recover before making large three- to five-year financial commitments.

Still, large donations continue to come in. Vince and Linda McMahon, ECU alumni who serve as chairman and CEO, respectively, of World Wrestling Entertainment, recently made a large gift supporting distinguished professorships.

Their gift, which received matching funds from the C.D. Spangler Foundation and the State of North Carolina, will endow two distinguished professorships, one in Foreign Languages (Linda’s major) and one in Business (Vince’s major). The endowments will be $1 million each. The McMahons also gave $250,000 for need-based scholarships that will carry their name.

Dowdy said professorships have been a popular way to give because of the availability of matching funds. Fifteen new professorships have been established since the campaign started. (For a full campaign summary, visit

Another highlight has been the ECU Access Scholarship program, which grants $5,000 to students who meet the need-based and academic requirements. Next year, 77 scholars will be funded. The campaign eventually hopes to endow 100 scholarships.

“We know when we look at the number of ECU students with financial needs that this is a drop in the bucket, but it’s an important drop and we’re hoping it will have a ripple effect,” Dowdy said.

Faculty and staff continue to play an important role. Though it remains to be seen how ECU employees will respond this year, Dowdy said he remains optimistic. “We know family budgets are tight, but we know we have a loyal group here, and I’m sure there will be great support among the ranks,” he said.

Tight household budgets aren’t the only challenge facing the campaign, however. Endowments fell by about 30 percent in the last six months due to the poor economy. Dowdy said this caused almost 70 percent of the endowments to be “underwater,” meaning the investment was worth less than the original gift. A national law essentially freezes those underwater funds, but a law recently passed by the N.C. General Assembly should enable ECU to put forth a prudent plan to distribute funds.

“It looks like this will give us the necessary flexibility to keep endowed scholarships in play,” Dowdy said. Some donors have even agreed to make a second or third gift in order for ECU to distribute funds this year, he said.

Dowdy’s optimism has not been diminished by the challenges faced by the campaign in recent months. “The complications in the market are just another hurdle we have to overcome, but it does not offset the positive responses we have seen,” Dowdy said. “There are great stories out there of people who feel like it’s time for ECU to move ahead, and they want to help make that happen.”

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This page originally appeared in the May 1, 2009 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at