August 20, 2018

Newton reflects on tenure leading UConn Foundation

Joshua R. Newton

As the first member of his family to graduate college, which was made possible by a scholarship, outgoing UConn Foundation CEO Joshua R. Newton sees his work in university philanthropy as "paying it forward."

Newton took the helm of the Foundation, a private nonprofit that raises money on behalf of UConn, in 2013. UConn described his tenure, during which he helped raise nearly $400 million, as the most prolific fundraising period in the Foundation's history. In addition, despite a national downturn in charitable giving, the Foundation said it raised $82.4 million in contributions and pledges in 2018 — the largest total annual haul in its 54-year history.

The Foundation's endowment also grew 30 percent under Newton's leadership to $439 million, the school said.

As he prepares to leave to become senior vice president for advancement and alumni engagement at Emory University in Atlanta, Newton says he's most proud of shifting how the Foundation interacts with donors. It used to be largely a transactional relationship; now the Foundation works to find out what donors are passionate about, and steers donations in that direction.

What was the most successful fundraising strategy you brought to the UConn Foundation?

Making the bold step to shift our traditional annual giving model. This program has traditionally overseen our telefund, direct marketing and email solicitation programs. I have heard from alumni that they don't like getting the phone calls at dinner time. Direct mail nationally has the lowest response rate. So why do we keep doing it? It is an approach we have used for decades, yet we are seeing declining alumni giving rates at universities across the U.S.

I believe strongly that alumni want to be more involved with their alma maters and it isn't always in traditional ways, so we are dramatically shifting away from the traditional approach.

What is the most valuable lesson you learned while leading the UConn Foundation?

Don't try to do it all. Early on, we were trying to fix everything. Pace yourself.

Were there any goals or projects you were unable to bring to fruition?

We've begun to strengthen our engagement beyond our alumni population through our "grateful patient" program. They are patients at UConn Health who care deeply about the health center or have been impacted by a specific disease or issue in which we're doing research or other work. I think we've made progress in that regard, but there's more to do to connect with the community at large beyond the alumni population.

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