After two years of discrete collection punctuated by striking donations from big names on the Duke alumni roster, it's official: The University has launched the five-year public phase of its $1.5-billion capital campaign with pomp, circumstance and a hefty amount of honesty about Duke's financial straits.

Sized to surpass any previous campaign in the South and rival those nationwide, the fundraiser has already amassed $684 million.

Those funds, explained steering committee co-chair Ginny Nicholas, Women's College '64, came from obvious donors-people who have supported the University in the past or have been active alumni since graduating. For instance, all members of the Board of Trustees and the Campaign Steering Committee have contributed.

Now, the University will take the Campaign for Duke to major cities where a 90-member staff will scout out less-obvious donors, including active alumni who have not been called on previously to give and those who have lost touch with Duke and need reasons to reconnect. President Nan Keohane will spend about one-third of her time on these tours and other fundraising endeavors.

Along the way, the Development Office will market the campaign's six goals (see story, page 6, for more information):

  • attracting and supporting the best students: $249 million;

  • recruiting and retaining top faculty: $194 million;

  • ensuring a superior academic program: $129 million;

  • advancing the quest for knowledge: $546.5 million;

  • enriching the campus and community environment: $235.5 million;

  • ensuring annual and long-term unrestricted support: $146 million.

Money in this final category will go strictly to the University's endowment. And significant portions of other categories are also marked for endowment programs, bringing the total amount of endowment dollars sought to $662 million, or 44 percent of the overall goal. Much of these endowment funds will go to supporting new faculty positions and fortifying Duke's commitment to need-blind admissions.

This focus means that the fundraiser is unlike most others, which prioritize buildings and other physical infrastructure.

"This campaign is about people and programs, not bricks and mortar," Keohane said in a Thursday afternoon press conference. She noted that the project allocates $200 million to new facilities, just 13 percent of the overall goal.

University officials said they were confident that despite the stock market's decline and the long-term ill-health of Asian and Russian economies, the public phase will be as successful as the silent phase because philanthropy is not closely tied to market changes.

"If you look at fundraising over the last 20 years, dips in the stock market... haven't had much affect on donations," said Senior Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development John Piva.

He added, however, that the market may cause donors to slow the speed of long-term payments. A donor might, for instance, pay out a commitment in five years rather than one.

Despite their confidence on this front, organizers think the campaign faces other formidable challenges. Their biggest concern is that because endowment funds are neither glamorous nor tangible, the campaign will fail to meet its goal in the most needed area.

So how does the University intend to market this important plank? University officials delivered a surprising amount of frank talk about Duke's financial weaknesses amid all of the weekend celebrations.

On Friday night, many of the University's governing and advisory boards-all of which, for the first time, met during the same weekend-held parties. The Medical Center, for instance, hosted a bash at the Durham Athletic Park while the Trinity Board of Visitors enjoyed an elegant dinner in the Gothic Reading Room.

The keystone of the celebrations, however, was the University-wide event held Saturday night in Cameroon Indoor Stadium. Using fog machines, banners and liberal applications of the new campaign logo, organizers converted the stadium into a venue fit for a creative extravaganza replete with Duke University Improv "mad scientists," a wacky skit about an incoming student trying to find his way at the University, and a dozen dancing gargoyles who specialized in a jig that looked like a precursor to the Irish Riverdance.

In between the spectacles, officials drove home Duke's needs.

"Duke stands among the richest Universities in the world, although it is not itself one of the richest," Keohane said.

And in its more somber moments, University officials jettisoned the poetic rhetoric to make its case on some surprising statistics.

At a Saturday morning meeting to gain the trustees' approval and formally launch the campaign, Keohane explained to a room packed with about 500 trustees and board members that the relative poverty of Duke's endowment means that it must leverage much of its operating budget into areas that other schools cover with their endowments.

Financial aid is a key example. A school such as Princeton University pays for all of its financial aid through its endowment. The University, however, must pay 80 percent with its operating budget.

Duke's endowment is $1.13 billion, placing it 24th in the nation, well behind powerhouses such as first-ranked Harvard University ($10.92 billion), second-ranked University of Texas ($6.71 billion) and third-ranked Yale University ($5.74 billion), according to a study conducted earlier this year by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

In fact, Keohane noted, Duke's endowment spending per student is not even the highest in North Carolina: Davidson College surpasses Duke, and Wake Forest University is about equal with the University.

The weekend launch was the culmination of many years of planning. The Campaign for Duke has its roots in a report titled, "A Duke Plan: Positioning Duke for the 21st Century," which was delivered to the trustees in December 1992, the same meeting at which Keohane was elected University president.

After several additional reports and a feasibility study suggesting that the University could raise $900 million in a four-year period, the trustees finally endorsed a "quiet phase" of a potential campaign in late 1995. Trustee Peter Nicholas and his wife Ginny were asked to chair the steering committee, and Keohane began touring to raise funds.

By spring 1997, it became clear that the campaign could accumulate a billion dollars. Finally, by spring 1998, successful fundraising suggested to organizers that 1.5 billion was attainable. Now, they have five years to meet it.