On one hand, the story of SUNY Oswego’s endowment is one of numbers—how the gifts made from generous donors to the Oswego College Foundation have been wisely managed to support the institution. On the other hand, it is a story of people—how alumni, faculty and friends give generously; how the Foundation Board members, stewards of the fund, manage those gifts, and how Oswego students and faculty members ultimately benefit.
Wise Investing, Good Stewardship
Oswego’s endowment stands at more than $15 million dollars, a powerful force for good that benefits the college’s students, faculty and staff in myriad ways every day.
It has grown from $4 million in 2004 — a more than threefold increase — thanks to Oswego’s generous supporters and the wise stewardship of the Oswego College Foundation and its Investment Committee, headed for many years by the late Tom Lenihan ’76.
“State budgets have been plummeting, so for education it is vital that the Oswego College Foundation step up to raise money for those empty spots in the budget every year to maintain a quality institution,” said Dr. Harold Morse ’61 of the foundation board’s investment committee.
Morse added that the endowment provides “additional basic support to everybody at the college through more scholarships, improved facilities, quality faculty and research.”
The foundation’s investment committee members monitor the performance of investment fund managers, manage the asset allocation of the Foundation’s investments, make an annual recommendation of the spending rate, and recommend all changes in investment relations and procedures.
The committee looks at each fund and its long-term spending goal. They consider the need to generate sufficient returns to make the desired annual awards and to keep pace with inflation.
The goal, according to the Oswego College Foundation’s Director of Finance Mark Slayton, is to generate long-term annual returns in the 8 to 9 percent range, since an endowment typically spends 5 percent each year.
“We have been able to do that over a 10-year window,” Slayton says.
Oswego’s 10-year return rate is 8.2 percent—even given the 2008 crash of the financial markets.
Oswego’s endowment has consistently shown earnings ranking in the top 10 percent of nearly 500 participants in an annual study conducted by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). Of the 493 institutions that reported their 10-year rate of return from the years 2003 to 2012, Oswego ranked 51st, higher than universities with multi-billion dollar endowments such as Princeton and Stanford.
In fact, in eight of the last 10 years Oswego has outperformed the industry average, including the six straight years ended June 30, 2012.
When broken down into smaller time periods, Oswego’s performance is even more impressive. For the last five years, Oswego earned 4.2 percent, ranking 23rd of 666 institutions completing the report, or in the top 3 percent. Three-year data shows Oswego’s increase at 13.5 percent, placing the college 25th of 705 institutions, or the top 4 percent.
“The Investment Committee and Board of Directors took decisive action in the summer and fall of 2008 when the world economy was in a free fall. That’s really the year that set us apart from the rest of the endowment world,” explained Slayton.
Oswego’s loss that year was only 10.9 percent versus an industry average of 18.7 percent, according to the NACUBO report.
But as any successful investor knows, preserving principal isn’t enough. You also need to increase it.
So, as early as November 2008, the Investment Committee began to strategically re-engage the equity markets to take advantage of the recovery. As a result, Oswego’s endowed funds have each now fully recovered and exceed their pre-crash levels.
All Above Water
The other outcome of the Investment Committee’s successful work was in the area of underwater funds. That’s when a fund is underperforming to the point where it is worth less than its original principal.
Half a decade after the stock market crash, many not-for-profits are still struggling with underwater funds. The Oswego College Foundation’s experience with underwater funds was brief and insignificant. The fund has carried no underwater funds at all since 2010.
“The success of Oswego’s endowment is not only due to the prudent oversight of our investments over the years but to our board taking decisive action and doing something unconventional,” said Slayton.
In summer of 2008, Oswego was just coming out of the successful Inspiring Horizons campaign, which raised nearly $24 million to support the college. “We wanted to do everything we could to protect those investments our alumni and friends had made in Oswego’s future,” said Slayton. The board carefully watched the markets and began to reduce our allocation in equities even before the crash of September 2008.
“After much conversation, the board adopted a very conservative approach and it paid off very well for us,” Slayton said.
Much of that success was due to the masterful leadership of Tom Lenihan ’76, who chaired the Investment Committee for nearly seven years until his untimely death in March.
Lenihan graduated from Oswego with a degree in economics and computer science. While at Oswego, he met the love of his life, Lynn Van Order Lenihan ’76. They were married in 1976 and have two children, Brian and Colleen.
Tom Lenihan retired from MetLife after 30 years with the organization, having risen to the position of managing director for investment management and capital markets. It was that expertise he put to the service of Oswego’s endowment.
Tom and Lynn Lenihan were steadfast supporters of their alma mater for more than a quarter century. They were lead donors for the Inspiring Horizons campaign, and supported the Campus Center and the Possibility Scholarship program. Tom and Lynn served as Reunion Giving Chair for their 25th anniversary class reunion and spearheaded the revitalization of the college’s reunion giving program, in addition to Tom’s membership on the Oswego College Foundation Board of Directors.
‘Labor of Love’
In June 2012, the Oswego College Foundation board honored Lenihan for his “dedicated steadfast leadership” of the Investment Committee, noting he deserved “recognition and accolades for his tireless efforts.”
“We were privileged to have the benefit of his guiding interest,” said President Deborah F. Stanley. “The future of this institution is stronger and more secure due to Tom’s unwavering commitment to his alma mater, especially as the dedicated steward of our endowment.”
Foundation Board Chairman Bill Spinelli ’84 concurred. “Tom kept a vigilant watch on market conditions, opportunities and challenges to extract the most beneficial position for the Foundation’s investments and assets,” he said.
During his tenure, Lenihan always humbly deferred to his colleagues’ contributions, calling the work of the entire committee a “labor of love.”
“Tom, in his humble way, never accepted personal recognition but would say it was the work of the entire committee,” said Kerry Casey Dorsey ’81, vice president for development and alumni relations and president of the Oswego College Foundation. “But in his sailing vernacular, he was the captain of that ship.”
“Every time the markets dipped or moneys got short, Tom would also give us a great talk at board meetings — how we have this huge responsibility to Oswego to rise to the occasion,” recalled Morse. “Particularly when we had the recession, he led the effort to help prevent any of the scholarship funds from going underwater at that time. He made us feel that we had a responsibility not only to watch everything but also to fix it.”
“The vigilance that he provided in overseeing that everything was all right was outstanding,” added Morse. “I’ve been on several boards and have never seen anyone who was so responsible.”
Lenihan’s “labor of love” stemmed from a genuine affection for his alma mater and its students.
“Tom would say, ‘These are our brothers and sisters and we have to take care of them,’” said Morse. “It’s how we all felt on the board.”
That empathy comes from personal experience. The vast majority of the board members are alumni, and some faced obstacles to fulfill their own educational dreams. They may have worked to earn money for tuition or books, and some benefited from the generosity of donors.
The empathy and commitment the board has for Oswego’s students, coupled with their knowledge of financial markets and their dedication to their fiduciary responsibility to the college are all part of the winning combination the Investment Committee brings to their stewardship of Oswego’s endowment – the art and science of investing success.
By definition, an endowment is when a donor makes a gift with the understanding that the college will never spend the original gift, just a portion of the investment earnings. The gift exists in perpetuity — that is, forever — and benefits all generations of SUNY Oswego students and the college’s programs.
Most often, we think of an endowment as the pot of money behind a scholarship. When a generous alumnus gives a $25,000 gift to Oswego (often with a multi-year pledge) with the intention to endow a scholarship, the funds are invested. Once they generate sufficient income (usually after a
year), a potential $1,000 scholarship can be awarded each year to a student meeting the donor’s criteria. The donor can designate whether the scholarship goes to a student with a certain
major, from a specific hometown or military background, or one who has overcome hardship or faces financial need.
An endowment could also create an excellence fund for an academic department, sports team or extracurricular program. The dean or director can use a portion of the accumulated earnings to bring speakers to campus, help students attend conferences and career-exploration field trips, or buy needed equipment.
One donor’s gift has allowed the establishment of a student-run Investment Club, which invests a portion of the endowed fund established by Gordon A. Lenz ’58 so students can learn about financial markets and gain real world investment management experience. The Public Justice Excellence Fund, established by David Cutler ’74, helps students attend an annual scholarly conference and travel to corrections facilities to explore career opportunities in the public justice field. An endowed chair, like the Marcia Belmar Willock ’50 Chair in Finance, provides funds to assist with paying the salary of a professor — usually a scholar of some renown — to teach in a particular area or department. These are but a few examples of the power of philanthropy.
The Oswego College Foundation has nearly 175 endowed funds providing more than $500,000 in scholarship and program support back to Oswego’s students. Annually, more than 200 students benefit from just the direct awards provided by donor-endowed scholarship funds. These are in addition to the scholarship benefits provided by the campus.
The Oswego College Foundation Board of Directors and its Investment Committee are charged with managing these endowment dollars to ensure that desired payouts are available each year and that they grow to match inflation.
Their diligent stewardship means the funds will always fulfill the donors’ wishes, benefiting generations of Oswego students and giving future donors the confidence to invest in Oswego’s mission.
Lou Borrelli ’77 is a cable television pioneer, media executive and steadfast supporter of SUNY Oswego. He continued his support this year with a gift of $25,000 to the Student Media Excellence Fund.
Giving to student organizations is important to Oswego, as it provides funding that cannot always be provided by the Student Association.
“I have been directing my annual giving the past several years to ‘Excellence Funds’ to provide support for WNYO and WTOP to supplement their SA budget,” Borrelli says. “My gifts over the years have provided equipment, travel expenses and fees for conferences and award competitions.”
These organizations, although mostly funded by SA, benefit greatly from philanthropic support by alumni. Excellence funds can be supported by anyone who wishes to designate their annual gifts to student organizations, and new excellence funds can always be established.
“Excellence Funds are a good way to get involved,” Borrelli says.
Borrelli supports student organizations as the founder of the Lewis B. O’Donnell Media Summit, which provides networking opportunities for students in media fields and attracts communication professionals from all over the country.
After the launch of the Summit, he established the Student Media Excellence Fund, as he saw the need to further provide for WNYO and WTOP. The majority of his most recent gift funded “a multichannel digital replay system used during Laker Hockey games,” which put WTOP on par with sports networks like ESPN and NESN.
Borrelli is also a member of the Oswego College Foundation Board and the School of Communication, Media and the Arts Advisory Board, and he was Reunion Giving Chair for his 35th Reunion cluster this year. He encourages other alumni to give back to Oswego and show their support for students.
“A little support goes a long way to help current students and student organizations,” he says.
—Kaitlin Provost ’12
Howard Olinsky ’81, a disability attorney and managing partner of Olinsky Disability, has given a gift of $50,000 to SUNY Oswego. Two-thirds of his gift will go
to the School of Communication, Media and the Arts Dean’s Fund, and one-third to where the need is greatest.
Olinsky serves on the first SCMA Advisory Board, and is a loyal supporter of SUNY Oswego. He says supporting his alma mater is an important part of his philanthropy plan, to give back to “the schools and universities that have helped me become successful.”
“Successful” is no exaggeration – Olinsky manages 16 full-time attorneys and 22 contracted attorneys at his firm, which is the largest filer of Social Security Disability federal court cases in the nation. He has offices in Syracuse and Orlando.
Olinsky got his start in Oswego, opening up his law firm on West First Street. The firm’s name still adorns the front of the Old Marine Midland Bank Building, where his office was for more than 15 years. He says the firm moved to Syracuse in order to expand, but Olinsky never lost his love for Oswego or the desire to give back to the college.
“I plan on being an active participant,” he says. Giving back is “a way of bringing additional money into the individual schools without having to raise tuition,” and he believes this is crucial to Oswego’s success.
His goal for this gift is to help students who graduate with a communication degree become more marketable. He and Dean Fritz Messere ’71 M ’76 are working on a plan to create a PR program that can help students get experience with all aspects of advertising and media.
“It’s a big goal,” he says, “but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
—Kaitlin Provost ’12
Oswego’s Leadership Giving society, The President’s Circle, has been reconfigured to reflect new giving levels as of July 1, 2013. The revision is in response to changing economic times and inflation. A $500 gift would be the equivalent of $1,070 today to make the same impact it did when these giving levels were established nearly 30 years ago.
We continue to recognize members of The President’s Circle as those who are among the most dedicated supporters of Oswego; therefore, the starting level in that designation will be $1,000. A newly established Green and Gold Club will acknowledge donors who make gifts of $250 through $999.
Donors wishing to continue to give at their previous designated levels can arrange for installment giving.
For information on joining Oswego’s philanthropic leaders, call 315-312-3003 or visit alumni.oswego.edu/presidentscircle
New levels of giving in The President’s Circle are:
THE PRESIDENT’S CIRCLE:
$25,000 + Medallion Society
$10,000 – $24,999 Torchbearer Society
$5,000 – $9,999 Ambassador Society
$2,500 – $4,999 Ontarian Society
$1,861 – $2,499 1861 Founder’s Society
$1,000 – $1,860 Pillar Society
GREEN AND GOLD CLUB:
$500 – $999 Gold member
$250 – $499 Green member
Planned giving makes it possible for SUNY Oswego alumni and friends to reach beyond the present and touch the future. Jack James ’62 sees it as a means of ensuring that his alma mater remains an effective institution of higher education for many generations to come.
James has agreed to chair the Sheldon Legacy Society Steering Committee and to work with other members to revitalize that group, which honors those who include Oswego in their estate plans. He says he accepted the leadership position because he has faith in the students of today and in those of the future. The Legacy Society affirms some of the values founder Edward Austin Sheldon held dear: careful planning, generous giving, and faithful stewardship.
The Society is comprised of people who are committed to spreading the message about the benefits of planned giving. James says Oswego’s students will benefit as more people understand that a legacy gift enables them to give beyond what they might be able to give at the present and as more people are aware of the variety of plans and the benefits of each plan.
A retired Marine Corps Colonel and former faculty member at National–Louis University, James has long supported Oswego through giving and volunteering. Leading by example, he has bequeathed a significant portion of his estate to Oswego, and he established a charitable gift annuity in honor of the 50th reunion of his class.
With ongoing gifts, James supports a scholarship for non-traditional learners, provides a fund dedicated to equipment and facilities improvement, and maintains a student program fund for the School of Education.
James invites those interested in information about the Sheldon Legacy Society and planned giving to call the Office of University Development at 315-312-3003.
“Planned giving is the ultimate commitment to Oswego and its students,” James says. “It’s a way to ensure that the legacy of learning extends into the future by enabling current students to complete their educations for the benefit of future generations. In this way, the Sheldon legacy, personal philanthropy and a donor’s family legacy are linked.”
—Linda Loomis ’90, M ’97