In about six weeks of fundraising, the MSUB Billings Foundation has raised just a little less than $500,000 for a major, $15 million renovation of Montana State University Billings’ decades-old science hall.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Chuck Wendt, the foundation’s president and CEO. “Things are moving at the pace that I’d expect at this point in the effort.”
In 2013, the Montana Legislature promised $10 million to renovate the MSUB’s 67-year-old Sciences Building, to be renamed Yellowstone Hall, but not until the university could raise $5 million for the project, a task that has fallen mostly to the foundation.
Wendt was hired this spring as the foundation’s head and is leading the fundraising efforts to fulfill MSUB’s end of the deal.
He said on Thursday that there’s not a set timeline for when the money must be raised.
“But our goal is to get this done as soon as possible,” he said.
The fundraising efforts are still in a quiet phase, in which the foundation is approaching key potential donors, organizations and a handful of other groups for initial, often larger, contributions and to gauge public interest.
Once the quiet phase ends, the foundation will launch a more public effort in asking for money from the community.
Wendt said new donors, or ones who didn’t already contribute to a pair of recent successful multimillion-dollar campaigns by the foundation, will play a major role in the new efforts.
He described Billings as “probably the most generous community I’ve ever seen” but said he wants to reach outside of Yellowstone County before coming to the public in Billings.
Those efforts have already yielded talks with potential donors from around Montana and into the Dakotas.
“We have found significant interest from people across the state who have no connection to MSUB whatsoever,” Wendt said. “What really helps me is the quality of the students, that’s the thing that reinforces what we do. I tell that to our investors, that’s what I call our donors, because that’s what they’re making — an investment in here.”
Another tactic in the effort, and the future of the foundation in general, is to increase the profiles of the foundation and MSUB outside of Billings and within new circles.
The foundation’s upcoming, inaugural Montana Hall of Fame, scheduled for October 2, could be something that does just that. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will speak at the ceremony, which will honor four Montana business leaders for their success and innovation in growing business within the state.
Wendt said that the event is in no way a fundraiser for Yellowstone Hall and that attendees will be treated to the first such statewide hall of fame and meet some of MSUB’s outstanding students.
“This is not done to solicit money from them, but they might become interested in helping,” he said. “It allows us to reach new crowds.”
While MSUB must provide $5 million before it can even touch the $10 million from the state for the renovation, Wendt said the actual amount he’d like to raise is closer to $8 million.
The extra money is to account for inflation and other cost increases, as well as $1 million to establish an endowment to run and maintain the building after it’s built.
Fundraising organization and efforts should also get in a boost on Aug. 1, when Cindy Millard begins her new role as the foundation’s major gifts officer, a position that’s been vacant for months.
“The good news is that we’re two-thirds of the way there, when (the Legislature) said they’d give us $10 million to start,” Wendt said. “We just have to go out and get the rest.”