Philanthropy to ASU establishes new opportunities

Exterior view of the Fulton Center, a six-story building covered in glass windows, next to University Drive, where cars pass by.

The ASU Foundation for A New American University recorded a banner year thanks to the generosity of 106,832 individual, corporate and foundation donors.

Sun Devil supporters donated approximately $331 million in new gifts and commitments to support student success, academic programs, research and programs at Arizona State University during the 2022 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

“We’re very grateful for donors’ generosity this past fiscal year to help ASU advance its charter,” ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig said. “Private support aids students with scholarships, faculty with new academic and research positions, and centers and the community with solutions to global issues.”

Additionally, the ASU endowment reached $1.3 billion at the end of the fiscal year, which is managed by the ASU Foundation and provides ongoing payouts to ASU for student scholarships and fellowships, faculty professorships, directors and chairs, academic programs and research, Sun Devil Athletics and other restricted uses.

Despite challenging market conditions this past year, the endowment grew 2.39% in fiscal year 2022, significantly outperforming the investments’ strategic benchmark return of minus 13.59%.

The endowment is made up of more than 2,000 individual accounts that are restricted by donors to a specific use and paid out to the university on a distribution schedule. The endowment posted returns of 10.25%, 9.57%, and 8.36% for the trailing three-year, five-year and 10-year periods.

“We've made several strategic enhancements to our investment approach in recent years including building on internal investment resources, capitalizing on proprietary investment opportunities, enhancing our partnership with BlackRock and strengthening the alignment of our investments with the mission of ASU,” said Jeff Mindlin, chief investment officer for the ASU Foundation. “Our innovative sustainable investing approach has also proven resilient in the recent market environment.”

The ASU Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization that raises and manages private contributions for ASU to ensure as many people as possible have a chance at a better life through its resource-raising efforts. It is one of Arizona's oldest nonprofits, yet it stands out as a vanguard for advancing innovative, nationally distinctive approaches to philanthropy.

“As a public enterprise, Arizona State University looks to a variety of funding sources to advance our mission of providing access to excellence in higher education,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “There is no greater, no more sincere expression of support for the work being done at ASU than the donations made to the university through philanthropy. We are extremely grateful for the investments made by so many and we salute the work done by the ASU Foundation to make all of this possible.”

Student scholarships continued to be a priority for donors. More than 22,000 donors contributed to $66.3 million for scholarships.

Marty Vanderploeg, CEO of Workiva, donated $15 million to endow the Vanderploeg Luminosity Scholars Program, which provides scholarships to address unmet financial need so undergraduate students can pursue creativity and moonshot thinking through The Luminosity Lab.

The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust awarded the ASU Foundation $7.1 million in surprise grants to back four ASU initiatives. The money was earmarked for a scholarship for "Dreamers" – students who are young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and who are allowed to remain in the country if they meet certain criteria, and funds to help Afghan citizens who relocate and settle in the U.S. with housing, transportation, employment and educational opportunities. The grants also support KAET, the local affiliate for PBS, and developing solutions for water security and climate resilience.

Philanthropists Francis and Dionne Najafi recently invested $25 million in the Thunderbird School of Global Management with the goal of educating 100 million worldwide learners by 2030. The school’s new downtown Phoenix headquarters is named in their honor, F. Francis and Dionne Najafi Global Headquarters. The building naming kicked off a week of events to commemorate the school’s 75th anniversary and launched a public fundraising campaign for the school.

Professor Alexandra Navrotsky has long been committed to materials science as a researcher and professor. In 2019 she established an endowment to launch the Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe at ASU and ensure it had access to funding when she rejoined the ASU faculty in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' School of Molecular Sciences and in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. In 2021, she increased her investment to $10 million to ensure future research of materials science.

Another ASU center established from philanthropic support was the Beus Center for Cosmic Foundations in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Leo and Annette Beus gave an $8 million endowed gift to establish the center, a named professorship and a named chair. The center aims to help us better understand the history of early stars, galaxies and black holes to enhance our knowledge of the universe.

In addition to traditional gifts and commitments, the ASU Foundation, through its sister organization University Realty, secured more than $3.5 million in gifts of real estate.

Some of the other notable milestones achieved during the year include:

  • The ASU Foundation started accepting cryptocurrency gifts as a philanthropic method.
  • A new ASU research building was named in honor of longtime sustainability donors Rob and Melani Walton, who have made multiple investments to support ASU’s development and deployment of sustainable solutions for energy, water, environment, climate, urbanization and social transformation. The Rob and Melani Walton Center for Planetary Health was announced during Earth Week events in April.
  • ASU Women and Philanthropy celebrated its 20th anniversary. Julie Ann Wrigley, Sybil Francis and Angela Cesal established the organization to increase university engagement and give women an outlet for collaboration and community impact.