September 11, 2009

Prayer is at heart of $6 million gift to Marian University

By John Shaughnessy

Daniel Elsener has had a wealth of memorable days since he became the president of Marian University in Indianapolis in 2001, but not many have compared to the time when his visit to a potential donor resulted in a $6 million gift.

The contribution, announced by school officials this summer, represents the single largest gift ever made to the university from an individual.

To set the background for Elsener’s memories of that day, note that Marian’s last capital campaign ended in 2000, raising $8 million. The university’s current capital campaign, scheduled to end in 2012, has a goal of about $70 million. And more than $60 million has already been raised.

“I’ve been asking people for money forever,” says Elsener, who has dedicated most of his career to Catholic education and fundraising. “Most often, I don’t ask people for an amount of money. They almost have to force me to say the amount. I say, ‘You understand what we need here. You know your capabilities. I know you’ve been very successful. Just prayerfully reflect on what you’re called to do to help me build a great Catholic university here, will you please?’

“And I have been shocked. More often than not, people give me money that I would never have the guts to ask for.”

That’s how he approached the person who made the $6 million gift anonymously.

“The meeting was in a major city in the United States, downtown, in a corporate office,” he recalls. “I got there early. There was a little church near there. I sat there and prayed about how I was going to ask. When we met, I told him, ‘Here’s where we’re at. We want to raise $70 million, and we don’t have a lead gift yet. The biggest gift we’ve ever had is $2 million. And we are at $55 million without a lead gift, which is a miracle. But I’m still searching for a lead gift.”

Elsener left the office with his lead gift.

“The last thing [the donor] said to me was, “You tell me to prayerfully reflect on what I’m going to do. Let’s just pray our stock does well. We’ll take care of you.’ ” †


Related story: An 'all-in' approach to leadership: Daniel Elsener takes the reins to make Marian a great Catholic university

Local site Links: