State Your Purpose: Campaign for Colorado State University raises $1.28 billion

Close your eyes, if you will, for just a moment, and try to remember Colorado State University’s campus before 2012.

The place was lovely, to be sure. The elms in the Oval still kept their majestic watch over the landscape. And the efforts to make CSU the greenest, most sustainable university in the world were really starting to take hold.

But when Tony Frank, then in his fourth year as CSU’s 14th president, looked around, he saw something that was cause for concern. The iconic campus was, well, dated.

“I think a sense of place matters,” he said. “CSU had a number of inspirational places but there were also a fair number of places where you felt like you were being transported back to the campus circa 1950 or 1960. But now when you walk around you don’t get that impression. Our alumni and others who haven’t seen campus in a while tell me all the time that they are blown away by the transformation of our campus.”

Tangible signs of that transformation are everywhere. The Michael Smith Natural Resources Building. The Health and Medical Center. The Nancy Richardson Design Center. The Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center. The Suzanne and Walter Scott, Jr. Bioengineering Building. Canvas Stadium. And many others.

All are, at least in part, the result of the most successful fundraising campaign in CSU history: The $1 billion State Your Purpose: Campaign for Colorado State University. The eight-year campaign, timed to conclude during CSU’s 150th birthday, raised $1.28 billion – a sum that would have seemed well beyond reach a few short years ago.

But after CSU successfully completed its first campaign in June 2012, raising $537 million, Frank and the team at University Advancement embarked on an ambitious and audacious journey to double that total and leave an even greater mark at CSU.

Frank, now the chancellor of the CSU System, remembers well the start of that quest.

“We celebrated a successful end to the first campaign, took  one minute off from midnight to 12:01 a.m., and immediately started the silent phase of the second campaign,” he said, chuckling at the memory. “We had been very successful in the first campaign and we thought there was still some very fertile ground ahead. Raising one billion just seemed like the next logical number. We wanted to make a very strong statement about what Colorado State is capable of doing.”


Of course, the campaign did far more than fund buildings and renovations. The 136,277 people who donated over the past eight years bolstered students, improved the quality of teaching and helped elevate CSU’s status as a Tier I research institution.


Thousands of students will benefit from scholarships created by donors. More than $128 million will go to merit-based scholarships and $82 million to need-based scholarships.

“The impact our donors have in changing the trajectory of someone’s life is immeasurable,” said Kim Tobin, vice president of University Advancement since 2017. “Every year we hear from students about how the generosity of donors is helping them overcome great obstacles to receive an education, and improve their lives and those of their families and loved ones.”

Did you know that CSU is leading the way globally in COVID-19 research? CSU scientists not only are seeking a vaccine, they are developing rapid, inexpensive testing technology and helping decipher the virus’ many mysterious qualities. So, it won’t come as a surprise that a key element is that more than one-quarter of the total raised in the campaign – $378 million – was targeted for research.

Finally, and not surprisingly, the campaign served as a poignant reminder: Rams take care of Rams. When COVID-19 closed campus in March, leaving thousands of students and employees financially vulnerable, donors stepped up to provide more than $1 million dollars to support Rams Against Hunger, Ram Aid and CSU Cares – donor-funded programs that help those in need through difficult times.

“During a time of unprecedented challenge and crisis around the world, our donors stepped forward to assist our students and employees in need and fulfill the commitments they had made to CSU throughout the campaign,” Tobin said. “It truly was a remarkable display of resiliency and fortitude in a time of uncertainty. But that is who we are – ‘Ram take care of Rams’ is not just a slogan; it shows up time and again in the actions of our alumni and donors.”

The game changer

CSU’s engineering program rose to new heights when alumnus Walter Scott, Jr., gifted – or, as he would prefer, invested – $53.3 million to the college.

Frank had known Walter Scott long before the State Your Purpose campaign began. Scott, a proud CSU engineering alumnus who built Kiewit Construction into an international force, was a passionate philanthropist who supported many causes – including his alma mater.

So, it was not all that surprising when Scott approached a CSU team that included Frank, engineering dean David McLean and Brett Anderson, who was vice president of University Advancement at the time, and said he wanted to do something more – something special.

“Walter had already done a lot of things for CSU, especially in the realm of student scholarships,” Frank said. “He said he wanted to explore what doing something really transformative would look like. We talked about how having the very best faculty attracts the very best students, and the importance of giving students opportunities they might not otherwise have. And we talked about facilities – the very best facilities.

“The basic case we made was that if you put the best minds in a world-class setting you’re going to have a transformative effect.”

And that’s how Scott’s history-making gesture came to be, inspiring CSU to rename the college:  Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. The gift – Scott preferred to call it “an investment” – not only is the largest in CSU’s history, it established just the second named college at the university, joining the Warner College of Natural Resources. It helped build the state-of-the-art Engineering II, which bears the names of Scott and his late wife, Suzanne, endowed four faculty chairs and funded dozens of scholarships.

“This gift was the sort of package that would really change lives for the better, and I think that’s what Walter’s life has really been about,” Frank said. “I was very proud to be a part of that moment.”

Amazing alumni donors

Gifts from alumni Michael Smith and Nancy Richardson made a significant impact on CSU.

Scott wasn’t the only CSU alumnus to make a huge impact during the campaign. Michael Smith’s gifts helped build the Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center at Canvas Stadium, upgrade and expand the main building in the Warner College of Natural Resources and establish several scholarships in three different colleges.

And Nancy Richardson, who co-founded OtterBox with husband Curt, fulfilled a dream forged at CSU by helping fund the Nancy Richardson Design Center, a unique building that brings innovative design from the worlds of art, fashion and even construction together in a remarkable hands-on setting.

Tobin said the Richardson’s gift has created “a unique story of impact” since the building’s completion in 2019. Not only has it given students a state-of-the-art learning environment, it is now being utilized to produce personal protective equipment being used on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.

“It’s a powerful example of how philanthropy enables CSU to stay relevant and contribute to solving not just future challenges, but the ones we face today,” Tobin said

Making a difference … for generations to come

The campaign netted several of the largest gifts in the university’s history. Scott’s gift was the largest from an individual, but there were three others of $20 million or more – including the $42.5 million gift from Colorado philanthropists John and Leslie Malone that helped, among other things, establish the C. Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

At the same time, the remarkable power of collective giving was on full display as thousands of smaller gifts – many as little as $5 – helped fund scholarships, boost a professor’s research or simply provide a meal for a hungry student. The generosity was so profound and so consistent that CSU reached its goal of $1 billion – a total some considered beyond reach – nearly two years early.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that we would reach this goal,” Tobin said. “I believe wholeheartedly in our mission and know that CSU has a compelling story to tell. The quality of our students and the work we do is unmatched, and when donors know about it, they want to support it. Donors believe in us, and that’s what makes a goal that some may label ‘out of reach’ entirely possible.”

Tobin and her team in University Advancement had planned a uniquely fitting event to mark the June 30 end of the historic campaign as part of CSU’s sesquicentennial celebration but, like so many other things in this time of uncertainty, had to change course. But she did mention that planning for the next go-round has already begun, which means that the next campaign “officially” began at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.

Tony Frank would smile about that.

Frank moved into the Chancellorship of the CSU System full-time last summer. President Joyce McConnell, the first woman to serve as CSU’s president, stepped into her role as the final year of State Your Purpose began. McConnell not only helped carry the campaign across the goal line, she will be leading the way as CSU embarks on its next fundraising campaign.

“I congratulate Kim Tobin and her team in University Advancement for not only reaching but exceeding their very ambitious goal to raise $1 billion,” McConnell said. “I am incredibly grateful to our alumni, friends and others committed to CSU’s success for their generous support of this remarkable university. Together, we will realize our goals of offering access to exceptional education to our students, conducting transformative research, and fostering the research, teaching and service of our world-class faculty and staff. I’m incredibly excited for our future.”