The University of Guam Endowment Foundation is a key fundraising arm of the island's sole four-year university. No doubt, soliciting for contributions is what it often does best. Over the last three decades, it has built a reputation as a means to capital improvements, and although its goals often focus on those projects, its role is expanding. Officials said the mission of the Foundation is, in a nutshell, “impact through the power of community engagement.”
"It doesn’t just mean fundraising. It means partnering with local businesses and collaborating with alumni, sharing the knowledge gained and resources across the entire island and the region,” Executive Director Janiece Sablan said.
The nonprofit group will be undergoing rebranding efforts to encompass its mission. That begins with its identity. "Primarily, what we do is we align fundraising efforts with the mission of the University of Guam," Sablan said. “It’s a separate entity, but created solely to support the mission of the university through private giving and foundational grants."
Those fundraising efforts are geared around the initiatives of the university. The construction of the School of Business and Public Administration is a good example of how the foundation works. “When it was this old apartment complex, obviously there was a need for capital improvement,” Sablan said. “In partnership with a USDA loan, there was a capital campaign to raise leverage funds for the building. The community really rallied around that. There were hundreds of donors at varying levels, from a million dollars all the way down to the twenty-dollar range to raise money for this particular building. Money comes into our office and it’s invested. We manage that investment, and some of the debt service is paid off of the earnings from the private gifts from the community. That’s how we support capital improvement."
Today, the Jesus S. & Eugenia A. Leon Guerrero School of Business and Public Administration building is a tangible link to the foundation, bearing the name of one of its founding members, Jesus S. Leon Guerrero. The late founder of the Bank of Guam was a tireless supporter of the endowment fund and an inspiration to the members and administrators who followed.
"So much of the messaging during his time being on the board was that he was trying to build the human capital on Guam. He knew that he had this great, big vision for his company and he needed an educated workforce. He knows the best way to do that is to improve the educational resources here on Guam. I look at this building because thousands of students from this school have benefited from the giving of private donors. It builds our capacity to educate more students and bring them out to the workforce," Sablan explained. Other large donors for the building include ASC Trust, Matson, Paul & Arlene Bordallo, the Camacho Family, Bill & Zita Leon Guerrero, IT&E, Anthony Leon Guerrero, and Henry Sy.
In 2012, the university launched the “Celebrating the Triton Spirit, Building Our Legacy” campaign, and over $11 million has already been raised. The capital campaign revolved around a 2025 physical master plan that changes the face of the university. The new Student’s Success Center and the School of Engineering building are expected to break ground this year. Midway through the campaign, however, Sablan is giving it a refocus.
“Now, changing government finances are having a direct effect on the university. Even though we are mid-campaign, it’s time to revisit that campaign and look at what we’re raising money for. It cannot be all about buildings because there are other needs for the university—some of those that directly affect students, such as others that affect growth in the community. That’s how we are refocusing this campaign from the ground, from the deans, the directors, the chairs, people from the schools, and involving alumni and students, and getting stakeholder input," Sablan said.
The initial capital campaign focus is shifting toward a comprehensive approach to include all of the needs of the university. Currently, there’s a $20-million goal, but the buckets to fill are changing. “What my team realizes is that if we do not meet the needs of the donors, and we have such a giving community that cares about different things that perhaps are not capital improvement, we’re not allowing them the space to invest in things they really care about,” she added.
Taking a play from Jesus Leon Guerrero's motivation to support the university, Sablan looks to interest donors to give where they feel is the best need. “If there's a family who's passionate about sustainability or ocean resources, then we guide them toward giving to marine biology research work,” Sablan said.
The foundation is also working with the university's marketing team and its alumni organization to keep missions in sync and complementary. “Most universities get their financial support from alumni. UOG, for various reasons, hasn't reached that level of support,” Sablan explained.
She continued, "The fact that there are 17,000 alumni, that’s a tremendous amount of human capital that’s really unrealized for the university. We want to go in that direction so our alumni realize they’re valued by their alma mater, their education is valuable, and they’re now in the workforce because of this education. We want to continue to offer them resources as their alma mater."
That means tapping potential opportunities where alumni link back to the university, from mentorships to employment. A new social networking service exclusive to alumni is expected to launch in the upcoming Fall Semester, offering UOG alumni employers a connection to students and graduates for potential employment.
“But the shift we’re making is really aligning and allowing private donors to be investors in the university, build capacity, and have a greater impact in the community through their giving. The way to do that is to align what they care about. Community engagement is very important to us. We’re redefining and expanding the university community. It's not about just graduating 500 students every year. It’s about how we in the university solve the most pressing needs in the community. A lot of that work is already going on, but it’s not as transparent or is reaching out in the community effectively," Sablan said.
“Most universities get their financial support from alumni. UOG, for various reasons, hasn't reached that level of support.”