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August 21, 2004

Generous Donor Gets Bilked, College Loses $112 Million Pledge

FROM A PICTURESQUE CAMPUS NESTLED IN THE OAKLAND HILLS EAST OF THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY comes highly disturbing news of a generous gift pledge gone horribly wrong.

Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, CA, a steeped-in-tradition Christian Brother college with a long history of academic and athletic accomplishments, has learned that some $112 million in pledged donations are not going to happen.
The financial debacle has been a thudding body blow to the school, and sends a shock wave to development programs throughout the country.

In order to avoid situations like this, development departments would be well-advised to clarify the terms and expectations associated with donations. Different donors have different interpretations about pledges, promises, guarantees and assurances. Even multi-million dollar pledges from supposedly solid donors can go awry.

A bird in the hand . . .

Here’s the short version of what transpired at Saint Mary’s:

• Starting in 1997, Conrad Colbrandt made a series of pledges to the college’s “Spirit of Saint Mary’s” campaign. Colbrandt originally made these pledges anonymously.

• The campaign yielded pledges of $195 million, which far exceeded the $150 million goal. Colbrandt’s pledges accounted for almost 60% of the total.

• Come to find out, the pledges were based upon real estate deals gone bad, and Colbrandt mistaken thought that PepsiCo was involved.

• Colbrandt and dozens of other investors were bilked out of all of their money. A mysterious elderly man who had partnered with Colbrandt is thought to have fled the country.

• None of the pledged funds will be going to Saint Mary’s.

• Affected are plans (commitments?) for renovations to the gymnasium, the stadium and baseball fields, plus a new $30 million science building.

A letter from Saint Mary’s president, Brother Craig Franz, was posted on the college’s website. The sadly-worded damage control letter outlined the fiasco, and started with the following sentence: “We are writing to share some disconcerting news.”

It was just a few months ago that Saint Mary’s was rocked by another financial setback. In March, Father Craig soberly intoned that Saint Mary’s was dropping its 112-year old football program due to high costs.

Pray for Saint Mary’s.

(this 359 word excerpt—with attendant commentary—was distilled from an 879 word article in the Contra Costa Times of 8-18-04, a 511 word article from The Chronicle of Higher Education of 8-18-04 and a sorrowfully-written 369 word letter on the Saint Mary’s website)