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On Earth and in the stars.

Medical breakthroughs aren't the only type of research donors are interested in supporting. The Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson received a $20 million gift from Richard F. Caris to help participate in the Giant Magellan Telescope project--an extremely large telescope being built during the next decade.

The university will have a 10-percent stake in the project, but wouldn't have been able to join in with donor-wealthy partners such as Harvard University and the University of Chicago without gifts such as Caris', according to Chris Impey, university distinguished professor and deputy head of the astronomy department.

As with the university's science department as a whole, the majority of astronomy department's budget dollars is from external support as opposed to government support, Impey said. The ratio typically stands at about $9 million annually from the government and $60 to $70 million from outside supporters. Outside gifts are used to help fund participation in the telescope project, the university's own Mirror Lab, named after Caris, instruments and fellowships.

Not unlike its medical research counterparts, UA drums up excitement about the projects it has worked on by hosting events. When OSIRIS-REx, an unmanned NASA mission led by UA to collect a sample from the asteroid Bennu, launched earlier this year, officials hosted donor events in Arizona and Florida and celebrated with a reception. A similar celebration will be held in 2018 when the James Webb Telescope launches, which was worked on by a few UA professors.

Impey noted that astrological research has been privately supported since its beginning, with the House of Medici supporting the work of Galileo. The department twice annually hosts supporters such as members of its board to show what they have been working on. Fellowship recipients, for instance, will present their research personally.

The meetings have proved successful, particularly for fellowship recipients. Contributing to large capital projects is a possibility for only a few donors, Impey said, while a $10,000 or $15,000 fellowship can free a student up to pursue research.

Donors' valuing personal support has led the university toward its $4-million endowed chair project. The project will support individual astronomers on a tiered scale from scholarship to fellowship to endowment.

"The payoff is pretty clear there because the student who is supported will be writing papers and presenting at conferences," said Impey. "That's easy information to get back to the donor ... Raising money is never easy, but it's enormously easier when you have this bright young astronomer."

The Nature Conservancy's research is broken down into three categories, according to Andrew Reed, director of donor engagement and stewardship for the Arlington, Va.-headquartered nonprofit. There is research that informs which strategies to work on, research on specific projects and how they will work and what outcomes should be, and finally back-end research to gauge effectiveness.

The front-end research tends to be supported from discretionary funds that are bolstered by unrestricted bequests. Private contributions support specific projects and back-end reports. Such contributions are almost universally stewarded with some kind of report depending on donor preference, Reed said. Larger donations might be stewarded with on-site visits to research areas.

"We do trips in certain instances. We do more local site visits. We try to have those visits with key staff members to engage them in the work overall," Reed said.

Given that trips to research sites are sometimes impractical, Nature Conservancy is doing more with video messaging, according to Reed. The organization has used web platforms to communicate research developments with donors with top-level donors. Reports, videos and personalized messages from staff members who donors have worked with are all accumulated on platforms such as WordPress or Tumblr.

Gauging success with stewardship efforts is a consistent challenge, Reed said. The impact might take years to surface and results still might not be clear. Nature Conservancy officers have taken to simply asking high-level donors what works for them and what keeps them engaged.

"It's an overlooked method of engaging how successful thing are," Reed said of asking. "It gives us an opportunity to see what works for them. We're taking their word for it. I think, overall, things like videos and web platforms--the response has been overwhelmingly positive."

Caption: Artist's conception of the Giant Magellan Telescope project.
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Title Annotation:SCIENCE
Author:Segedin, Andy
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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