The SUNY New Paltz Foundation has over 30 Million in the bank, what gives?

The SUNY New Paltz Foundation, the fundraising component of the campus that solicits donations from alumni and others, has been bolstered in recent years by a larger pool of donations and a post-recession stock market. Still, the foundation continues to spend far less than it fundraises, resulting in more than $30 million that is just sitting in its savings account.

The Foundation was founded in 1976, and since, they have been attributing gifts from private contributions such as alumni and others to cultivate experiences on campus.

The funding priorities of the Foundation as indicated on their website reveal four areas of focus: Foundation scholarships, Margin of Excellence, Fund for New Paltz, and The Benjamin Center. Details about each priority are revealed when hovering over the pictures on the website, but information about the actual programs and where the money is claimed to be going sparse.

Kristen Cash-Holland the Assistant Vice President for Development Operations and Chief Financial Officer of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation. Image from

“Thanks to the support of generous donors, the Foundation funds numerous programs such as free student tickets to our Distinguished Speaker series, the Women’s Leadership Summit, and the Business Plan Competition,” said Kristen Cash-Holland, the Assistant Vice President for Development Operations and Chief Financial Officer of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation.

Cash-Holland said that the Foundation supports travel funds for students, theatre programs, PianoSummer, and even the James H. Ottoway visiting Professor who currently is Rob Cox.

Something that she did leave out though, is that half of the SUNY New Paltz’s President Donald P. Christian’s salary is paid through this fund which amounted to $222,011 as reported in 2015.

The form 990 even indicates that Erica Marks, the Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations was paid out $191,102 through the funds.

Form 990 from tax year 2014–2015 revealing compensation of Donald Christian and Erica Marks.

The Foundation is dependent on donations from alumni and others. “Each person who makes a gift has a special connection to SUNY New Paltz,” said Cash-Holland. “Alumni, parents, people in the community and organizations donate their time though volunteerism, resources such as equipment, and money to the cause on campus that means the most to them. Giving is personal.”

When giving is personal, one would think that when the Foundation is paying half of the college President’s salary and a portion its Vice President’s salary that it would be information known at large to all parts of the community.

“I didn’t know [that] when I donated my first year here,” said Matthew Gample a third-year Marketing major at SUNY New Paltz. “It feels like a scam.”

When he first arrived on campus he was asked about a suggested donation of $12. Gample and his father had no problem paying that amount but decided not to donate the years after. Now, he thinks it is wrong that it wasn’t clear to a new group of students that a part of the President’s salary was paid through the Foundation.

The organization reported in the span of two years from 2008–2009 they lost $347,673. Of course, this is due to the Great Recession which hit America hard. The economic crisis affected the housing markets which was related to irresponsible loan giving from big banks.

During the Recession, donations decreased and their investments in the stock market dried up.

Now, all of those are on the rebound in a major way.

In 2011, the losses from the stock markets turned to gains. Solely from investment income, the Foundation earned $671,180. Every year since, the Foundation has been earning large amounts of money.

As of June 2016, the most recent form 990, reports that they are sitting on $33,750,980.

This is an unusual amount of money for a non-profit organization to have sitting in the bank. They are spending significantly less than they are earning.

Scholarships from the Foundation are a critical part of their fundraising goals. In 2015, they provided 135 students with scholarships. The scholarship is supposed to help students with tuition, study abroad, research, and internships.

The total amount given to students was $380,027. Depending on how much each individual scholarship contained — essentially it’s about $2,436 per student. That maybe covers a little less than the meal plan at the college which costs $3,860.

Additionally, $131,888 from the non-profit went to the Dorsky Museum on the New Paltz campus funding exhibitions. An accomplishment stated by the Foundation says they were able to launch a web-accessible database that features collections from the Dorsky and four other Ulster County art organizations.

They even are funding HVAMC, the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center, where they attributed $272,076 to the 3D printing program on campus.

“Of the assets ($33,750,980), $22 million are either permanently or temporarily restricted,” said Cash-Holland. “In other words, the Foundation is permitted to use the funds based on criteria established by donors to the Foundation. Most of the restricted funds provide scholarships to students attending SUNY New Paltz. Of the remaining $10.7 million in assets, just over $6.5 million is artwork that is part of the permanent collection for the Samuel Dorsky Museum.”

The Foundation includes artwork as part of their total value. About 25 percent of what they have in their bank accounts is artwork which is found at the Dorsky Museum. All donations to the museum, past and present, are considered an asset to the Foundation.

As for the future for the Foundation, their mission of supporting the college will not change according to Cash-Holland.

The organization continues to work with potential donors often to expand opportunities on campus. They are currently working on “completion funds”, which would be money allocated to help students who have unforeseen difficulties to help them graduate on time.

While the Foundation will maintain its core mission, there is a vacant space of critical information to explain where exactly all this money goes for the common member of the New Paltz community to understand.

EOP student Estefany López reacts to SUNY New Paltz Foundation report.
Study Abroad student Alyssa DeBenedetto reacts to SUNY New Paltz Foundation report.

“When I am asked to donate I believe it will benefit campus and student life,” said Alyssa DeBenedetto, a third-year Sociology major. “I didn’t even consider my donation would be paying an employee’s salary.”

DeBenedetto was shocked about where the money went, “the suggested donation had appeared on the student account page for me, it said “Gift to New Paltz”, and no where did it tell me [about the President and Vice Presidents salary].

Even potential SUNY New Paltz graduates are asked to donate $20.17 to the Foundation and in return, they will receive a special cord on graduation day.

It just seems odd to have a campaign asking soon-to-be graduates to donate money to a school they no longer will be attending, and unbeknownst to most of them, a portion of that will be paying the salary of the President and Vice President.

Remember though, “Giving is personal.”