In a year in which philanthropic donations have declined in general, member support for the ULI Foundation has remained strong. As a result, the foundation’s assets have risen during a time when the economic outlook has been more uncertain than bright.

What this shows is that more and more of ULI members understand the philanthropic nature of ULI. More and more of you see in ULI many opportunities to support important industry research and education initiatives. This is critical, because going forward—in boom times as well as busts—ULI will be relying far more on philanthropic contributions to carry on a consistent, high-quality program of work.

As we all know, the recession wiped out many of ULI’s traditional sources of revenue, which had long funded most of its content cost. These included meeting registrations, conference fees, membership dues, book sales, sponsorships, and advertising. As the economy picks up, it stands to reason that ULI will see an uptick in this revenue.

But, while this is encouraging, a rise in revenue will be slow in coming and ULI’s work cannot be put on hold. Now is a time of great change for the land use industry. External forces such as demographic and economic shifts, energy and environmental concerns, and capital availability will affect what is built, and where and when it is built.

It is up to the ULI Foundation to make sure ULI is able to produce the products, services, and activities that ultimately make a positive difference in land use decision making.

Currently, the foundation’s assets stand at nearly $51 million, up from $46 million one year ago. The foundation is now funding almost 40 percent of ULI’s total content budget. This is incredible progress, but we have more work to do.

One way you can help ULI extend its reach is by supporting the institute as a ULI Foundation governor. This is an elite group of more than 260 members whose support is enabling ULI to delve further into community building issues, promote solutions, and offer proven results.

The foundation has several options for contributions, such as the ULI Foundation Governor’s Endowment campaign, planned giving, restricted endowments, and the ULI Foundation Annual Fund—and more programs are being planned. This program expansion will be greatly enhanced by an important change to the foundation’s governance structure that will broaden its reach and sharpen its focus.

As part of an overall change in ULI’s governance structure, the foundation will have its own board of directors, which will have the ability to oversee funds raised, approve foundation strategy and plans to raise funds, and approve investment policies for the endowment. Given our ambitious plans for the foundation, a dedicated board is essential. The end result is an endowment that is professionally managed, independent of ULI, yet still wholly supportive of ULI and its mission.

One of the foundation’s programs, the ULI Foundation Annual Fund, enjoyed particularly noteworthy success over the past year. Annual fund contributions totaled $942,600 in 2010, up 11 percent from 2009. And, we are off to a great start for 2011, having already raised $400,000.

Other positive signs for the fund are:

  • a 24 percent increase in the average gift between 2009 and 2010, to about $550;
  • a 15 percent increase in the number of leadership gift donors giving more than $1,000; and
  • a 38 percent increase in the number of council member donors. We are now at more than 1,400, which is the largest number to date.

The activities supported by the annual fund are changing land use policies and practices for the better. One example is the ULI advisory services program. Two recent panels—in Baltimore and Charlotte—were supported by the annual fund. The Community Action Grants are another example. Since the program started in 2005, ULI has awarded 71 grants totaling $1.5 million.

In fact, the annual fund touches much of what ULI does, including UrbanPlan; Reality Check; the Emerging Trends in Real Estate® series; fellowships for the Daniel Rose Center; ULI’s Real Estate Business Barometer; the Climate Change, Land Use, and Energy initiative; the ULI Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing/Jack Kemp Awards; the ULI Larson Leadership Initiative; and ULI research initiatives in Asia and Europe. All these activities are made possible in part by the annual fund.

This article is excerpted from a speech presented at ULI’s Real Estate Summit at the Spring Council Forum, held in Phoenix in May.