The University of Arizona

John W. Olsen Receives Faculty Fundraising Award

By Sarah Rutledge, University of Arizona Foundation | November 25, 2009

Olsen has helped secure more than $18 million in funding for the UA's School of Anthropology in the past five years.

John W. Olsen (center) was honored with the UA Foundation's second annual Eugene G. Sander Endowed Faculty Fundraising Award. (At left: Jim Moore, president of the UA Foundation. At right: Eugene Sander, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.)
John W. Olsen (center) was honored with the UA Foundation's second annual Eugene G. Sander Endowed Faculty Fundraising Award. (At left: Jim Moore, president of the UA Foundation. At right: Eugene Sander, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.)

The University of Arizona Foundation has honored John W. Olsen with the second annual Eugene G. Sander Endowed Faculty Fundraising Award.

Olsen is a Regents' Professor in anthropology and holds the Je Tsongkapa Chair in Anthropology. He is the former department head of the School of Anthropology.

"John has transformed not only the School of Anthropology, but the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences' fundraising efforts single-handedly," said Beth Mitchneck, interim dean of the college.

The faculty fundraising award acknowledges UA faculty members who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership in fundraising to benefit University programs. Olsen accepted the award from the UA Foundation at its Board of Trustees and National Leadership Council dinner last week.

Olsen said he had "no inkling whatsoever" that he was going to be the recipient.

"This is not about me; it's about recognizing the activities of a lot of other people who have worked so hard. I am sensitive to the fact that it's a team effort," Olsen said.

Olsen's dedication to fundraising has helped him secure more than $18 million within the last five years for the School of Anthropology. He has increased the fundraising efforts of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences from averaging $800,000 in gifts per year to averaging $5 million a year.

"Development is a long, protracted courtship in which you make someone familiar with your unit and foster relationships that take years to build," Olsen said. "We've entered a new phase of higher education where everyone at the University needs to be engaged in development."

During the 2007-2008 academic year, Olsen secured a gift of $8 million for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences – the largest single gift the college has ever received from a private donor. The gift, from A. Richard Diebold Jr. and his Salus Mundi Foundation, has provided funding for the renovation of the Arizona State Museum.

"John Olsen makes it easy for people to relate to the ways anthropology influences their daily lives. It's no surprise that he has been so successful in engaging donors in recognizing the value in investing in the research and student learning opportunities at the UA," said UA President Robert N. Shelton.

Olsen's fundraising efforts also have helped recruit three new faculty members and put in place three endowed chairs. He has increased the School of Anthropology's endowments by more than 400 percent. Through his work with the Agnese and Emil Haury Graduate Student Fund, the best graduate students in the country have been recruited to the anthropology program.

"John's passion for the University and his work is contagious," said Peter Calihan, chairman of the UA Foundation board of trustees. "His work is a remarkable example of the impact faculty-led philanthropy can have on the UA community."

Winners of the Eugene G. Sander Endowed Faculty Fundraising Award receive a certificate, plus a one-time annual payout from the endowment. The payout is to be used for professional development or to support and build the fundraising program for the recipient's college or unit.

The Eugene G. Sander Endowed Faculty Fundraising Award is named for Eugene Sander, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Sander founded, and for 21 years chaired, the Deans Plus Development Committee to encourage active fundraising involvement at the college and unit level. He is credited with helping raise tens of millions of dollars in private contributions since joining the UA in 1987.  

Soyeon Shim, director of the John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, was the first recipient of the award.

The UA Foundation is one of the largest foundations in Arizona, raising more than $100 million annually. Managing an asset base of nearly $500 million, the UA Foundation has helped generate more than $2 billion in private funding to support the UA.