Solid and transparent
University Foundations president/CEO Jason Caskey talks about role in supporting UofSC
By Chris Horn, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-3687
Jason Caskey was named president and CEO of University Foundations in 2018 after a 28-year career in public accounting. The 1990 Moore School of Business graduate oversees the university’s Educational Foundation and Development Foundation, which include the university’s investments from donors and real estate holdings, respectively.
A lot of people have a vague understanding of what a university foundation does. What do you tell people when they ask what it is that you do?
We receive donor gifts and invest them to fund scholarships or academic programs or other initiatives the donors have directed us to do in their gift agreements with the university. That’s the role of the Educational Foundation. The Development Foundation is focused on acquiring key strategic properties as they become available around campus. We also own and operate some student housing, office buildings and parking garages. It’s much easier for the foundation — which supports but is not part of the university — to do that.
How visible are the inner workings of the foundation?
We’ve got very strict policies and procedures on how we use the funds that are entrusted to us, and we file a Form 990 — the financial disclosure statement for nonprofits — on both foundations, which are posted on our website. We want to be fully transparent with our constituents, and so we also post on our website copies of our audited financials by an independent accounting firm. We strive to be good stewards of the funds that donors give to support the university.
What are some recent examples of ‘key strategic properties’ that have been acquired by the Development Foundation on behalf of the university?
The Church of Christ, Scientist on Pickens Street reached out in late 2018 and asked if the university would have an interest in purchasing their building. The congregation had shrunk to about 50 members and they were looking to move to a smaller facility. We worked out an arrangement to purchase and renovate the building for the Children’s Law Center.
This past year, Synovus Bank let us know they were closing their branch on the corner of Sumter and Pendleton streets. Given its proximity to the Horseshoe, we purchased the property, and it’s been used as one of the university’s COVID-19 testing sites, though it will likely have some other strategic purpose in the future.
This past December we bought the Greene Street United Methodist Church at the corner of Greene and Assembly. Their congregation had dwindled to about 30 members, and we’ve worked out an arrangement for them to continue using the sanctuary for the next five years. The School of Music is leasing the facility from the foundation and will use the 250-seat sanctuary for some music performances. In all three of these cases, the purpose and function of the Development Foundation is to be ready to make real estate transactions quickly on behalf of the university.
What’s the total value of the assets held by the Educational Foundation and the Development Foundation?
We have about $200 million in assets held by the Development Foundation and about $700 million in assets held by the Educational Foundation. The investments for the University of South Carolina system held by the Educational Foundation total approximately $621 million. The Educational Foundation Board manages the combined investment pool which includes its own investments, and those of the Business Partnership Foundation, the Development Foundation and Alumni Association, which totaled $788 million as of June 30, 2021.
How does our endowment compare with other Southeastern Conference universities?
I think out of 14 SEC schools, we were third from the bottom in total endowment last year. Texas A&M leads the pack with about $13 billion for the Texas A&M system, followed by Vanderbilt and Florida.
Who invests the donor-directed funds that are held by the Educational Foundation?
We’ve got a great investment committee, most of them alumni of the university who are professionals in the investment business. We use a third-party consulting firm that will make recommendations periodically to add new fund managers or sever ties with existing ones, but our investment committee makes the decisions on what funds to maintain and what to eliminate as far as investments are concerned. In terms of return on investment, we have been near the top of the rankings in the SEC for a number of years — our investment committee has done a great job of generating strong returns on our endowment holdings.
How did your career in public accounting prepare you to lead University Foundations?
As a CPA at Elliott Davis, where I spent nearly all of my public accounting career, I was not a tax guy — I audited financial institutions such as community banks, which involves real estate and investments, the core business of University Foundations. I’ve told a number of people that I can’t think of another career that would have helped prepare me better for what I do here than what I did in public accounting.
What gives you a sense of satisfaction in your role here?
Public accounting was a great career, and I attribute the success I had to the education I got in the business school. But there is no greater satisfaction than managing the university’s endowment to generate more funds for scholarships — particularly for those students who really need them — and securing real estate that can be used by the university in the future.
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