Betsey Solberg discusses hopes and challenges for the new fundraising year 

In May the PR executive and civic leader was elected chair of the UMKC Foundation board


Aug. 8, 2013

In February 2006, on Betsey Solberg’s last day at the public relations firm FleishmanHillard, she received a call from Alan Atterbury, then chair of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Board of Trustees. He wanted her to “set up” an endowment fund for UMKC. 

The “Time to Get It Right” report on higher education in Kansas City had recommended the independent fund for the university. Thoughtful negotiations with the University of Missouri System would be required to get it approved.

Solberg, along with several trustees, took on the challenge of setting up the endowment, and three years after starting, when the UMKC Foundation was officially established in August 2009, she took a seat on the foundation board. This past May, Solberg was elected to succeed Atterbury as board chair.

Solberg’s professional career has been spent as a journalist, writer and public relations professional, notably helping build the international public relations firm FleishmanHillard from two to 83 offices worldwide, in addition to her role as managing partner of the Kansas City office. She currently serves as executive consultant to the firm.

During her career, Solberg  has consulted with publicly- and privately-held organizations on internal and external issues including mergers and acquisitions, hostile takeovers, toxic waste sitings, corporate media crises, environmental issues and explosions, just to name a few.

But beyond her professional life, Solberg’s resume includes a long list of civic activities that reflect her dedication to the Kansas City community.

Solberg has chaired the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas City Area Development Council, as well as the Missouri Development Finance Board, which provided approximately $50 million in tax credits to area projects including the Kauffman Center, Starlight Theater, Truman Library, Harvesters and the Downtown Library garage. She has served on boards of Starlight, Union Station, the Truman Library Institute, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and the Pembroke Hill School. Solberg is a longtime member of the UMKC Trustees.

As Solberg begins her term leading the foundation board, the Campaign for UMKC is entering its fifth year. Having already raised almost $173 million toward its $250 million goal, the capital campaign is well on its way to succeeding in its mission of building UMKC into one of the top urban universities in the country. In a recent interview, Solberg shared some of her goals and hopes for the foundation in the coming year.

Why do you believe in the mission of the UMKC Foundation?  The mission “to raise funds and invest them wisely” is firm and succinct. It is our commitment of stewardship to contributors who are supporting the goal of creating a greater university. 

How can the foundation help the university and the city? You cannot have a great city without a great university. We educate a smart workforce and build outstanding citizens who will stay in the Kansas City area. These students are innovative and thoughtful and they have good work ethics. We raise the funds that develop programs in 11 schools, which educate teachers, dentists, doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, business leaders, engineers, artists and performers and researchers, among others.

What do you see as the foundation’s priorities in the coming year? There are jaw-dropping as well as challenging projects ahead that will change the face and feel of Kansas City as well as the university. A primary focus today, of course, is the downtown campus where we need to raise $23 million more in private funds to match Julia Irene Kauffman’s challenge grant. The grant for a new conservatory will bring youth and energy to downtown and the Crossroads. This is huge — and achievable. 

There’s also the new basketball program, primed to become a competitive NCAA team. We are raising money to move our basketball team to a completely renovated Municipal Auditorium arena, also downtown. The arena, the floor, the scoreboard and seats will be all new — as well the the great young players who we know will create excitement and spirit that only athletics can build.

We have our eyes clearly focused on a stronger educational program and are building an Honors Program that will attract the finest academic students in this region. This is a lofty goal that is already advancing thanks to a UMKC Trustees’ challenge $1.8 million matching grant.

How will the foundation go about raising the funds required to match that recently announced $20 million grant from the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation to build a downtown arts campus? Fortunately, we have raised $21 million to date, so we need another $23 million privately to match the Kauffman grant. Chancellor Morton and Murray Blackwelder, president of the foundation, are working hard on this project along with others. We will then apply to the state for a $44 million match.

What is one thing you hope every Kansas Citian knows about the university? Smart people learn from smart people and winners attract greater winners. This is a great university that has made enormous strides in the last few years. Go look at Hospital Hill and the Volker campus and study the plans for downtown projects only a few years from reality. The Miller Nichols Learning Center and the Henry Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation have dedications Oct. 1; the new basketball program begins downtown Nov. 8. Keep your eyes on this university because it is reaching out to everyone everywhere. UMKC is having the greatest impact on this city. Ever.