November 21, 2013

For faculty, receiving gifts-in-kind from generous donors and sponsors equals equipment, facilities, and supplies that often boost both the student and faculty experience and frequently allows access to cutting-edge technology.

But until today, the process to request and process these gifts has been far from cutting edge. With a new paperless procedure, gifts-in-kind will be processed in a much faster and more efficient way, says David Leach, executive director of institutional advancement. “We’ve moved from a cumbersome system that required paper forms to a web-based, paperless system that is much easier to use.”

Faculty will be especially happy with the new link (, which requires answering several questions on an online form and hitting the send button. The time saved lets faculty get on with what they need to do, Leach says, and then University Advancement can take over.

Gifts-in-kind are different from monetary donations. The chief financial officer has the final decision on accepting gifts-in-kind, but a rigorous process must be followed to ensure it will benefit WPI and not require something the university does not have, such as more laboratory space than is available.

Gifts-in-kind at WPI, although welcome, are sometimes difficult to process, says Leach. “We want to make sure they don’t come with unreasonable expectations or obligations, and that any budgetary or facility implications are manageable and acceptable.”

Such gifts are not of the “it’s the size of a candy box” variety. Some equipment requires expanded doorways, a designated power supply, a clean room environment, or may even come with chemicals.

One of the more recent gifts-in-kind came from Sweden-based Tobii Technology, a world leader in eye-tracking technology, that recently gave equipment discounts for the new eye-tracking UXDM lab. “Between Tobii, the university, and Dyn, we outfitted that lab,” says Leach, noting the generous financial backing of Dynamic Network Services Inc. “And Tobii is excited by the training going on and about what the students are researching.”

Soussan Djamasbi, director and founder of the UXDM lab and associate professor of management information systems in the School of Business, says the new lab creates an environment for competitive and innovative research that is important to WPI. The resulting research opportunities help by “facilitating an incredibly valuable learning environment for training the next generation of UX experts, for whom there is a growing market demand,” she says.

Last year, WPI closed 14 gifts-in-kind with a total value of $1.5 million.

In general, 20 to 25 gifts are in process each year and range in value. Gifts are received in many ways. Sometimes faculty requests equipment, and WPI looks for donors. Other times, a close relationship between a faculty member and a corporation leads to the gift-in-kind.  Recently, says Leach, WPI received an unexpected donation of lasers that a local company no longer needed. Other gifts have come from Dow Chemical, which gave optical equipment, and AstraZeneca, which gave gas chromatography equipment. Soon a makerspace and instrument lab in the Alumni Gym will include gifted equipment (including a 3-D printer and scanning electron microscopes) for students’ use.

Companies often give equipment they no longer need, but they also offer new technology to see how it will work, says Leach. Students and faculty then have the benefit of working on the latest technology.

Developing a great relationship with donors is part of the process, too, Leach says. And while companies appreciate the press coverage or the plaques thanking them for the gift, many just like to know students are using the gift to enhance their education.

Behind the corporate logo are people who are very vested in their company’s interests and want their gifts to be appreciated.  “We are all about relationships,” Leach says. “We talk about the corporations and the companies, but you are dealing with people.”

- By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil