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About the Lead the Way Campaign

Lead the way celbration


A little more than seven years ago, then Western Carolina University’s Chancellor David O. Belcher pledged during his installation ceremony to make raising funds for endowed scholarships the top philanthropic priority of his administration.

That pledge eventually led to the start of a comprehensive fundraising campaign – only the second in WCU’s history, and one that focused on the need for increased scholarship support.

Lead the Way logo


On Thursday, May 2, 2019 WCU officials revealed just how successful that fundraising effort has been when they announced the final total raised during “Lead the Way: A Campaign Inspired by the Belcher Years.” Thanks to more than 12,000 donors — nearly half of those first-time donors — Western Carolina University family raised: $61,883,018 in cash, pledges, grants and planned gifts.

Raising money for scholarship support was the late chancellor’s philanthropic priority when he arrived at WCU in July 2011; he was officially installed on March 29, 2012, as WCU’s 11th chancellor.

In October 2017, Belcher and wife Susan pledged $1.23 million in the form of cash donations and an estate gift for the university to kick off the public phase of the fundraising effort with a goal of $60 million by spring 2019. The Belchers said that they had decided to direct their philanthropic gifts toward scholarships because students represent their shared passion.

“Students were why Susan and I took the leap to join Western Carolina University six-and-a-half years ago to change lives. They are our reason for being. They are our joy,” he said.

Belcher took a medical leave of absence from the university in December 2017 and died June 17, 2018, from brain cancer.

Here are the numbers:

  • Total amount raised during the campaign — $61,883,018
  • Total number of donors during the campaign — 12,368
  • Number of first-time donors — 5,732 or 46 percent
  • Total number of gifts — 51,787
  • Number of endowed scholarships — 176
  • Number of annual scholarship – 24
  • Funds raised for endowed scholarships — $38,157,726
  • Funds raised for annual scholarships — $4,678,206

Dale and Debbie Sims, members of the “Lead the Way” campaign steering committee, tag-teamed to “do the math,” announcing that the campaign resulted in the creation of 200 new scholarships since the official start in July 2014, with a total amount of $42,835,932 raised for scholarships over the past four-and-a-half years.


“Originally, this campaign wasn’t even supposed to be finished until December 2021, and the original goal was $50 million. Last January, we raised it to $60 million,” Dale Sims said.

“Of course, that’s just what Catamounts do,” Debbie Sims said. “We over-achieve. We go the extra mile. I’m not surprised at all that we’re finishing ahead of schedule and above the goal.”

WCU Interim Chancellor Alison Morrison-Shetlar read a message sent by Donna Winbon, who served as chair of the campaign steering committee but was unable to attend the Thursday event.

“The team who made it happen exemplifies the energy, the excitement and the focus that Dr. Belcher ignited in us all,” Winbon wrote. “WCU is changing lives. With the results of this campaign, not only did we blow by the goal but, most important, we set the stage for years to come. As we celebrate today, let’s look forward to the future, when WCU will change many more lives.”

Morrison-Shetlar, who returned to her role as provost when Chancellor Kelli R. Brown took over on July 1, 2019 encouraged attendees to share photos in front of a “Lead the Way” backdrop on display at the event through social media using #catsleadtheway.

“To think, we finished our campaign more than two-and-a-half years ahead of the original schedule, and we blew far past the original goal of $50 million. Because that’s just how we do things in The Whee,” she said. “As I conclude my time at the helm of our university, I leave you with this challenge: Keep it up. Don’t stop. Keep the momentum going. Climb higher mountains. Lead the way.”

Representing scholarship recipients, Claire Lemke, who received the Susan Brummell Belcher Scholarship while an undergraduate student and is now studying toward a master’s degree, thanked all those who have made contributions during the campaign.

“To those who have given to students like me, please know that, while your gift may come in the form of financial support, you are also providing positive affirmation,” Lemke said. “Your confidence in us gives us the confidence within ourselves to succeed.”

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For more information email or call 828-227-3090.

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