In an eight-year drive, the University of Washington raked in $2.68 billion from donors.

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Gordon Peek is in his 80s, has no heirs, and figured if he was going to do some big thing with his extra money, he’d better hurry.

So he made one of the more unusual gifts to the just-completed eight-year University of Washington fundraising campaign.

Recalling the campus bells he used to hear from his childhood home in Wallingford — before Interstate 5 split the city — he gave the UW several hundred thousand dollars to buy eight new bells cast in The Netherlands. The bells were installed at Gerberding Hall’s tower and rung for the first time six weeks ago.

The bells have become a favorite among UW Foundation staff, but consider this: Peek’s gift doesn’t even amount to a single day’s worth of donations during the campaign, which ended June 30. The UW released its final tally Tuesday: $2.68 billion raised, or more than $900,000 every day.

To raise such vast amounts of money, the UW has built up a small army of professional fundraisers. The Chronicle of Higher Education this week ranked the UW at the top of a list of large public universities that have increased their fundraising staffs.

In the five years between 2002 and 2007, the UW increased the number of fundraisers by 84 percent, adding 64 new employees, according to the Chronicle. Next on the list was UCLA, which increased its staff by 39 percent.

The UW fundraisers earn anywhere from $65,000 to $200,000 annually. Many are scattered throughout every one of the UW’s 17 established colleges and carry titles like “assistant dean.” And although the campaign is officially over, the UW doesn’t plan to lay off any of the fundraisers, but rather hopes to keep the gifts rolling in.

The UW points out that for every dollar raised, only about 9 cents goes toward costs. Still, that adds up to more than $200 million over the campaign period.

“Astounding” number

of donors

The campaign’s initial target was $2 billion. The total received ranks it second only to UCLA among completed public-university campaigns. Private institutions such as Stanford University are setting their goals even higher.

During the campaign, the UW reached out to alumni and the public across the United States and beyond.

Stephanie Doyle, director of the regional gift program, oversees a team of 11, including seven who regularly travel the country tapping large donors. Each is assigned to a different geographic region and keeps files on perhaps 50 big donors. Doyle said they add people to the list based on past donations, by word-of-mouth and through organized events.

“Our work is truly donor-centered and is about building long-term relationships,” Doyle said. “For us, it doesn’t change things one lick now the campaign is over.”

Students are employed for some of the less-glamorous work — cold-calling potential donors from phone banks. Up to 90 students work eight to 16 hours a week at the phone banks.

The UW didn’t have to travel far for the biggest donor of all: Bill Gates. Along with wife Melinda, and through his foundation, the Microsoft co-founder gave $419 million over the eight-year campaign, more than 15 percent of the total. He gave the single biggest gift in UW history: $105 million to create the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

In all, more than 290,000 people gave money, including about 123,000 alumni — 40 percent of all traceable, living alumni. The large number of non-alumni donors included grateful patients treated at the UW Medical Center, Husky football fans and KEXP radio listeners. More than 100,000 people donated less than $100 apiece. Most donors specified where their money should be spent.

“The numbers of donors is astounding,” said Connie Kravas, the UW Foundation president who has led the campaign alongside board member Bill Gates Sr. “People have confidence in the UW over the long term. This institution makes a difference in the lives of people here and throughout the world, and merits their investment.”

Kravas and Gates Sr. say they are particularly pleased with the nearly $80 million — which will be matched with almost $40 million more from the UW — that was raised for the Students First scholarship campaign, which will provide 228 need-based scholarships for poor students.

Return of the bells

The elder Gates said he loves the gift of the new bells.

“I just reveled in that one. I just thought it so unusual,” Gates said. “They are very elaborate, very stunning instruments. There will be bell concerts, which will be a delight for the north end of town.”

The university’s previous set of 12 bells was destroyed in a 1949 fire.

It will take a special application to ring the new bells outside of big university events such as commencement. Special training is necessary to master the art of “change-ringing” bells.

Peek, 82, graduated from the UW and is a retired history teacher. He has inscribed the names of his grandparents, parents and a favorite aunt on the bells. He says — half-jokingly — that the instruments should last for 100 years “unless they have a war and melt them down for armaments. They did that in Belgium, you know.”

Now, he says, he wants to learn how to play the bells. He’s been getting private lessons at the UW from some trained ringers.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com