Building networks, building the University

By Sam Gringlas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 17, 2013

On a cloudy day in February, University President Mary Sue Coleman arrived in Lansing to applaud a small increase in state higher education funds.

Preceded by a decade of state funding cuts — the most drastic under Gov. Rick Snyder — for higher education, 2013 marked the second consecutive state budget containing a two-percent increase for institutions of higher learning. While the increase marks an encouraging trend, Coleman said in an interview with The Michigan Daily last month that the upswing is not enough even after years of careful cost cutting.

As state legislators struggle to restore the $1 billion lost in funding over the past ten years that hurled the state of Michigan from ranking among the top 10 best-funded institutions to the bottom, the University continues to count on private fundraising to help make up the difference, according to Coleman.

“I can’t imagine that philanthropy won’t continue to be really important in the future,” Coleman said. “The reason is I cannot see a scenario where any state can meet all of the funding needs for the University and keep it accessible and affordable.”

Philanthropy’s impact and scope have increased over recent decades. In the 1990s, the University was the first public university to complete a billion-dollar fundraising campaign. In 2008, the University concluded its last campaign, The Michigan Difference, which raised $3.2 billion for the University, compared to $72 million during the first campaign that ran from 1961 to 1967

Though the next campaign isn't set to launch until November, University development officers are on a constant mission to engage alumni and potential donors, an effort that increasingly spans across the nation and the globe.

Jerry May, the University's vice president of development, presides over a 630-person staff to fulfill these goals. May said developing quality relationships is crucial to good fundraising; taking the time to discover a donor’s interests and passions that can be best connected with a need of the University.

For example, a former Business School dean and Program in the Environment dean wanted to create a program together that would allow students to understand the complexity of businesses wrestling with sustainability issues. As the deans developed the program, gift officers connected the project to a donor with a particular interest in sustainability.

“When it comes to fundraising for a great non-profit organization, we are so fortunate that the University of Michigan provides the kind of education that so many people that live here can turn around later and say, ‘I’m going to give to Michigan because of how Michigan treated me,’ ” Mays said. “We never can take that for granted.”

Representatives from specific schools or University units also conduct their own fundraising efforts as they are especially in tune with the objectives and priorities of their programs, providing the added ability to pinpoint potential donors and projects. Todd Baily, the Law School’s assistant dean for development and alumni relations, said the school receives only 2.5 percent of its funding from the University’s general fund. Much of the remainder comes from private contributions.

In addition to these efforts, units frequently collaborate with other schools across campus and contribute to larger development goals. Individual schools will also provide input in the planning process as the University gears up for its next campaign.

As evidenced by Baily’s title, development is not only about money. Engaging alumni often translates into connections and employment or internship opportunities for students or professional expertise for faculty or research.

Before Baily joined the Law School, he spent more than a decade in the University’s Office of Development. During that period, Baily said he saw major growth in the University’s development efforts.

“Many years ago, development used to be the difference between good and great,” Baily said. “I think it’s now part of the fabric of the place.”

The Office of Development’s physical footprint illustrates the changes as well. In 1988, Baily said the office fit on the sixth floor of the Fleming Administration Building. Today, it covers two floors of the much larger Wolverine Tower, farther from campus.

And as development expanded in Ann Arbor, its reach also began to extend to various regions across the nation and the world.

In January, the University’s Board of Regents, as well as several University administrators including Coleman and May, traveled to California on a trip that included several fundraising and alumni events.

California, a state that is home to 40,000 University alumni, also houses one of three regional University offices. The University opened its Pasadena, Calif. office two years before the Michigan Difference campaign launched, which was soon followed by offices in Boston and New York City.

Stephen Kamm, the senior director of the University’s western states region, said a satellite office is valuable for building a greater intimacy with the region and understanding the priorities and movements of people, industry and philanthropic activity.

Kamm said the San Francisco Bay Area, for instance, has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and by developing a presence the University has been able to connect those alumni to students and programs.

Forming these connections can be more difficult due to distance from Ann Arbor. By locating major gift officers in a region, they have the opportunity to form links to campus, generating not only funds, but also awareness and involvement.

While Kamm noted other institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University, and Dartmouth College have also added regional offices, Harvard University is the only other university with a larger number of California-based gift officers than the University.

The Pasadena office manages development for the entire region. Kamm has recently moved to Washington to engage alumni in the Seattle area, a city with about 10,000 alumni. He plans to travel to the California office roughly four times per year and work on the ground in the Pacific Northwest the rest of the time.

As development expands in regions with growing alumni populations, Kamm said there has been no fundamental shift in how development officers do their work. He said building deep connections within the community and placing the University back on people’s radars is imperative.

Kamm said he doesn’t usually talk about gifts at the first meeting with an alum. The first priority is to understand what had the biggest impact during their time at the University and to find the areas in which they would like to reconnect.

Regardless of the different types of alumni connections, Kamm said engaging alumni is not a hard sell.

“The best memories I can relate are when a (donor’s) passion bears fruit and they are able to see the work they have done has actually impacted a person’s life,” Kamm said. “What fundraisers do is enable individuals to impact other individuals’ lives.”

On the other side of the Pacific, Barbara Ackley, the assistant vice president for development and international giving, is building similar relationships on other continents. Based in Ann Arbor, Ackley was preparing for a 13-day trip to Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai the day after the Daily spoke with her last month.

Asia is home to 12,500 alumni and is the fastest growing global region for development potential. In comparison, there are 3,200 alumni in Europe, 1,600 in North Africa in the Middle East, 2,100 in North America outside the U.S., and 1,700 in Latin America.

Over the next few months, Ackley has additional trips planned to Asia, included one specifically in India, to begin planning for Coleman’s fall 2013 trip.

Ackley said Asia is usually an easy trip since the University has connections to many people there who have become successful in their fields. She said the University has historically had a strong presence in China and hopes to bring this growth to India and other countries in the region.

With efforts towards international giving expanding over the past seven to eight years, Ackley said international alumni are an untapped resource.

“Not only just for the numbers, but for the potential of the future,” Ackley said. “These alumni we are speaking to are the top CEOs in the world and to ignore that would be foolish on our part.”

Like state-side alumni, international Michigan graduates are constantly looking to hire University students, and development officers are asking for international internship opportunities, as well.

“That’s what I find so exciting and exhilarating about traveling, about being able to meet with people in their homes and allow them to talk about their country which they are very proud of and to talk about the University, which many of them really love,” Ackley said.

As the University continues to grow its local, national and global development base, engaging alumni and supporters is more crucial than ever.

“The University is never going to get the (necessary) levels of support from the state, so we need to add more value,” May said. “You can only increase student tuition so much. Private support has to continue to play a growing role. It’s not going to be a substitute, but it’s more important than ever.”

But even as development efforts expand, state funds still play a crucial role. In-state students’ 67-percent tuition discount is a major part of the state’s contribution.

However, Coleman said restoring previous state funding levels will require an accelerated pace of yearly increases. In Michigan, and at institutions across the country, Coleman said institutions are beginning to cope with the realities of less money from public funds.

“(Philanthropy) has definitely grown more in importance because what people are beginning to realize is you can’t rely on single funding streams.”