Victors campaign aims to engage five million

Paul Sherman/Daily
A promotional banner for the Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign hangs outside Hill Auditorium Wednesday. The University will hold a press conference Thursday to provide details about the fundraising initiative. Buy this photo

By Sam Gringlas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 6, 2013

Though the Victors for Michigan campaign won’t officially launch until Friday, the University’s Office of Development is aiming to reach five-million people regarding the fundraising effort.

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Click on the image to see some of the promotional materials for the Victors for Michigan campaign.

Development officials said Wednesday that Victors for Michigan is on track to garner five-million “touch points” for the period spanning from Monday to Friday’s kickoff party. Touch points measure instances of contact with members of the general public and University affiliates, which can include marketing activities and word of mouth.

Tom Szczepanski, senior executive director for annual giving, marketing and student engagement in the Office of Development, said connecting as many people as possible is crucial to meet the a bold fundraising target. The overall goal for the campaign will be announced at a press event Thursday.

“This is going to be an audacious goal,” Szczepanski said. “It’s going to be the largest campaign goal in the history of higher public education.”

The University’s last campaign, The Michigan Difference, ended in 2008 and raised $3.2 billion, passing its original $2.5-billion goal. Victors for Michigan aims to shoot even higher.

Szczepanski said receiving a host of small gifts is as important as snagging multi-million dollar leadership gifts like Rick and Susan Rogel’s $50-million donation to the Medical School and Chinese studies program announced Tuesday.

“Those gifts rightly get a lot of publicity,” Szczepanski said. “But the reality is just as there are $50-million gifts, there are also $50 gifts. And to add up to the total we need to achieve, we need hundreds of thousands of gifts. And to motivate those hundreds of thousands of gifts, we need to influence a lot of people.”

For the Office of Development, touch points — the term Szczepanski uses for points of engagement — are the eyes and ears on the University’s campaign. These points include contact on Facebook, Twitter, in the press and physical advertisements like t-shirts and Frisbees slated for distribution at Friday’s community festival.

However, calculating exactly how many touch points the campaign has is a challenge in itself. Campaign strategists have built estimates from Twitter hashtag usage, Facebook shares, event attendees and circulation of media coverage, as well as potential viewers of signs and wearable giveaways.

During planning sessions to market the campaign, Szczepanski said organizers initially planned to elicit one-million touch points during the week leading up to launch night.

Due to an unprecedented amount of student involvement, the Office of Development hopes engagement will surpass their original expectations five times over.

“Because the students have become so engaged, we’re now confident the reach will be much greater than originally anticipated, which means our campaign success will be met that much more efficiently,” Szczepanski said.

Besides installing a student advisory committee to help plan fundraising, campaign branding and delivery has taken a new focus on students.

The campaign’s primary priority is student support and financial aid. At the President’s Leadership Breakfast in October, University President Mary Sue Coleman announced Victors for Michigan would attempt to secure $1 billion for student aid.

“Today, (students) are a lot more savvy, and they understand the impact philanthropy has on their life and how philanthropy impacts their experience as a student,” Szczepanski said.

In addition, an engaged student population is key to reeling in potential donors.

“Some students will give financially,” Szczepanski said. “Some students will advocate on our behalf. But every student here is tangible evidence that the University is worthy of financial support.”

The campaign’s collaborative focus will be featured in Friday’s planned kickoff activities, which include a block party on Ingalls Mall complete with food, giveaways and music.

In the past, campaign launches usually consisted of a private performance preceding an invite-only donor event, according to Judy Malcolm, director of executive communications in the Office of Development. This community-focused event is a new endeavor to involve a broader community of potential supporters and donors.

The University has also launched a social media campaign aimed at building student involvement and communicating philanthropy’s impact at the University. Shannon Riffe, assistant director of marketing and online engagement in the Office of Development, has lead the campaign’s overall social media initiative.

For the past month, the Office of Development’s Leaders and Best social media accounts have posted an “impact story” each day leading up to the campaign.

“The whole point is really telling people’s stories in their own words about how they’re impacted by philanthropy,” Riffe said. “And it’s really powerful with social media to show images specifically images of people’s faces.”

In terms of finding students and faculty touched by philanthropy, Malcolm said that’s an easy task.

“We have far more stories than we could ever use,” Malcolm said. “It just reinforces to us how important donor gifts are to the life of this University.”

As Friday nears and the University gears up for the biggest fundraising campaign a public higher education institution has seen, Szczepanski and his staff are hoping to keep the conversation going.

“Hopefully, we’ve created something worthy of tweeting and posting that people want to talk about for a long time,” he said.

Correction Appended: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated the magnitude of The Michigan Difference Campaign goal. It was $2.5 billion, not $2.5 million.