Victors for Michigan moves closer to ambitious fundraising goal

By Will Greenberg, Daily Staff Reporter
and Genevieve Hummer, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 15, 2015

In November 2013, the University launched the latest in a series of major fundraising campaigns. This initiative, called Victors for Michigan, set the largest goal of any fundraising campaign launched by a public institution of higher education: $4 billion.

The University has already brought in more than half of its goal, with about $2.7 billion already raised since the campaign started.

This is the third landmark fundraising campaign for the University. The first — the billion-dollar Campaign for Michigan — ran between 1991 and 1997 and was the first billion-dollar campaign launched by a public school. Between that effort and Victors for Michigan was The Michigan Difference, which ran between 2000 and 2008 and raised $3.2 billion.

Though campaigns refocus the energy of the University’s fundraisers, they do not alter the way money is accepted by the school. Donors still give to whichever college, department or program they choose, but any money donated within the officially denoted time frame for the campaign counts as money for the campaign.

Victors for Michigan set three specific funding goals: student support, engaged learning and “bold ideas.” These three objectives were decided following extensive planning meetings in 2011 including Jerry May, vice president for development, the deans of each school and a collection of students. The $4 billion figure was derived from a compilation of the goals set by the individual colleges and schools, the University Health System and other non-degree granting units.

The goal is to raise $1 billion for student support — financial aid, scholarships, fellowships, internships and travel funding. The University already directs considerable funds toward student support. During the 2013-2014 academic year alone, the University awarded more than $900 million in financial aid to 32,133 students. So far, $450 million has been raised for scholarships alone during the Victors for Michigan campaign.

A number of factors make it difficult to predict exactly where that money will go. For one, most donors specify exactly what specific school, program or fund they want their money going toward. Further, many donations are paid over a period of time, meaning the University might not receive the full amount for several years.

For their part, the students have been involved in Victors for Michigan since the beginning. During the campaign’s original planning, a student committee joined the deans and other administrators to help craft the campaign’s three goals.

Like the fundraising campaign, the Central Student Government has also worked to provide student support during the past year. Former CSG President Bobby Dishell, a Public Policy senior, attempted to fund a LEAD scholarship — a merit-based scholarship for minority students — through the Alumni Association in the fall. The effort ultimately fell through because of Proposal 2 restrictions in Michigan, which prevent the school from giving scholarships based on race.

Still, recently elected CSG President Cooper Charlton, an LSA junior, said he wants to work closely with administrators to pursue other creative avenues to increase student support. Charlton said he plans to learn more about fundraising and work closely with administration on this issue.

“Are we creatively thinking of different ways to find scholarships, to decrease tuition? Yes; kind of one of those longer conversations I will be having over the summer to really, really nail down some target ideas,” Charlton said.

In addition to student support, another goal of the campaign is to attract donations for faculty research. To that end, deans of each school have been marketing their research projects to potential donors as part of the campaign. These projects are generating interest even among non-alumni donors — a group that, in recent years, has grown larger in number than the alumni donor base.

Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the School of Education, said she wants funding for the school’s work in improving K-12 education in the state and elsewhere. Programs like the Center for Education, Design, Elevation & Research have attracted the support of non-alumni, Ball said, and people are excited to see the results the School of Education can produce.

“It’s been a moment, I think, of opportunity for people working in education that there are people interested in giving money,” she said.

James Woolliscroft, dean of the Medical School, and Dave Munson, dean of Engineering, said because faculty of both schools work so closely on research, neither of them mind which of the two schools donors give to since it’s all going to the same place. This notion resulted in a fundraising partnership between the College of Engineering and the Medical School

“Maybe it’s in an account that’s controlled by engineering, maybe it’s in an account that’s controlled by medicine, maybe it’s in an account that’s controlled by the vice president for research,” Munson said. “We don’t really care as long as it in some way benefits our faculty and our students and I think it’s a somewhat new way of thinking about this.”

“Dave and I did a little presentation to literally a room full of interested attendees and donors. One of the stories told was about the tracheal splint,” Woolliscroft said, referring to the 3-D printed device used to save a baby’s life two summers ago. “It’s that sort of thing that’s very real, very powerful and can’t be done by either school alone.”

The Medical School has also worked closely with UMHS in its fundraising efforts. Tom Baird, who serves as the interim associate vice president for medical development and alumni relations, said the hospital is a major attraction for non-alumni donors. He said a large portion of the donor base comes from former patients hoping to give back to the hospital after treatment.

“You have grateful patients where they had a family member, or friend, or some type of relationship where the health system helped them and they just feel so strongly about the care that they received that they want to make a gift to support that area,” he said.

The Victors for Michigan campaign relies on a broad network of volunteers and donors. Volunteers are charged with hosting fundraising events, participating in campaign meetings and advocating for the University’s initiatives, among other tasks.

University alum Mary Petrovich wrote in an e-mail that she has participated in a wide range of volunteer activities.

“I have been involved in possibly the deepest and most diverse sets of activities of any volunteer in terms of my time and money,” she wrote. “I currently serve as a member of the President’s Advisory Council, but that is the tip of the iceberg.”

Petrovich has donated funds to support the construction of a new mechanical engineering building and an engineering scholarship and recruiting program, as well as the softball and men’s basketball locker rooms. She plans to support projects to improve gastroenterology care in the coming year.

“Michigan means so much more to me as the springboard for my success given the underprivileged background that I came from and the confidence I derived from my four years of success at Michigan,” she wrote. “My life has been enriched by the many lessons that I have learned in the classroom and on the playing field. Those experiences have been priceless and formidable building blocks to my career success.”

University alums Laura McTaggart and Tom Nolan, campaign volunteers who each earned graduate degrees from other universities, wrote in an e-mail their undergraduate experience at the University motivated them to support the Victors for Michigan campaign.

“Michigan plays a much bigger role in our philanthropy because for us, the undergraduate experience was so important and life-changing,” they wrote. “We are strong believers in public education and the mission of great public schools. In addition, our graduate school experiences did not include watching football and singing a rousing fight song every Saturday surrounded by over 100,000 like-minded souls. That’s the community we want to stay a part of.”

McTaggart and Nolan cited the need to improve the affordability of higher education as their motivation for getting involved with the campaign.

“We want to help students afford college, period,” they wrote. “We both had help getting through school and this is our way of paying that back.”