VP Jerry May reflects on fundraising career

Wednesday, April 4, 2018 - 7:21pm

Nearly three decades of working to fundraise for the University of Michigan, Jerry May, Vice President for Development and Grand Rapid native, announced his retirement.

Nearly three decades of working to fundraise for the University of Michigan, Jerry May, Vice President for Development and Grand Rapid native, announced his retirement. Buy this photo
Max Kuang/Daily

University of Michigan Vice President for Development Jerry May announced his plans to retire at the end of the year after nearly three decades of expanding the school’s fundraising efforts to record heights.

May has been affiliated with the University since his time as a graduate student in the higher education program, during which he then took on a job in the Development Office. After spending 13 years in the position, he left to lead the Ohio State University fundraising team and raised a $1.23 billion campaign — the most successful in the school’s history. In 2003, May returned to the University as the vice president for development and since has undertaken a variety of projects. One of such projects is the Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign, launched in 2011, which raises money for increasing “student support, engaged learning and bold ideas.”

The seven-and-a-half-year campaign is now its final stretch, and though the final amount has not yet been determined, May’s office is already $330 million past its $4 billion goal. Campaign Director Todd Baily has known May for 30 years, and described him as a dedicated individual who is held in high esteem by his coworkers.

“It’s been a great pleasure working with him,” Baily said. “I don’t think anybody could find a more committed, passionate, development professional, either here at Michigan or across the country. Jerry is very well respected nationally by peer institutions for his fundraising leadership. He is extremely knowledgeable about the profession and an expert on the University of Michigan.”

However, before he reaches retirement, May explained he still plans to continue working and travel to many major cities over the next two month.

“I’m going to keep raising money for the University,” May said. “I’m going to try to support all the good development professionals we have at the University, work with the wonderful volunteers who help us raise the money and continue working as far past the campaign goal as we can. I got nine more months to do that.”

May also reflected on his time at the University, and said he continued to work here because of the quality of the University, the passion of those with whom he worked and the exciting challenges of fundraising.

“The reason I stayed is because I love the University of Michigan; you can’t work for a better place with a better product, that’s the first thing,” May said. “Secondly, the donors and volunteers — there stand no equals – they’re among the most talented, skilled people I’ve ever worked with … I love the challenge of mounting campaigns, that’s probably my specialty … Michigan continues to have the appetite to achieve in its fundraising.”

Some of May’s greatest moments at the University included working with big donors such as Bert Askwith, Stephen Ross, and Richard and Susan Rogel — just last week, the latter donated $150 million to the University for cancer research.

“The kind of thing that gets me — what you call the great moments that give me the most satisfaction — is working with someone like Bert Askwith, and all the things that give him joy and help him support the University,” May said. “For me, it’s working with a donor and matching them up to things that give them passion, make them smile and make them feel good and that makes me feel good.”

Pam Stout, the senior director of executive communications, also touched on this enthusiasm while thinking back on her experiences working with May. Stout has been working closely with May over the past year and described his genuine passion allowed him to establish meaningful connections with those he encountered.

“He really cares about the people he works with,” Stout said. “He really wants to treat every donor with respect and integrity, but also holds the highest values of the University in check. He has an incredible memory for details. You can be in an event with 500 people and he can walk over to somebody and remember what their children are up to and where they went to school … and it’s really amazing.”

In the future, May hopes the University continues to encourage students to pursue higher education and remain a leader in various disciplines.

“I hope the University of Michigan will always be a leader — that’s first and foremost — always be an academic leader, an athletic leader, a cultural and arts leader,” May said. “I hope we have people that come up with new innovations in science and technology. I hope we play a major role in helping to solve diseases or at least help patients manage chronic illness better. I hope we keep teaching students the joy of learning. Higher education is not just about a job, it should be about what you learn to add to the quality of your life.”

As for himself, May admitted while he wasn’t entirely ready to retire, he hopes to continue to help the University in different ways and looks forward to having more time for leisurely activities.

“I love what I do, truthfully I’m not really entirely ready to retire, but I’ve decided I’m going to retire because you can’t have it both ways,” May said. “I want more time for myself. I want more time to do fun things. I want to travel … but I hope I’ll always keep my hands in some kind of fundraising and helping the University as a volunteer or through consulting work.”