As the Presidential Search Advisory Committee continues its hunt for the University’s next leader, one of their foremost concerns will be finding an administrator capable of planning for and meeting the future needs of the institution. To do that, an experienced, proven fundraiser will be critical.
With state appropriations declining by more than 26 percent over a 10 year period — dropping from $416 million in 2002 to $308 million in 2012 according to the University’s 2012 financial report — the University’s Board of Regents has said that any future president will be expected to maintain and build relationships with donors.
During the September 2013 University Board of Regents meeting, Jerry May, the University’s vice president of development, reported that 129,000 donors had made gifts to the University during the 2013 financial year. Gifts totaled $357 million — a number that has, on average, increased over recent years.
Emphasizing the growing importance of giving, May said attracting donations remains an important goal of the University.
“(Fundraising is) huge at a school like Michigan, because a school like Michigan has to both be a public university in terms of its philosophy and a private university in terms of its fundraising,” May said.
Jennifer Delaney, an education professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and expert in higher education funding, said decreasing state funding has forced universities to look for alternative sources of revenue, which often come in the form of charitable donations.
To conveniently match this need, she said philanthropists are increasingly viewing higher education as an attractive option.
Delaney notes this heightened focus on development has created pressure on higher-education administrators to improve fundraising performance year-over-year.
“The job of the president has actually changed quite a bit over time, and being a fundraiser and soliciting donations is actually increasingly important to a president,” she said. “Arguably because it is increasingly important for their institutions to have those revenue streams coming in from private individuals.”
Tom Baird, assistant vice president of development campaign strategy, said the University usually runs one comprehensive campaign per decade under the guidance of the president. University President Mary Sue Coleman oversaw the Michigan Difference campaign that was launched in 2004 and raised more than $3.2 billion by the end of 2008. The University will begin its next cycle of major fundraising on Nov. 8 with the “Victors for Michigan” campaign — which the upcoming president will have to complete.
Baird said prior to a campaign’s launch, the president works with other top administrators to name the goals that the fundraising will target. He said “Victors for Michigan” will focus on student support, engaged learning and “bold ideas for the public good.”
“Whenever you begin a process for planning for the next campaign, the president then works with the provost and the deans and the faculty and the vice president for development in terms of figuring out what are the campaign priorities,” Baird said.
Under Coleman’s leadership, donations to the University have been steadily increasing. The University found itself in the spotlight as the recipient of a $110-million gift from Charles Munger in April and a $200-million gift from Stephen M. Ross in September.
Judith Malcolm, senior director for executive communications, said Coleman and Ross have a close partnership. Ross will serve as chair of the upcoming fundraising drive.
Regent Katherine White (D), vice chair of the Board of Regents and acting spokeswoman during the search process, lauded Coleman’s success and focus on fundraising.
“President Coleman is an absolutely phenomenal fundraiser. Her skills are extraordinary and she has hired outstanding people to assist her in this endeavor,” White wrote in an e-mail interview. “The hope is that the next president will be as effective in fundraising.”
May added that part of Coleman’s fundraising success can be attributed to her ability to build lasting relationships with potential donors.
The foundations and goals that Coleman has set will soon be passed to the next president, who will likely be chosen by January, to bring to fruition. University Provost Martha Pollack said the new president will likely be responsible for raising two-thirds of the new campaign goals, after Coleman kick-starts it this November.
Terrence McDonald, director of the Bentley Historical Library and former LSA dean, said as the search for Coleman’s predecessor gets underway, a background in effective fundraising will likely be at the forefront of criteria for the search committee to consider.
However, McDonald added that the University is at an advantage in that it has many donors who are loyal to the institution itself, regardless of who holds the presidency. He said fostering relationships with those donors, as Coleman has done, will remain key to the success of the future president.
—Daily staff reporters Jen Calfas and Sam Gringlas contributed to this report.