Four billion dollars. That’s how much the University will raise in the Victors for Michigan campaign, its most ambitious fundraising initiative to date. But don’t expect the University to just to sit back and relax, hoping donors will act under their own philanthropic impulses to put their money toward the University. Everything that the University does can be expected to be a carefully calculated endeavor, and the process of convincing donors to invest their resources in the University may just be a formula.
A Viewpoint published in The Michigan Daily not long after the capital campaign’s launch expressed contempt over the fact that while promotional materials showcased the remarkable feats of the “leaders and the best” on campus, they failed to address the needs of students that feel unsafe, are suffering from mental health illnesses or were survivors of sexual violence. It’s unlikely that this neglect was a result of the University apathy; the resources that have gone into developing its Counseling and Psychological Services and countless other prevention programs say otherwise. However, an eagerness to donate stems from a positive zeal. An inspirational, and optimistically presented “Leaders and the Best” video does just that.
When the campaign finally launched in the beginning of November, it faced its share of setbacks. In the midst of the Victors for Michigan campaign rollout, the Michigan football team played and lost against Nebraska at the Big House and Coach Brady Hoke faced his first loss at home, falling short 13-17. Happiness research suggests that good feelings translate to good deeds. If potential donors and alumni were in attendance that windy Saturday before the campaign celebrations, the game’s loss would have likely upset their philanthropic mindset.
All hope was not lost. If anything, the Victors for Michigan campaign and the University have an advantage over most other organizations fighting for donations. The celebrations leading up to the Victors for Michigan campaign launch that cost the University over $750,000 was, according to a Nov. 13 report by The Michigan Daily, not only used to motivate donors, but to commemorate the donors that had already contributed. Philanthropic psychologist Jen Chang told the New York Times in a Nov. 2012 interview that trust and appreciation act as primary incentives for donors. The combination of thankful reciprocity that donors receive and their ability to direct their gift to an area that inspires them makes and enormous difference.
No one does anything without getting anything in return, and for donors, payback comes in the form of happiness. Economists widely uphold the view that our monetary spendings reflect the utility we receive from it. In other words, donors will spend as long as they receive something worth the donation in return — whether it be a physical form of appreciation, like a named building, or general sense of pleasure. A study conducted by academics at Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School found that the happiness that came from pro-social donations was largest when donors were giving to a cause that fostered high social connections.
So tell me, what has larger social connections than giving back to the University largely responsible for your professional success, joined by more than 550,000 other alumni all over the world and appreciated for years to come by a 200-year-old University and its students? When University President Mary Sue Coleman recognized University alum Steven Ross’ $200 million donation to the Business school and the Athletic Department, Business students congregated before their early-morning classes to celebrate. At the following Saturday’s football game, students held up a Thank You banner in his name.
And that was Ross maximizing his utility. But we are happy to let him.