Exiled from campus, in a towering 10-story building off State Street near Eisenhower Parkway, one of the most vital offices to the University’s operations stands in plain view, but hidden from the eyes of campus.
The building’s rigid design and obscure location do little to suggest the big impact the offices on the building’s upper floors have on the day-to-day lives of nearly every person on campus.
While many on campus are unaware of its presence, the University’s Office of Development plays a key role in funding operations on campus — a business whose reach spans from North Campus to the Big House and from the country’s East Coast to the Pacific Ocean.
Each year the office helps raise hundreds of millions of dollars that go toward a wide range of activities and services, including student financial aid, endowing professorships and funding new campus construction projects.
With such a vast array of services funded either fully or partially through private support, the Office of Development is essential to the University’s ability to function.
In a series of interviews over the last two months, officers from the University’s development office have stressed the importance of gifts, both large and small, that make it possible for the University to operate at what they consider to be its full potential.
Even in the midst of an economic crisis, private support has remained strong as gifts from alumni and non-affiliated donors help maintain the University’s stature and grow it for future generations.
Whether in the form of major gifts from wealthy alumni, a $50 check in response to a phone call, a house left by a deceased faculty member or a gift from a graduate living halfway around the world, individuals comprise the largest group of donors to the University.
The Development Office’s diversified fundraising strategies span from the smallest individual gifts to a multi-million dollar donation from gigantic corporations to help fund innovative scientific research projects that lead to groundbreaking discoveries in their industry. Foundations from across the globe give to the University, as well, helping to solve some of the world’s most pressing social issues, like homelessness, illiteracy and environmental destruction.
At the University, donors know their money can support virtually any cause they desire — ensuring that University students will remain the leaders and the best. And all this rests on the shoulders of officials in the Development Office to make sure that this steady stream of support continues to flow.
In the first part of a five-part series, today’s article will look at the growing significance of the Development Office in campus life.
An investment unlike any other
“This University intends to continue to become one of the world’s leaders in higher education,” Vice President for Development Jerry May said in an interview last month. “The only way that is going to happen is if we continue to make philanthropic partners a big part of the quality of this institution, so we will continue to grow philanthropy and have high aspirations for raising more money in the future.”
The University’s rich history of philanthropic support, May said, remains a key element of the school’s growth and development.
University President Mary Sue Coleman has made similar remarks, including a speech she gave during the Michigan Difference Campaign finale celebration last November, where she called a donation to the University “an investment unlike any other.”
“It is an enterprise that advances worthy ideals, creates productive jobs and opens the doors to possibilities for the students who walk through them,” she said at the time.
In the current economic situation, the importance of philanthropy has become increasingly clear. As state support to the University continues to fall, a void is left to be filled by private support or increased tuition on students who, many say, are already at their financial breaking points.
While the state’s budget situation remains unclear, appropriations for the University are estimated to decrease by $10.4 million. At the same time, the University’s Board of Regents passed a budget in June with close to $200 million in added expenses from last year.
Chrissi Rawak, assistant vice president for talent management and development operations, said the development office is working to try to alleviate the pressures the state’s shrinking budget is having on students.
“I think what is really important, now more than ever, with the state’s funding decreasing, we need to be sure we can continue to provide the exceptional education experience for students,” she said.
The office plans to do that by reaching out to donors, who Rawak said typically donate on their own accord because they want to give back to the University.
“Generally speaking, the donor raises their hand, and we work with them to identify what their passions are for the institution and giving back to Michigan, and (we) drive any kind of gift conversations that may happen,” Rawak said.
Rawak — who is also a University alum — said as a student she never realized how vital private donations are for the University to operate. She added that she feels fortunate to play a part in making students’ time at the University either equal or better than what her class got to experience.
“It’s a very rewarding experience to be able to do that because you want Michigan students to have the best and to experience the best, and I think that donors care a lot about providing that to our students,” she said.
Though an integral to the University’s operations, May said private support to higher education is something unique to the United States.
“Philanthropy is one of the distinguishing features of the American culture,” May said, adding that it’s gaining attention in other parts of the world. “Higher education philanthropy is something we’re very fortunate to have in this particular society.”
Coleman and May are by no means the first to recognize the importance of private giving to the University. In fact, it’s no stretch to say that private philanthropy to the University is something of a Michigan tradition.
The evolution of the office
Recognizing the opportunity private donations presented to the University, then-University President Alexander Grant Ruthven gathered deans and senior leaders from across campus in 1945 to formulate a plan as to how they could encourage giving.
Though it was the first attempt to organize giving programs, private support was nothing new to the University.
The first recorded gift to the University came in 1841. A fur trader from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula donated the gift, a set of German language encyclopedias. However, the first gifts from alumni would not come until 1862 when Eber Ward Owen and A.C. Jewett donated samples of iron ore and minerals.
From there, the gifts grew larger and more frequent.
A venue for some of the biggest events on campus, Hill Auditorium was built after University Regent Arthur Hill died in 1909, leaving $200,000 to the University for the construction of a new auditorium.
In 1935, Horace Rackham, one of the original stockholders in the Ford Motor Company, and his wife Mary gave $6.5 million — at the time the largest gift to support graduate education ever in the country — to fund the construction of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies.
Giving continued over the next several years, until the first formal fundraising campaign was launched in 1953. The campaign raised $7.3 million to help fund efforts to research alternatives to atomic energy.
After opening its Flint and Dearborn campuses in 1956, the University established the Office of Development in the early 1960s to facilitate fundraising efforts at all three campuses.
In 1964, the University began another capital campaign, this time with a goal of raising $55 million. Exceeding its expectations, the campaign raised $74 million.
Three campaigns followed, with one in the 1980s that raised $187 million and one in the 1990s that raised $1.37 billion — making it the first fundraising campaign by a public university to raise more than $1 billion.
The streak of breaking records continued in 2008 when the Office of Development set a new national record when it announced its Michigan Difference Campaign raised an unheard of $3.2 billion. The previous record had been set by the University of California Los Angeles, which raised $3.1 billion.
Today, the Office of Development employs 160 employees who work on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of Wolverine Tower, where they plan and execute the University’s development strategy at all three campuses.
Additionally, 320 staff work in other locations across Ann Arbor, as well as in Flint and Dearborn to encourage alumni and friends of the University to donate.
In total, the University has 43 fundraising units between the three campuses including academic units and other entities, like the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the Athletic Department.
One of the most visible actions of the University’s Office of Development comes in the form of executing a capital campaign. Designed to increase giving to the University through more aggressive relationship building and donation seeking, the University has planned and executed five major fundraising campaigns in its history.
In its most recent campaign, The Michigan Difference Campaign, development officers and staff created an aggressive plan that would increase giving levels by about $170 million a year.
To accomplish that, fundraising efforts were boosted on all fronts. Through increased mail, phone and e-mail communication, development officers collaborated to reach out to as many potential donors as possible.
And they succeeded — setting the new national record for fundraising by a public university.
Rawak said the money raised through the Michigan Difference Campaign and other fundraising efforts have had a major impact on the face of the University.
“If you look around campus at the buildings that have been built through philanthropic dollars, it’s really changed the experience the students have,” she said.
Though monetary goals are set during capital campaigns, Rawak said the development office doesn’t set goals about how much to raise during years it’s not in a campaign, though employees continue to fundraise.
“We want to be sure that we are providing the University the resources it needs to continue to be successful,” she said.
In contrast, schools and departments throughout the University do set fundraising goals, something that Rawak said each unit has done or will do soon.
The many faces of giving
Being responsible for the fundraising of three campuses in Michigan and alumni across the globe isn’t a simple task. Development staff members work closely with others officials at the University to coordinate events, understand the needs of academic units and University programs and design plans that effectively meet the needs of the University and interests of donors.
Rawak said the work of the development office is “critical” to the University’s success.
“I believe that the services and the support that we provide to Michigan are helping,” she said, “and the expertise that we provide to the University and to our colleagues across the campus helps enhance the opportunities that we have to raise dollars for the University.”
Though much of its support comes from individuals, the development office also partners with both foundations and corporations.
Through it’s Business Engagement Center, the University collaborates with companies to fund research projects of all sizes at the University. Focusing on real-world problems, these studies can result in new findings that help companies overcome obstacles they face.
A department in the Development Office works closely with foundation leaders to demonstrate how projects at the University can help solve societal problems. This can be especially attractive to foundations, as many nonprofits are established to combat a specific issue of public concern.
Despite the large gifts that corporations and foundations often make to the University, individuals — both alumni and non-alumni — still compose the largest group of donors.
Non-alumni, known in fundraising jargon as friends of the University, include individuals who give to the University because a spouse or family member graduated from the University, they or someone they know has benefited from a University service — like the University of Michigan Health System — or they, for whatever reason, are supportive of the institution.
Many graduates also give to the University. While the majority of alumni live in the country, the University’s alumni population is becoming increasingly international. With large numbers of students coming from the University’s partnership in China and an increasingly international business environment, alumni are living and working overseas at higher rate than ever before.
While many on campus recognize the names of major donors, for whom buildings and facilities are named, most individuals give gifts of less than $25,000. Though their gifts may be small in comparison, the collective amount of money raised from these donors quickly adds up — and can re-shape students’ experiences on campus.