It’s 10 a.m. and you can’t find your room key. After 10 minutes of searching, you find it buried under last week’s laundry. You run out of your dorm and make it to class just in time to catch the last 15 minutes of lecture. Having skipped breakfast, you head to Mary Markley Residence Hall to grab an early lunch before you meet friends for a study group at the library. After hours of studying, you make your way over to Hill Auditorium for a concert.

In a typical day, students rush in and out of the buildings that define the character of campus — buildings that stand there because of the University’s major donors and decision makers of yesteryear.

In fact, your residence hall was named after Alice Lloyd, who was the University’s dean of women for 20 years. Stephen M. Ross paid for part of the business school building where you arrived late to class. Mary Markley Residence Hall, where you ate lunch, was built in honor of Mary Butler Markley, who worked closely with alumni. Your study group met in Hatcher Graduate Library, named in honor of past University President Harlan H. Hatcher. You ended your day with a concert at Hill Auditorium, which was built with money bequeathed by former University Regent Arthur Hill.

However, it isn’t by chance that every building you visited today was named after an individual. In fact, almost every building across campus has been named in honor of a prominent University leader or a generous donor.

Naming rights

The staff at the Office of Development determines building and program names following a very specific set of procedures that dictate who can name facilities and the individuals for whom they can be named.

The process of determining who names buildings and facilities in honor of individuals is not simple. Depending on the size, location and use of the facility in question, naming rights could simply be determined by the head of a department or could require a vote by the University’s Board of Regents.

In the case of new buildings, naming rights are often given to the donor who provides substantial financial support, at least 50 percent of a building’s fundraising goal or at least 33 percent of its estimated construction cost. The donor can then request to have the building named after him or her, or suggest a name for the building. For example, donors who gave gifts for the construction of the Michigan League asked that the structure be called the Michigan League. This same situation occurred for the Michigan Union and Alumni Memorial Hall.

The Facilities Naming Steering Committee — chaired by the vice president of development and comprised of the University’s provost, executive vice president for academic affairs, executive vice president, chief financial officer and executive vice president for medical affairs — sends naming recommendations to the University Board of Regents for buildings that exceed $75 million in cost. The regents then must approve the recommendation before the building can be named.

In contrast, the regents are not required to approve names for small additions or expansions to buildings, but the Facilities Naming Steering Committee still must approve the name.

Similarly, regents do not need to approve the naming of small interior or exterior spaces — including benches, bricks and plaques. Instead, the head of the department where these items are located can name them.

According to the Guidelines for Naming Facilities, Spaces and Streets, regents do not need to endorse the names of individual rooms or large interior spaces unless the name is “unusually prominent, sensitive or subject to heightened public interest.”

For large exterior spaces accessible to the public — like plazas, fields and malls — the regents must approve honorific names. But they do not need to review names for small exterior spaces like courtyards.

The regents may name a building in honor of living or deceased donors who have provided long-term financial support and have no existing buildings named after them.

For a building to be named in honor of a University leader, one year must have passed since the individual held the position for which he is being honored. Similarly, for buildings named in commemoration of a deceased leader, one year must elapse between the individual’s death and when the building is named.

Major gifts

With the high stakes of keeping a major donor happy, the University’s Office of Development has a Major Gifts department that works to maintain positive relationships with donors and demonstrate how donors’ resources can be used to maintain the educational experience students receive at the University.

Though it may seem easy to classify the largest donors to the University, there is no central policy that determines who falls into this category.

Beth Halloran, assistant vice president for development, said some of the larger schools and colleges consider donations of $100,000 or more as major gifts, while smaller schools, colleges and units deem $25,000 a major gift.

For the most part, Halloran said the majority of major gift donors are between 50 to 70 years old, since older individuals have had more time to accumulate wealth — though she said this is not always the case.

Additionally, Halloran said that for many major donors, their gifts aren’t about the dollar amount written on the check but rather about signing their name on the check and lending their credibility to the success of the project.

“(They think) this is significant, this defines who I am, this helps me realize a dream that I’ve had in my life about who I want to be, this helps me partner with my alma mater about who I want them to be,” Halloran said. “Those visions and values are really much more central to our work than the commas and zeros.”

Halloran said that becoming a major gift donor is more than a financial investment.

“It’s also an identity investment, and it’s also a legacy investment,” Halloran said, explaining that donors make public statements when deciding to support a particular area like a museum, medical research or an academic unit.

To help donors work through these decisions to make life-changing donations, Halloran said that each donor is assigned a Major Gifts officer. The officers work with donors to plan how their visions can become realities on campus.

Major gift officers are assigned a geographic region to work with and they manage all the major donors living in that area. In addition to working with existing major donors, Halloran said major gift officers work with alumni and other individuals living in the region who may be interested in making sizable contributions to the University.

“We have development officers who are assigned a particular geographic area of the country, and it’s their responsibility to know that region really well, to know the alumni who live in that region and to make linkages for those individuals back to the University around areas of interest that they have — both for information for volunteer roles they may wish to play and ultimately for philanthropic support,” Halloran said.

However, Halloran stressed that even though most people think about major giving as large donations of money, it can also come in the form of donors volunteering substantial amounts of time to serve on University committees and advisory boards.

One such duo of volunteers and major givers is David and Jan Brandon, both of whom have served as volunteer leaders at the University and significant donors to projects on campus.

The Brandons have given back to several units on campus that have in some way impacted their lives, including the Athletic Department, the C.S. Mott Women’s and Children’s Hospital, the School of Education, the Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Brandon, who served as a University regent from 1999 – 2006, said he and his wife decided to become involved in the renovation and expansion to UMMA because they both have an interest in art.

“We just thought that was very consistent with an interest that we had and something that we thought would be good for the community and so that became a focal point,” he said. “We supported that financially as well as being volunteers.”

For major donors who opt to give money, the process often starts with small gifts soon after graduation and over time grows to levels where the Major Gifts Office will get involved.

“We work with existing donors who are major givers, those who may become major givers, people who we’re led to believe may have an interest in giving to the University,” Halloran said. “Every officer has some existing relationships, some who have raised their hands asking about a new relationship and some that we are proactively seeking to engage in a relationship.”

Before donors give major gifts, development staff contact donors through a letter, e-mail or a phone call and ask to meet with them in person.

Halloran said that development officials do this to hear about the donor’s “Michigan story” and learn what the donor wishes for his or her future relationship with the University.

The officer then describes the cost of turning the donor’s visions into realities and leads a discussion to determine what kind of gift the donor feels comfortable giving.

Halloran said that officials ensure the donor understands his or her financial obligations so that there are no misunderstandings in the future.

“By the time you’re actually sitting down with them and saying, ‘I think this agreement captures what we’ve talked about,’ there are no surprises,” she said.

Gift planning

There are many ways for major givers to donate to the University, though one of the more common methods is through gift planning.

The Office of Gift Planning helps donors to make charitable donations while keeping in mind other financial obligations. Today, nine University employees work in the office to organize planned gifts between donors and individual schools and colleges.

Shari Fox, assistant vice president for development, said that the Office of Gift Planning is responsible for helping to garner large donations to the University.

“The Office of Gift Planning is important because we provide specialized expertise that helps donors make larger gifts than they might otherwise to the University, which allows for additional funds to support education of students, top quality research, hiring and supporting excellent faculty, providing outstanding health care — all the myriad things the University does to make a difference,” Fox said.

Fox said the eight-year Michigan Difference Campaign greatly increased the number of planned gifts to the University — totaling nearly $600 million over the course of the campaign.

Within the Office of Gift Planning, donors can give in a variety of ways, including life income gifts and bequests.

Life income gifts are donations in which a living donor gives a gift and receives compensation in the form of a tax deduction. However, with life income gifts, the University does not have immediate access to the funds.

Additionally, either the donor or the donor’s representative receives a fixed income strain from the University for a period of time or the duration of his or her life. When the income strains are no longer paid, usually when the donor dies, the University receives the remainder of the money.

According to Fox, the majority of life income gift donors are middle-aged University alumni who are nearing retirement and have earned wealth from accumulating assets over the years.

But donors who participate in gift planning are not exclusively University alumni.

Fox said people donate to the University for a wide range of reasons, like supporting medical research, the arts and academics.

She cited donors who have contributed after a family member benefited from treatment received from the University’s Health System, as well as people who have an interest in the arts and want to support the University Musical Society or the University’s Museum of Art.

While many donors give major donations through life income gifts, the University also receives a great deal of major support through bequests from donors’ estates upon their deaths.

In a bequest — the most common type of planned gift — a donor includes a provision for the University in his or her will in which the University receives part of his or her estate.

Fox said that bequests are flexible gifts because donors can change the amount during any point in their life.

“It’s a great way a donor can plan to make a difference and leave themselves total flexibility to use those funds as they need to during their lifetime,” Fox said.

Donors also have a great deal of control over what their donations will be used for. Once a donor puts restrictions on a gift, the University has a legal obligation to use the gift as specified, Fox said.

Fox said many donors give money to establish scholarship funds in a school or college. Others give to support research in a particular area of study.

If there are no restrictions on a donation, the University can use the money at its own discretion. But if an alum makes an unspecified contribution, the University will typically allocate the money to the school or college the alum attended.

Fox said that it is very rare that a donor will donate his entire estate to the University because people tend to leave their assets to their families or charities.

In the event that a donor leaves his or her estate to the University, the person named by the donor to manage the estate will sell the property and give the net proceeds to the University. If the donor leaves real estate to the University, the Office of Gift Planning will work to sell the property and use the money for whatever purpose the donor intended.

Occasionally, the University will keep the property if it can be used for education or research purposes.

Fox said that planned giving is just one element of a “donor’s life cycle of giving.”

“It allows donors to give, as part of their overall financial plan and estate plan, in a way that maximizes the support they provide to the University by combining their personal financial goals with their charitable goals,” Fox said. “These are tools that help them make them meet both.”

Despite their greatest efforts, gift planning office staff are still often surprised to discover that certain individuals have named the University in their wills.

“It’s not something they’re doing with the University,” Fox said. “That’s something they’re doing with their attorney and their family and their financial planner.”

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