Secrets to the Success of The Michigan Difference Campaign

Hats off to the University of Michigan whose Development staff recently celebrated the success of their record-breaking campaign, which raised $3.200 billion– 28% above their $2.5 billion goal!  Donors to The Michigan Difference campaign, the largest in the history of public higher education, have made tremendous impact, generating $545 million in student support, creating 1,969 new endowed scholarship funds, endowing more than 191 new professorships, and funding the construction 22 new donor-supported buildings.

The final numbers revealed a total of 365,000 donors who participated in the campaign. Five percent of the total donors gave 85% of the money raised.  The largest donor to the campaign was Stephen Ross of New York City, Head of Related Companies, who donated $100,000,000 to the Business School and $5,000,000 to build the Athletic Academic Center.

Most interesting to note is that, The University has had four earlier campaigns, each smaller and each successful, including their last campaign which was the first campaign at a public institution to set a $1 billion goal and surpass it.

Now that you’re wide-eyed and inspired, we will spill the secrets on how this most recent success was achieved.  In an interview with Judy Malcolm, Senior Director of Executive Communications from the Communications and Donor Relations department, we were informed about the thinking behind campaigns.  Taking a deeper dive into their process, Judy gave us some insight that will give FLiPs a good sense of the planning that took place to execute such a large campaign.

Remember that campaigning gets people focused.

Judy talked about what it means to be in a campaign-mode.  “Having a campaign provides a focus to accomplish something specific, whether it’s expanding a project or creating a sense of urgency on why funds are being raised for that specific project”, she said.  While most organizations and schools are fundraising all the time, a campaign creates a distinct timeframe to accomplish something.

In the early planning stages, identify a “wish list” and monetary goals.

Creating a wish list helped U Mich establish what its greatest needs were, especially insofar as helping each individual school increase its capacity.  Working with the Office of University Development, each school created its own goals.  To do so, each school identified its needs, e.g. student financial aid, faculty support, research and facility needs and analyzed its past fundraising ability.  When you add the school totals including the 22 planned building projects, (e.g. a Children’s Hospital and a new wing for Museum of Art ) the full University campaign goal totaled $2.5 billion.

Looking at the goals for all schools, colleges and fundraising units (such as the Library, Botanical Gardens, University Musical Society, etc) of the University, the goal for faculty support was $425 million, student support was $400 million, research and program support was $775 million, buildings was $500 million, totaling all cash and pledges at $2,100 million.  Include the new bequests of $400 million and the grand total of the campaign was topped at $2.5 billion.  “Breaking down the groups this way gave us a sense of how to target donors from each group”, she said.

Build an individual case for support that identifies the most critical needs of your campaign

Each school and college built its own case for support, using its wish list to guide its writing.  The Development Office then created a centralized case which was used to create the overall purpose for soliciting support.  The main case was supplemented by the appropriate individual cases, helping the University make targeted appeals to different constituencies.

Support should start from the top.

University President Mary Sue Coleman contributed to the campaign effort by being vocal and highlighting specific goals.  She also proclaimed that the University would back up the campaign and contribute money in the form of challenges, which would further build excitement around the campaign.  To encourage gifts for undergraduate need-based financial aid, she announced a 1:1 match   for graduate and professional student support, a 1:2 match, $1 of University funds for each $2 gift.  To encourage the creation of 20 endowed professorships that would require a gift of $2 million each; she provided a total of $10 million: $500,000 for each pledge of $1.5 million so donors were able to create endowed professorships at a reduced rate.

You’re probably wondering: just how did the University attempt pull this off during an economically unstable time?  Judy told FLiP that the campaign began counting gifts in 2000 at which point it was in what she called a “silent phase.”  During this period actual fundraising began, but no definite goals were to allow re-evaluation for feasibility.  Once given the go-ahead in 2004, the campaign went public and full force.  The economic downturn only occurred during the final months of this campaign, once most of the fundraising had been completed.   Judy further reinforced that relationship building is critical in fundraising; “It’s all about the relationships”, she said.  “Our relationship with Stephen Ross has been going on for 25 years, long after he had graduated.”

So what can FLiP’s take away from this success?  Proper planning and having the right operational structure in place are important ingredients for success and can lead an academic institution towards achieving (and in U Mich’s case, shattering!) campaign goals.  Finally, never forget the importance of maintaining relationships; without your donors, campaign goals are meaningless!

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