Follow the Money
Michigan Medicine alone raised $1.5 billion in the U-M's Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign.
by Patrick Dunn
From the January, 2020 issue
It's not surprising that the hospital and medical school collected more than a quarter of the $5.28 billion brought in during the drive, which closed at the end of 2018. Michigan Medicine attracted 21,944 alumni donors--the third highest among the university's thirty-six "fundraising units"--who contributed $656 million. But they were vastly surpassed in numbers and dollars by 84,927 non-alumni donors, contributing a total of $841 million. Campaign director Todd Baily notes that compared to academic units, Michigan Medicine draws support from "a much broader spectrum of society who are primarily grateful patients."
Victors for Michigan launched publicly in 2013 after the U had already raised $1.7 billion in what Baily describes as a two-year "quiet phase." The fundraising units included nineteen schools and colleges in Ann Arbor, the satellite campuses in Dearborn and Flint, and nonacademic units like the University Musical Society and Nichols Arboretum.
No other unit could hold a candle to Michigan Medicine's non-alumni contributions and donor count. The next most successful in dollar terms was the College of Engineering, which raised $183 million of its $455 million total from non-alumni, and Michigan Radio, whose wide reach connected it to 64,351 non-alumni supporters.
Unsurprisingly, given the lion's share of the U-M student body that it represents, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) drew topflight alumni dollars. It came in second to Medicine for alumni contributions ($425 million out of $559 million) and second to the Alumni Association for number of alumni donors (25,905). But Conor Neville, assistant director of campaign strategy and initiatives for the Office of University Development, notes that, even so, alumni made up just two thirds of LSA donors.
"Particularly parents is where they're going to get a significant [non-alumni] boost, because they have so many undergrads compared to everybody else," Neville says. A "parents and family" campaign that debuted with Victors for Michigan helped draw $108 million in contributions from 22,712 non-alumni relatives.
Alumni donors represented a far greater
piece of the pie at the law and business schools, Rackham, and the schools of education, environment, and social work--at least 80 percent of their donors were alumni. Neville says students are "very in touch" with those schools and don't take a lot of classes outside them, encouraging "kind of a high loyalty rate" once they graduate. Other units drew most of their support from non-alumni--although, in the most notable cases, those funds came primarily from philanthropic foundations. Professional foundations (distinguished from family foundations, which the campaign counted as individuals) represented just 384 of the campaign's 398,399 donors but contributed 12 percent of the funds raised.
It's no surprise that a whopping 97 percent of the Institute for Social Research's $74 million total came from non-alumni, since the research center doesn't grant degrees. What's striking is that the gifts came largely from philanthropic donors. The university counts foundation grants as gifts if the grant is awarded in response to a staff proposal, with no deliverables required other than a final report (as opposed to a foundation approaching the university to perform prescribed work by contract).
ISR director David Lam says federal grants aren't counted as gifts--if they were, ISR's total would be much higher. But he says foundations are quite similar to top-dollar individual donors in the way the university's development staff must communicate about which units are appealing to which foundations, making sure people aren't "stepping on each other's toes." Lam credits ISR's success to its "socially relevant, policy-relevant work," which is well aligned with many foundations' goals, and to the fact that some of ISR's researchers "are 100 percent dependent on external grants to pay their salaries."
Similarly to ISR, the School of Public Health logged 78 percent of its $114 million total from non-alumni. Baily says that was raised from "a number of foundations making sizeable but not outlier gifts, not in the eight-figure range or anything like that." Eight-figure gifts did go to U-M Flint ($57 million total) and Clements Library ($30 million), which logged high percentages of non-alumni funds, thanks to a large single contribution from the C.S. Mott Foundation and two anonymous gifts, respectively.
Victors for Michigan was a resounding success, far exceeding its original $400 million goal. But it also brought to the surface challenges that will persist into the university's next big campaign.
Pam Stout, senior director of executive and internal communications for the Office of University Development, says that despite the 392,547 individuals who contributed to Victors for Michigan, individual donors are becoming the U's "weak spot."
That's due to the rise of social-media-savvy, highly specific, cause-based fundraising--like the "ice bucket challenge," which went viral in 2014 in the midst of the Victors campaign. Participants posted videos of themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads as a way to raise awareness and encourage donations for ALS research.
"Everybody wanted to do the next ice bucket challenge," Stout says. "When that got big, everybody thought, 'Oh, we'll just do this, and everyone will start giving.' But it's hard to be original in that space and kick off the way something like that does."
Though it didn't come up with an ice bucket challenge, the U found some success with what Stout describes as "targeted campaigns for small, niche things," like a social-media-based campaign for Medicine's Paws4Patients therapy dog program. "It was a small effort but an easy way to catch people's attention and see if they might support an area that isn't covered by insurance or patient funds," she says.
Neville says that's a challenging direction to take because the university is "not one cause" but "thousands and thousands of causes, aggregated under the U of M umbrella." But Stout says the "changing landscape of fundraising" makes some changes inevitable.
"As the world evolves in that direction, our challenge is to keep up with that and move our big ship to adapt," she says.
[Originally published in January, 2020.]
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