$200M U-M donation puts spotlight on upcoming multibillion-dollar fundraising campaign
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Fundraising campaigns aren't built in a day.
University of Michigan unveiled a $200 million gift from New York real estate tycoon Stephen M. Ross early Wednesday morning; and while it took only a few hours for the higher education world to learn of the gift, it took college officials years to work with Ross and secure the contribution.
That's in part because Ross' gift is not only intended to provide funding for scholarships and new and upgraded buildings at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and on the athletic campus, but also to spur other donors to action.
The university's capital campaign launches on Nov. 8 and the 73-year-old Ross will serve as chairman.
His $200 million gift is the largest single donation in university history and he previously donated $100 million to the business school that now bears his name. With lifetime giving to U-M totaling $313 million, Ross is the most generous donor ever to contribute to the university's coffers.
With these milestones secured for now, Ross is heralding in the next fundraising campaign, which will include his most recent grant.
U-M President Mary Sue Coleman and other U-M officials have been mum on the fundraising goal, but Coleman Wednesday promised the campaign would be U-M's "most significant." The last fundraising campaign ended in 2008 after four years and raised $3.2 billion, or $700 million more than the school's original goal.
"It's very strategic," U-M Vice President for Development Jerry May said of Ross' donation and its timing. "Steve, as chair of the next campaign, is part of the strategic process to actually create momentum, and so this is one of the biggest momentum building gifts we could ever have."
The gift comes about four months after the school announced a $110 million gift from Charles Munger —then the largest gift in college history— that will go toward funding a graduate student residence hall and fellowships.
In March, Helen Zell, wife of billionaire real estate tycoon Sam Zell, donated $50 million to fund a creative writing program. Also in March, a foundation formed by the now-deceased Samuel and Jean Frankel gave $25 million to the U-M Cardiovascular Center to finance clinical research and patient support. In September 2012, U-M's art school was renamed the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design in honor of Penny and E. Roe Stamps, who donated $32.5 million to the school.
All donations received since July 2011 will count toward U-M's upcoming fundraising campaign.
While many recent donations —such as much of Ross' gift, Munger's grant and Stamp's donation— have centered around buildings, either constructing them from scratch or renovating them, U-M officials say the upcoming campaign won't be as building-focused as the last campaign. Over the past decade, U-M has spent an average of $523 million per year on construction projects.
"Obviously there's buildings," Ross explained in an interview Wednesday. "Scholarships are very much a priority to really attract the best students there are, knowing today how much it costs to go to school."
Ross also said U-M will ask for endowments for professorships.
Coleman said the fundraising campaign will be focused on student aid and funding new student-centered programs and academic initiatives.
"We’re very focused around program," she said. "But, as Steve has said many times, if you don’t have the right facilities, then you can't do the education right."
Coleman, May and other U-M officials —such as business school dean Alison Davis Blake and athletic director Dave Brandon— have been consulting with Ross about a possible gift for multiple years. About a year or 18 months ago, Coleman asked Ross for a large gift and Ross agreed.
May said U-M is in the final stages of securing about 10 other large gifts, donations of $5 million or more, some of which will be announced before November. He said large gifts take between six months to 18 months to secure.
U-M Regent Kathy White said such gifts are becoming more and more important to Michigan higher education in an era of dwindling or flatlining state support.
"Public universities increasingly rely on our donor support to maintain and strengthen our excellence," she said.
For U-M, having an accomplished real estate builder worth $4.4 billion, according to Forbes, chair its campaign will likely mean a steady stream of sizable donations. Ross said he expects to do some "arm twisting" with donors and in an interview Coleman joked that the 1962 business school alumnus can be "very persuasive."