Like many public institutions, Eastern Michigan University has long relied on state funds to provide for the lion’s share of funding for its buildings and programs. But the university is in the final stages of its Invest. Inspire. campaign—EMU’s biggest pitch ever to private donors.
In 2005, working under the guidance of an interim director, the EMU Foundation began quietly soliciting private donations for the $50 million comprehensive campaign. By 2009, the university had raised about $30 million, but fundraising had slowed significantly.
With the public launch just a year away, the foundation decided to seek outside counsel.
“The university had not done a capital campaign, or any kind of campaign in many years, and [the staff] felt it needed professional guidance with the planning,” said Tom Stevick, who joined the EMU Foundation as vice-president of advancement and executive director in 2011.
To lead the campaign to its public launch, the university hired Marts & Lundy and senior consultant and principal Roy Muir in mid-2009. The strategic advancement consulting firm had a wealth of experience to bring to designing and guiding campaigns, including those of public universities.
Additionally, a key draw “was the reputation of Roy Muir, who is a very well-known fundraiser in our area,” said Stevick.
Muir joined Marts & Lundy in 1999 after over 30 years of experience in higher education development. Among his accomplishments, he directed the highly successful Campaign for Michigan for the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor–the first public university campaign to reach a $1 billion goal. (The campaign ultimately raised $1.4 billion.)
As his first order of business at EMU, Muir undertook a comprehensive assessment of the university and its donors.
“One of Marts & Lundy’s greatest strengths is our analytics capacity,” he said.
Muir and the Marts & Lundy Analytical Solutions team collected and analyzed data, which yielded significant information about EMU’s current and potential donors, including their geographic locations, levels of support, and capacity for giving. He also identified major gifts prospects and determined that raising $50 million was an achievable goal.
“The donor and staffing analysis performed by Marts & Lundy helped structure the workloads of the development officers and really pointed us in the direction of a successful major gift effort,” said Stevick.
Muir worked closely with the university’s new president, Sue Martin, who had come on board in 2008. He encouraged Martin and the academic deans to articulate a strong case for support and set specific goals for the campaign (see sidebar). He also rallied support among faculty, and provided the EMU Foundation Board, the development officers, academic leaders and deans leadership training on engaging donors.
“Mr. Muir was able to be an interface between the foundation and the university as far as making the case for support, budget, and just overall buy-in for this campaign,” said Stevick. Muir’s recommendations included an increase in the development staff. Since it had relied so extensively on public funds in the past, the foundation had insufficient fundraising support for the campaign effort. The university accepted his recommendations.
EMU began its public launch of Invest. Inspire. in April 2010. The campaign has proven popular with donors, eliciting thousands of gifts. Many are drawn to the scholarship programs.
“I think that we have an ongoing resonance with our donors about financial support for our students. Eastern remains a university of opportunity. Many of our students are first-generation college students,” said Stevick.
Additionally, many donors feel a close bond to specific departments, athletic programs, and faculty members.
“It’s very heartwarming and very strong,” said Stevick. “When you talk to donors, their tales are about the people they connected with at EMU, and that’s usually a faculty member or a coach, or even an administrator,” he said.
He named as the campaign’s highlight the arrival of two donations worth a total of $4.7 million in the summer of 2011.
“Two of our largest gifts came within weeks of each other, and they were the culmination of years of work,” he said. “Those gifts made us aware that we were going to meet our campaign goals and really built our enthusiasm for pushing the campaign to a successful close.”
By December 2011, the campaign had already reached its $50 million goal—more than one year ahead of schedule. The campaign will wrap up on June 30, 2012. As of this writing, EMU has raised $54 million, entirely in private funds. The donations include the largest individual and corporate gifts in the history of the university.
“It was very gratifying to see the level of support we received, particularly during some very rough years here in the state of Michigan and throughout the country,” said Stevick.
The campaign has also led to “a heightened awareness among the faculty and staff of the role that fundraising plays in providing quality education and improving the campus.”
Turning to private support is necessary, said Muir. “States are finding it more and more difficult to fund and finance their public institutions.”
EMU now has the staff and infrastructure in place for continued success in the private realm, he said.
“I think without question this campaign has demonstrated to the leadership of Eastern that they really do have the capacity and the potential to raise a significant amount of money from private gifts, and that donors and philanthropy can make a huge difference in the future of Eastern Michigan University,” he said.