For the next 167 years …

Homecoming is always an exciting time of year. Our alumni return to campus and reconnect with friends, relive old memories, and once again breathe in the atmosphere that makes the University of Wisconsin–Madison the very special place it is.

This year’s homecoming is especially momentous because we are launching the fourth – and most ambitious — comprehensive fundraising campaign in our history. We’re expecting close to a thousand alumni and friends in the Kohl Center on Thursday night for the big event.

UW–Madison became a world-class teaching and research institution because of 167 years of investment from the people of Wisconsin, men and women who believed that higher education is a pathway to a better life for their sons and daughters. Since 1848, we have partnered with business, industry, education, and political leaders to build one of the world’s finest public universities.

We seek to continue this partnership for the next 167 years and beyond.

But no university, public or private, can achieve excellence in today’s world without the generosity and involvement of alumni and friends. This campaign will ask them to help shape and ensure our future impact on the world. The four primary fundraising priorities are:

  • Supporting faculty excellence
  • Providing student support
  • Improving the educational experience of our students, and
  • Supporting research and innovation.

This public launch comes at the end of two years of focused effort and preparation during the so-called ‘quiet phase’ of the campaign. During this time, deans and department chairs worked hard to develop campaign-funding plans for their units. We also began stepped-up fundraising efforts that have been remarkably successful. A number of generous gifts have given us great momentum going into this launch:

  • A transformative gift of nearly $125 million from alums John and Tashia Morgridge, who pledged to match any donor who wanted to endow a professorship, a chair or a distinguished chair. Prior to the Morgridge gift, we had 142 fully funded chairs and professorships. We now will have 300 fully endowed faculty chair and professorship funds at schools and colleges all across this campus.
  • A $50 million gift from alums Ab and Nancy Nicholas to match donations to create endowed scholarship and fellowship funds. Announced just this summer, the Nicholas match has already inspired nearly $10 million in additional gifts.
  • A $25 million commitment from the Grainger Foundation to the Grainger Institute for Engineering, followed by an additional $22 million gift from the Grainger Foundation to enrich undergraduate education in the College of Engineering.
  • A $28 million gift from alums Jerome and Simona Chazen in the form of several valuable pieces of art from their private collection, an additional gift of $5 million for the Chazen Museum building, and $3 million to establish the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art and the Simona and Jerome Chazen Distinguished Chair in Art History.

These gifts are a sign of the level of support we have from our alumni, and the ways in which alumni support can enhance the many things we do that make UW–Madison a tremendous asset to our community and our state.

Gift dollars are critically important, but it’s very important to understand that they are not substitutes for state or tuition dollars. It’s important to clearly note what private gift funds can—and can’t—do.

First, gifts are tied to donor intent and are typically designed to fund specific programs. Donors want to support programs that wouldn’t happen without their funding.

Second, many donor gifts are not spendable in the near term; they are endowments which provide annual support in perpetuity. Endowment funds are invested and managed by the Foundation, and will pay out 4.5 percent annually. So when you hear that we have $250 million for new faculty chairs, our spendable money from that endowment is about $11.25 million a year.

Third, many gifts pledged now are not paid out until far into the future. So announced gifts are not the same as available endowment funding.

In the end, state dollars and gift dollars are complements to each other, not substitutes. It is a case of both/and, not either/or. Stronger state support will only bring in more donor support.

As you walk around campus this week and take in the beautiful weather, the Homecoming parade, the football game, and even the flamingos on the hill on Friday, take a moment to especially welcome our alumni back. It is in large part through their generosity that we will transform our institution for the next 167 years.