Published in Nonprofits
GVSU is building the Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall at 500 Lafayette Ave. in Grand Rapids to expand programs and admissions in its 19 health sciences programs. GVSU is building the Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall at 500 Lafayette Ave. in Grand Rapids to expand programs and admissions in its 19 health sciences programs. Courtesy Photo

Universities seek millions in capital campaigns in West Michigan

BY Sunday, July 23, 2017 02:16pm

Even as giving to educational causes slows nationally, two West Michigan universities remain hopeful that their capital campaigns will be successful.

According to the annual Giving USA report on philanthropy, last year individuals, foundations and corporations gave about $59.77 billion to education-related organizations, an increase of 3.6 percent, and about 15 percent of all giving. While giving to education still grew, the pace of growth fell compared to the two previous years, when the sector saw donations grow by more than 8 percent, according to the report.

As public funds tighten up for financial assistance and capital improvements, universities locally and nationally have turned to comprehensive campaigns to help fund special projects and new buildings, as well as to keep pace with changing technology, facility and academic needs.

Last month, officials at Grand Valley State University kicked off the Laker Effect campaign, a multi-year initiative to raise $85 million for student scholarships, support services and facility improvements including the health campus expansion in Grand Rapids. Meanwhile, Michigan State University is making a final push for the $30 million capital campaign to help fund its Grand Rapids Biomedical Research Center, which is set to open later this year.

West Michigan’s strong reputation for philanthropy, combined with renewed business and consumer confidence, spells good news for universities and nonprofits looking to raise money, according to one nonprofit fundraiser.

“West Michigan has a national reputation for generosity,” said Keith Hopkins, campaign consultant at Hopkins Fundraising Consulting LLC in Ada. “We’re always in the top two or three communities for giving.”


Typically, comprehensive campaigns are spread over several years and seek funding for capital projects, endowment, operating, unrestricted funds and special projects. GVSU’s Laker Effect campaign focuses on three primary areas of need — opportunity, achievement and relevance — that align with the university’s strategic plan and mission to deliver a quality education to students and serve as a talent pipeline in the region, said Karen Loth, vice president for university development.

“This is all about our students and the community,” Loth said. “We have been true partners with this community from the start of our university.”

The first goal, earmarked Opportunity, aims to increase donor-funded scholarships and represents $25 million of the total campaign. This effort will reach out to donors who want to directly affect students based on financial need, merit or certain degree programs and focus on annual as well as endowed scholarships, Loth said.

The second goal targets Achievement through graduation, including resources and programs aimed at student success, and represents $8 million of the goal. This supports advising, counseling and other programs designed to improve retention and graduation and prepare students for post-college and career life.


The GVSU campaign’s third and largest goal, totaling $52 million, invests in Relevance in the way academic programs and facilities meet the changing needs of students, employers and the community. This includes the construction of Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall at 500 Lafayette Ave. in Grand Rapids, which is being built with donor and university funds. Slated for completion in 2018, the facility will expand programs and admissions in GVSU’s 19 health sciences programs. It is located to the north of the current Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences on the north side of I-196.

Earlier this month, GVSU announced plans to build a $70 million new facility next to the Cook-DeVos Center on an existing surface parking lot. The proposal includes a five-story, 160,000-square-foot building to allow the health sciences program to expand to better meet demands for space, according to university officials.

The 2018 state budget allocated about $29 million toward the project, with the rest coming from private donors and university bonds. Construction is scheduled to begin in June 2018, with the opening set for May 2021.

Additionally, the university earlier this year announced plans to buy the current Ferris Coffee and Nut facility on Winter Avenue to the west of downtown Grand Rapids for $6.4 million. That site will house the new Design and Innovation Center for the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing, with a move anticipated for next summer.

The academic and faculty support goes across both campuses, Loth said, noting a “badly needed” performing arts addition in Allendale is also nearing completion.

University officials hope to hit the goal by 2020, and Grand Valley’s development staff along with the campaign co-chairs, Jim and Donna Brooks and Dan and Pamella DeVos, will reach out to alumni, businesses, philanthropists and foundations for support.

The university’s last comprehensive campaign, Shaping Our Future, wrapped up in 2011 and raised $97 million, nearly twice the goal, Loth said.

“There’s room for everyone to come in and invest in this great place,” Loth said. “We’re proud of what we do here at the university and believe that people will support us in this.”


In downtown Grand Rapids, MSU has about $23 million committed to its new research center and conversations for another $20 million are ongoing, said Vice President for University Advancement Robert Groves.

In May 2016, the college announced major gifts of $10 million from Grand Rapids philanthropists Richard and Helen DeVos and $5 million from Peter and Joan Secchia.

The university had hoped to secure $10 million from public funding and economic development sources, but that didn’t materialize so it’s now trying to raise $40 million for the $82 million project. The other half came from research cost recovery funds, Groves said.

Construction of the facility is on schedule and on budget and the center will host a grand opening in September. MSU also named Dr. Norman J. Beauchamp Jr. as dean of the College of Human Medicine in October 2016, and his local leadership has given the project a boost.

“We’ve been taking people through the building and giving people a sneak preview of how it’s coming together,” Groves said. “It’s going to be a great facility, and the ability to increase the number of principal investigators and their teams is going to be a great addition to the community.”

The new facility at 400 Monroe Ave. NW, formerly the site of the Grand Rapids Press headquarters, will allow the MSU College of Human Medicine to increase and recruit new National Institutes of Health-funded researchers and their scientific teams. It’s part of a long-range strategy and partnership with Van Andel Institute, Spectrum Health and GVSU to share laboratory space and equipment and expand cutting-edge biomedical research in West Michigan.

The fundraising for the Grand Rapids Research Center is part of a larger MSU comprehensive campaign, Empower Extraordinary, that’s on track to raise $1.5 billion by December 2018. The campaign, which is currently at 97 percent of its goal, has an international scope and includes money for scholarships, endowed chairs, and facilities. Among the facilities projects is a new pavilion for MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business, which has raised nearly $140 million, exceeding its goal of $136.6 million.


In the last two or three years, the environment has been very strong for fundraising and nonprofits, said consultant Hopkins.

“The stock market is doing pretty well, the job market is up, and people are confident that the economy is headed in a good direction,” he said.

Hopkins has helped several West Michigan nonprofits embark on successful campaigns ranging from $1 million to $10 million in recent years. While most universities have in-house staff to oversee a campaign, the strategies and best practices for fundraising are the same.

“The process of raising money is no different if it’s a $100 million or a $1 million campaign,” he said. “The key to successful fundraising is building successful relationships with donors.”

Nationwide last year, philanthropic giving topped $390 billion, according to the Giving USA report, a growth of 2.7 percent. Giving from individual donors rose by nearly 4 percent.

When it comes to donors, the goal is to find people with the capacity to make a gift, a connection to the organization and a belief or interest in the mission, Hopkins said. Consultants typically work with the board and volunteers to reach out to area foundations, businesses and corporate entities, individuals and families with the resources to donate, and civic groups like Rotary Jaycees and Kiwanis clubs.

“When you’re raising that kind of money, you’re turning over a lot of rocks,” he said. “Things have been pretty good for nonprofits in Grand Rapids and West Michigan and that’s because we have a very generous community. We have good people who live in the Midwest.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version to reflect that the new pavilion at MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business is for all students, not just graduate students. 

MiBiz coverage of Michigan’s nonprofit sector is made possible through a generous sponsorship by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, a leader in funding, initiating and leading programs that benefit the Grand Rapids area in the arts, community development, education, environment, health, and human services. For more information, visit grfoundation.org.

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