In any organization, a question always looms about how best to prepare for the future. The tried and true of the past has its merits, but it might not be the best approach for what lies ahead.
Ten years ago our business school tried a new tactic to prepare for the future. It wasn’t based on one answer, one person, or one solution. In the most Wisconsin of ways, the School found that the key to moving forward was moving forward together.
That spirit of togetherness took the form of the Wisconsin Naming Gift, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. In Fall 2007, 13 alumni joined forces with a gift of $85 million to name the school for 20 years. More notably, they decided not to name it for themselves or one donor, but to reflect the university for which they all shared a mutual love. So, on October 27, 2007, the School became known as the Wisconsin School of Business.
“It really is unique that people gave to promote and continue the name Wisconsin as a leader in business around the world, without trying to put their own name in front of it,” says Michael Shannon (BBA ’80), a member of the Wisconsin Naming Partnership. “It’s who Wisconsin people are. We’re friendly, we want to go out and make a difference. But the mission is more important than the people carrying out the mission.”
In 10 years, both the mission and the partnership have grown. Thirteen members became 17, and the gift amount grew to $110 million.
Badgers create a new way of giving
The Wisconsin Naming Partners didn’t just contribute to a gift; they formed a friendship, one sparked by a commitment to their alma mater, and helped create a vision for philanthropy that impacted the university community in the years after and likely for generations to come.
“The Naming Gift has made a difference,” says John Oros (BBA ’71), one of the Wisconsin Naming Partners. “It’s not about, ‘Look what I’ve done for the School.’ It’s about, ‘How are we together going to make this a better place?’”
The Naming Gift’s impact was immediate and contagious. After it was announced that fall, the gift’s momentum inspired 2,630 alumni to donate another $1 million to the School by the end of the calendar year, incentivized by a $1 million matching challenge by one of the partners. It was the dawn of a new era at WSB, and things were just getting started.
The Naming Gift came at a time when business schools were increasingly being named for a single donor, a convention that didn’t sit well with Michael Knetter, who became dean of the School in 2002. As a dean, he worried how a naming gift strayed from the lessons taught to business students about teamwork and financial options. As an economist, he worried about the pricing and timing of such a move. As a native of the state whose flagship university he was now representing, Knetter realized what name held the most value of all: Wisconsin.
—John Oros (BBA, ’71),
Wisconsin Naming Partner
A plan to not name the School became Knetter’s pitch. Instead of a name that represented one person, it would represent an entire community as well as the values that community holds.
“I probably talked to some people at work about it and I think the initial reaction was, ‘That’ll never work,’” Knetter recalls with a laugh. “That was a great inspiration for me.”
The partners understood the opportunity of a no-name approach—over time.
“What Mike came up with was creative. Nobody had ever done it,” says Ted Kellner (BBA ’69), one of the partners. “I questioned it; it’s my nature as an analyst. And as I thought about it and reflected on it, I thought, ‘Wow. What a stroke of genius.’”
Knetter, now president and CEO of the University of Wisconsin Foundation, credits the partners with understanding not only the value in the unique gift, but also the importance of its unrestricted funds. This would be a gift that came with no strings attached, and it would go to the needs of the entire School.
“We don’t control it, we haven’t designated it,” Oros says. “We are providing resources so reasonable people who are running the School can use that money and make it the best as they possibly can make it.”
Impact throughout the School and beyond
The past decade has shown what those resources can do. The Naming Gift has funded an annual average of 12.5 full-time faculty members. More than 90 Ph.D. students have received up to four years of funding. The undergraduate program increased to more than 2,000 students and has received $2 million for teaching and program support. Nearly $2 million has gone to student support in the Full-Time MBA Program.
“I want us to continue to be excellent in all areas,” says Naming Partner Paul Leff (BBA ’83, M.S. ’84). “I want the undergraduate program to be excellent. I want the master’s program to be excellent. We need to be a place that attracts Ph.D.s. We need to hire and retain our top faculty. It costs money to do all that, and our group can help.”
The partnership is solid in its mission of building on the School’s excellence and prestige, which has created a strong bond among them.
“I love being affiliated with the naming partners,” Leff says. “I am proud to be a member of that very small group of dedicated alumni, alumni from all generations. We really love being with each other.”
Sometimes those gatherings are to receive updates about what’s happening at WSB and where the gift could be invested next to make the most impact.
“We like getting together, we like sharing our ideas,” Oros says. “Nobody’s bashful. We like getting briefed on what’s going on and hearing about any problems. Then, when the meeting’s over, the School can do anything it wants. I have no doubt that wise choices will be made as to what to do with our money.”
The Wisconsin Naming Gift inspired a new type of collaborative giving at UW–Madison, and many generous efforts that followed brought people together to support the university in ways they hadn’t done before. In 2014 John (BBA ’55) and Tashia (BSE ’55) Morgridge first gifted $100 million to the university that was matched and exceeded by other donors. Ultimately, the matching effort generated nearly $250 million for the university.
Inspired by the Morgridges’ gift, 10 more donors banded together to honor the couple and create the John and Tashia Morgridge Chair in Leadership to be held by the university’s sitting chancellor. John Morgridge is one of the original Naming Partners.
And in 2015 Naming Partner Albert O. “Ab” Nicholas (B.S. ’52, MBA ’55) was part of another gift that inspired other generous donors. Nicholas and his wife, Nancy (B.S. ’55), pledged $50 million to fund need-based undergraduate scholarships. The total gift amount was matched just over a year later.
Inspiring the next generation of giving
Halfway into the timeline of the Wisconsin Naming Gift, no other university has done what Business Badgers came together to do. While other business schools continue to be named for a single donor, none have replicated the approach that has worked so well in Wisconsin.
“There’s a lot of time to go,” Oros says of the 10 years remaining on the gift. “It’s exciting to think about who and what is going to energize the next group of alumni to take the path forward.”
While the Naming Gift has had tangible impact for students and faculty, the Naming Partners hope it’s the intangibles that make an impact, too.
“What hopefully happens is these students that are coming in now learn about the Naming Gift, learn about why we did it,” Kellner says. “They’re going to have a great experience at the School of Business, and they’re going to say, ‘How do I give back?’”
—Michael Shannon (BBA, ’80),
Wisconsin Naming Partner
That’s why the name is what it is, Shannon says. It’s for everyone who ever walked through Grainger Hall or the Commerce Building trying to chart their own course for success.
“It’s our hope that keeping the name ‘Wisconsin’ in the forefront reminds all business alumni that there’s an opportunity to help students,” he says, “just like we were helped.”
With 10 years left in the Naming Gift, WSB Dean Anne P. Massey is mapping out opportunities for the School in light of changing industry workforce needs and shifting student expectations.
“The Naming Gift is and will be a critical source of funding for WSB,” Massey says. “It could do any number of things—bring more partners on board, increase in value. At the same time, we have a built-in opportunity to say, ‘Should we be doing something differently?’ I look forward to those conversations and exploring options with current and future Naming Partners.”
Wisconsin Naming Gift Partners
- Paul J. Collins
- Wade Fetzer III
- Peter L. Frechette
- Phillip T. Gross
- Jon D. Hammes
- Ted D. Kellner
- Michael M. Knetter
- Paul Leff
- Sheldon B. Lubar
- John P. Morgridge
- Albert O. “Ab” Nicholas
- John J. Oros
- H. Signe Ostby
- Fredrick W. Petri
- Michael S. Shannon
- 2 anonymous partners
Badgers inspired to come together to make a difference
> In 2007, 2,630 alumni contributed $1,072,853 through the Wisconsin Naming Gift Matching Campaign. A Wisconsin Naming Gift Partner who chose to remain anonymous offered up to $1 million to match all donations made before the end of the year.
> In 2011, the Wisconsin School of Business launched its Innovation Fund, a collaborative initiative in the spirit of the Wisconsin Naming Gift. The fund supports educational innovation and cutting-edge pilot projects that benefit students.
> Every year, WSB students come together to recognize the importance of philanthropy by writing thank-you notes to donors. Inspired by the Naming Gift, the student fundraising campaign creates a habit of giving among students.