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Success Story

Western Michigan University

Public university capitalizes on a “mega moment” to reap a historic gift

The Situation

Western Michigan University, a nationally top-100 ranked public research university in Kalamazoo, Michigan, found itself in a unique position: in the spring of 2021, they received a $550 million gift, earmarked for the university, its 10-year-old Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, and Broncos athletics.

The donation was the largest ever made to a U.S. public higher education institution. But if the announcement of the gift wasn’t strategically planned, the university could miss out the multiplier effect that comes from attracting additional donors.


The Solution

Because Graham-Pelton had led the university through a Campaign Planning Study, the WMU advancement and communications team turned to us to advise them on a coordinated fundraising communications strategy.

Our first task was identifying the central narrative for the gift announcement. We relied on our research from the Campaign Planning Study, as well as the vision of WMU’s leadership, to help guide the team in creating a compelling narrative. They used this information as the basis of all external communications, from website copy to social media posts, speeches, and videos. We also coached them on strategically pitching national media outlets.


The Success

As a result of our counsel, WMU’s gift announcement was featured in the Washington Post—on the same morning the official announcement was made on campus. Other publications picked up the story, not only shining a national spotlight on the university, but also creating an open invitation to additional donors and partners to invest in higher education.

“When Western Michigan University first engaged Graham-Pelton to conduct a planning study for the largest campaign in our history, it became quickly evident that we’d made the right choice. Graham-Pelton has helped us develop a comprehensive and authoritative roadmap for where philanthropy can take our regional university, perfectly suited to our own unique circumstances.”


Kristen DeVries

Vice President, University Advancement & Executive Director

Western michigan university foundation

You can raise more money. We can show you how.