Marti Heil has a 45-year career at three universities, raising critical funds, tirelessly promoting the value of philanthropy, and expanding alumni engagement efforts.

She came out of retirement in October 2018, returning to MSU, where she has now spent more than 33 years in the advancement. Marti was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan and graduated in 1976 from MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in advertising.

“It has been an absolute pleasure and honor for me to serve Michigan State University and a privilege to do what I have done for 45 years. And it was even more of a privilege to have done it at my alma mater.

What initially attracted you to advancement work? What do you like about it? Why do you do what you do?

“When I started fundraising it wasn’t something you were looking for. You mostly fell into career. I started in PR. It’s what I always wanted to do And someone I worked with said, ‘You’d be good as a fundraiser.’ And I thought, ‘Well, how could I do that?’ And that’s really been my passion, and it’s been a privilege to be able to serve in that capacity as a fundraiser for so many years.

“I like to refer to it as doing magic. It’s that goose bump moment when you bring together passionate donors and alumni who have a desire to make a difference and have a positive impact in life. of a university, and they are visionaries because they see a need and they have the financial resources.

“And our job as fundraisers is to be able to match these visionary donors and alumni with visionary professors who are making a difference through their research. It’s about matching them with students who will also make a difference in the world and make the world a better place. And seeing a donor rejoice in seeing their financial resources put to good use to make a difference in a student’s life or to make a difference in the discovery of a faculty member’s research is magical.

What drew you to 2018 when your alma mater needed you and called you back?

“It was special to be able to serve MSU for 30 years as I developed my career, and it was special to be able to take that experience and apply it at two other institutions. But to cap off a career by being asked to come back and serve in a leadership role was a dream come true. It was more than a duty. It was a respect for the institution and the feeling that I could have a positive impact at a time when MSU was going through a lot of changes.

How has advancement work evolved over the years?

“Our donors are becoming increasingly sophisticated. And it has been an absolute joy to be able to be a part of teaching our alumni about the importance of private philanthropy to an institution, a public institution in particular. I started at Michigan State in 1980. And I think at that time, all of our staff, including gift processing, including our receptionist, including the vice president, our total staff might have been 20 people . And I remember the first year we raised about $12 million.

“I remember we had a champagne toast to our first million dollar giveaway. Fast forward and we now have about 320 employees in college advancement. And we’re currently raising $224 million with three months to go. do (in exercise). That’s pretty significant growth. And so, thank you to our very dedicated graduates and extraordinarily generous donors. It takes a village. We have an incredibly talented staff. And the university has embraced alumni engagement and fundraising to the point where everyone on campus understands the value, importance, and impact that private philanthropy can have.

Why is private fundraising so important to a place like MSU?

“Well, it looks like we have a huge budget, and we have a huge budget. Most of it is reserved. And so private philanthropy provides that margin of excellence to be able to attract outstanding professors from across the country because there are endowed chairs affiliated with the positions. Most professors, when doing research, teaching, and providing services, are also required to raise funds to help with research.

“And what often makes the difference in attracting those exceptional professors and retaining the superstar professors is having an endowed chair that pays for the margin of excellence so they don’t have to spend time going out. and raising money to do their research. They have a pool of that endowment fund that helps them. And scholarships often make a difference in whether a student can attend school. And that student can become a brilliant doctor or decision maker in government or a social worker or an educator who will change the world.

What are the challenges and opportunities ahead for the advancement of higher education in general and for MSU in particular?

“There are always challenges. Part of the challenge for Michigan State is that, comparatively, our sister institutions in the Big Ten have all been fundraising for many years longer than Michigan State. We didn’t start private philanthropy as an active strategic department until the late 60s. And most of the other institutions in the Big Ten started fundraising in the early 1920s or 1930s. We’ve got some catching up to explain to our alumni why private philanthropy is so important.

“We were also listed early in Michigan state history as being a state-supported institution. And we are really no longer supported by the state. We are certainly state-assisted and heavily dependent on the State of Michigan for much-needed funding. But given our total budget, it is increasingly imperative that private philanthropy helps make up the difference.

Your successor is Kim Tobin. She will take over as Vice President for Academic Advancement. Obviously you don’t want to tell her what to do, but do you have any advice for Kim when she arrives?

“I have had the privilege of meeting Kim on several occasions since her appointment. She is someone I am very passionate about. It makes a difference when you have invested so much time, years and effort in an organization “I have no qualms about giving leadership to Kim. I think she’s going to be great. I think the staff are going to respond to her as a leader. I know our alumni and our donors are going to embrace her.”

“The best advice I would give Kim is to accept being a Spartan and being a sponge and learn as much as you can about Michigan State and the culture of Michigan State and our communities. One of the first things we all tried many times to tell him, and it became a joke to us, was that when someone says, “Go green,” what do you say And she learned very quickly that saying “Go White” is the right answer.

“So I’m so excited about Kim. It’s a great opportunity for her. She brings 20 years of experience to the table. She doubles her headcount. She doubles the amount she’s tasked to raise. She will be able to bring that talent to Michigan State and build on the foundation that the team and I have put in place and take it to the next level I will be its greatest cheerleader and the biggest cheerleader on the staff.

“Once a Spartan, always a Spartan. Being born and raised in Lansing, it was never a question of where I was going to go to school, and I won’t go anywhere. I will always be there as a donor. I will always be here as an alum. And whatever I can do to help with the transition, I’ll be there because being a Spartan is very, very special.

MSU Today airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 5 a.m. on WKAR News/Talk and Sundays at 8 p.m. on 760 WJR. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and wherever you get your shows.