Homecoming

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Back on campus  |  For those who wonder what energizes fundraisers, it pays to meet Michael VanDerhoef, Jour ’84. He gets a boost daily watching students walking to and from classes — he calls it “watching the tide come and go.”

The metaphor fits, especially witnessed from his office window that looks out on Wisconsin Avenue with the steeples of Church of the Gesu to one side and Raynor Memorial Libraries a little farther west. Each day, students with their heads bowed, those wearing earphones and those toting gym bags or book bags that look impossibly heavy fortify his commitment.

Long before becoming vice president for university advancement, he was one of them, crossing Wisconsin Avenue, probably lugging a backpack of noteworthy weight. He left Marquette with a degree in journalism and parlayed his creativity into mediums that move audiences to action. He didn’t know then that he would return and deploy his skills honed studying advertising and working in development.

But returning to Marquette was almost a reflex, VanDerhoef admits. It was triggered after a recruiter asked him to suggest candidates to lead University Advancement. Remembering the conversation, VanDerhoef admits: “You try to play it cool. I said, ‘Why don’t you send me some information and I’ll see if I can think of anyone?’”

Really, the only person he needed to consult was his wife, Patty (Bland) VanDerhoef, Dent Hy ’83. “We both love the place and said we’ve got to take a shot.”

And that brings it back to what drives VanDerhoef. He calls it the “overarching” story, that sense of responsibility that nests inside graduates. “That really defines the difference between the young people we help form here versus elsewhere,” he says. “The world needs them more today than ever.”

Working with the advancement and alumni relations staffs, it is his job to make friends, raise funds and heighten excitement for what Marquette makes possible.

This past year, social media provided a new window for doing that, particularly among young alumni. VanDerhoef smiles broadly when reflecting on how crowd-funding campaigns unlocked doors and showed young alumni that small gifts have immediate impact.

He says it’s about scaling projects to attract their interest. “Today we are very interested in engaging young alumni in supporting Marquette by helping them understand that the level of support they are capable of in their early years is every bit as important as what they will be able to give later,” he explains.

That leap from observer to donor isn’t as natural as VanDerhoef would like. “We have to do a better job of helping our alumni see their role in creating the same experience for the next generation of students,” he says.

With the cost of higher education under greater scrutiny, it’s critical to talk about why a Catholic, Jesuit university is important and what value it brings to our students. VanDerhoef says: “People ask, ‘What do I get for my money? Is it worth what I’m paying?’” He hasn’t a doubt because of what he sees from his window. “It’s the best reminder of why we’re here,” VanDerhoef says, watching the tide of students, “and I know that being at Marquette will help them realize their potential.” — JMM

What fundraising priorities top the university’s list?

VanDerhoef names two without hesitation. Continuing to make Marquette accessible to first-generation students, he says, changes the trajectory of those students’ lives and the lives of their families and creates a richer campus community. He also stresses supporting research: “One of the distinguishing characteristics is the level of research going on here.”

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