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When you hear about someone making a bequest to their alma mater, you might not picture a donor like Michael Reed (A.B. 2008)—he’s in his early 30s; he has been in the workforce for a little more than a decade; and he was a first-generation college student.
Until a recent confluence of seemingly unrelated events in his professional and personal lives, even Michael hadn’t considered how easy and valuable it would be to make a planned gift. As a member of the University of Michigan development community, Michael was asked to join a task force at work focused on planned giving. At the same time, he and his partner, Tyler, were closing on their first home. Naturally, the home-buying process encouraged Michael to take a closer look at his financial situation and to think about his assets. Something clicked.
“When you’re 34, you might not have a lot in the bank, but you may be accumulating assets, like a house, or have a retirement account that will continue to grow,” Michael said. “I actually logged into my retirement account to update my address after we moved in, and I got that reminder again: ‘You need to designate a beneficiary for your account.’ So I started to think about where I’d like that money to go if something happened.”
“I decided that half will go to my family and, to make sure those assets aren’t too heavily taxed, I wanted half to go to a nonprofit,” said Michael of the significant tax advantages of donating retirement fund assets to charity.
As millennials like Michael begin to spend more time on tax and financial planning, it's helpful to think about what types of assets they are leaving to their families as they plan their wills. Some assets have more tax advantages if left to charity versus a family member, and Michael was thinking of that when he designated part of his retirement account to U-M.
He continued, “The University of Michigan came to mind immediately because it has had such a big impact on my life. When I arrived in Ann Arbor, U-M became my home, and helped me become the person I am today.”
It was simple to designate U-M as a beneficiary online, and Michael can easily update it himself if he wants to make changes in the future. Michael took the important next step of documenting his planned gift with the University of Michigan, by contacting a gift officer to detail the gift’s intent and identify what it should support, to ensure that it will have a meaningful impact. Documenting a bequest does not make it binding or irrevocable, and estate plans can still be amended if circumstances or priorities change.
When compared with earlier generations, some think that millennials aren’t interested in charitable giving. The truth is they’re just giving differently: Millennials prefer to see the direct impact of their giving; many are interested in supporting causes that they view as more local or immediate; most are looking for a personal connection; and they often become involved by volunteering or giving small amounts at first.
Michael’s existing yearly giving reflects these millennial characteristics. While documenting his bequest, he was happy to learn that he could similarly personalize his planned gift to benefit the things he was already supporting in a new way.
“I discovered that one of the great things about documenting a bequest is that you can direct exactly where the money goes, and in what proportion, to create a legacy that reflects you and your experiences,” Michael said. And there were so many things he loved about Michigan. “It was almost hard to choose,” he added.
A Story of You
Michael’s gift represents his truly well-rounded Michigan experience. An equal portion will go to each of four distinct U-M units. One is the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA), where Michael earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2008.
“I am so thankful for my LSA liberal arts education. I had a tough time picking a major; my siblings were accounting and engineering majors, and I didn’t have a clearly defined career path like that in mind,” Michael said. “LSA gave me the opportunity to explore different disciplines and, ultimately, connect that to a career that made sense for me.” After graduation, Michael began his career in fundraising for higher education at Columbia University in New York City. He now heads up LSA’s digital fundraising efforts, including 2019’s record-breaking Giving Blueday, which raised $1.9 million in just 24 hours.
“Not everyone has the ‘perfect’ college experience,” Michael said. “Mine wasn’t perfect, either, but when I was going through a tough time, the university made sure I had the support I needed to get through it and succeed. I’m awed by all the support and resources that students have—and that has just multiplied since I graduated.”
Michael’s gift to LSA will benefit the LSA Fund for Program Support, which provides funding for the most pressing needs at the college. He saw this in action as LSA Program Support donors helped fund a Giving Blueday match this past year.
“I hope LSA students will always have the opportunity to learn about their fellow human beings through their psychology classes, impact the future by absorbing history lessons, and expand their perspectives by learning about cultures halfway across the world (just a few of my favorite classes),” Michael said.
An Equal Place in His Heart
Michael was thoughtful about establishing a multifaceted gift to ensure that future generations of students across the university will benefit. In addition to LSA, Michael included the Michigan Marching Band, Michigan Softball, and the Friends of Musical Theatre, all of which reflect his wide-ranging interests.
“This gift really tells a story of me. When I was creating my gift plan, I wanted to identify programs within my interests that will be here forever. I loved the idea of supporting many areas of the university that I care about and that I trust will do the right thing in the next 100 years—and beyond.”
Michigan Marching Band
Before Michael even started classes in the fall of his first year, he’d already been on campus for several weeks, practicing as a member of the trumpet section in the Michigan Marching Band.
“I immediately found a family with the Michigan Marching Band,” Michael said. “The band does so much more than entertain 100,000 people each weekend. Being a member filled my four years of education with experiences and friendships that I will forever hold dear. This gift is also a ‘thank you’ to the wonderful faculty and staff that continue to make the Michigan Marching Band one of the best in the country.”
Michael has been a softball fan since watching his sister play in high school, and his love of the game grew as he watched head coach Carol Hutchins lead the Michigan Softball team to the national championship in his freshman year.
“These amazing student-athletes have inspired me with their talents on and off the field. But it is Coach Hutch who has built a legacy at Michigan, and in women’s sports nationally, that makes me want to give back to this amazing team,” Michael said. “She has broken down barriers and paved the way for other female athletes and coaches, and along the way, racked up enough wins to make her the best coach in collegiate history. And I will never forget the inspirational speech she gave to the Michigan Marching Band members when I was a student. Go Blue!”
Friends of Musical Theatre
An avid musical theater fan, Michael often took advantage of the opportunity to see up-and-coming Broadway stars perform while they were students at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD), one of the top musical theater programs in the nation.
“The graduates of this program are some of the most talented people in the world, and it was a treat to use my student discount to watch future Tony, Oscar, Grammy (and more) award winners right here on campus,” Michael said. “And it was really cool when I moved to New York City that I was able to follow the careers of people I’d seen perform at Michigan.”
Michael started supporting SMTD’s Friends of Musical Theatre (FMT) shortly after he graduated. “It has been a pleasure being a part of the Friends of Musical Theatre group at Michigan, and I hope this amazing program continues to make a national impact in the arts. The talented faculty and staff continue to educate in a way that develops well-rounded performers that are the best at their craft. I am happy to be a small part in making sure it continues.”
Michael is hoping that his gift will inspire other young alumni to start thinking about their assets and planned giving, and to give to what matters to them at Michigan, in whatever way they can.
“These are all funds I’d been supporting, in smaller amounts, annually—and that’s a great way to give because every dollar really does count,” he said.