Part One: A transcript from an interview with the Star Tribune’s Dennis Brackin and Lou Nanne, chairman of the University of Minnesota’s $190 million athletics fundraising campaign:
Q: Pretend I’m a potential donor. Tell me why this project is important and why I should contribute.
A: I think that everybody has looked at the University of Minnesota and just considered the people that donate to the University of Minnesota are alumni and the university is only involved with the alumni. Realistically speaking the University of Minnesota is the engine that drives the state. Its tentacles reach everybody. There’s nothing else, no corporation, foundation or endowment that can reach everybody like the University of Minnesota.
The University of Minnesota might have a great cancer discovery but not everybody is going to have cancer so it doesn’t hit everybody, but the different departments of the university in some way or the other benefit the whole state. The University of Minnesota is the only research institution we have in the whole state, and we have to start looking at it as the jewel of the state — not just for the alumni. For too long people have taken it for granted and I think that has to change. It’s a transformative institution and we have to do something transformative here to make things better for everybody.
Q: So you’re not just focused on the usual suspects, the alumni? You’re trying to expand the donor base?
A: That’s the first thing I said to my committee: Too often everybody just thinks of, ‘What can we get the alumni to contribute to get this done?’ and I said, ‘The University of Minnesota affects everybody in the state.’ I don’t care if you went to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Robert Morris, North Dakota State, whatever it is. If you’re living in the state of Minnesota you’re benefiting from the University of Minnesota in some way or the other along the term of your life. I just think we should all be proud of it. It’s just like the Minnesota Vikings, the Twins, the North Stars, the Wild now, the Wolves, every time we have athletic success here many people revel in it. Can you imagine 50,000 people coming here when the Detroit series [in 1987] was won by the Twins and the first time in the World Series, you have 50,000 people just to see them come home? That’s what athletics does. It creates emotions and it touches a lot of people. So you have all the different athletic things that we have here, sports that we have here, that makes it a better place for students to come. If you have better students then you have better faculty, you get better educated people, you get better output from the total university and it makes the whole state benefit from it.
Q: I would imagine it’s easy to get a list of potential alumni donors, but how do you find the people you’re talking about top expand it? How do you know where to go?
A: That’s a great question and that’s why we have the leadership council we have because there are people from different walks of life that all have different circles of friends and business involvement and they lead us to these other potential donors and that’s what we need. We need friends of every walk of life. We need friends that know people and corporations that are potential donors for the University of Minnesota, and with their input and our people at the University of Minnesota, hopefully we’re going to be successful.
Q: Tell me about the leadership council. How is this fundraising organization set-up?
A: Well we have an executive committee which is we have 12-14 on the executive committee and we’re just targeting one or two other people there. Then our leadership group is about 45. So the 12-14 will meet every two months and the leadership council will meet every three months. Then we bring people up to date, we ask them for their ideas, their direction, their knowledge, their contacts, and we go from there.
Q: And you’re the guy at the top of the pyramid?
A: I’m the chairman.
Q: How did you decide to take this job?
A: I didn’t decide, I wasn’t looking to decide on this. The president and the athletic director came to meet with me and told me about the project and asked if I’d be involved. I said, ‘Definitely. I’d certainly love to be on your committee.’ They said, ‘No you have to be the chairman.’ I said, ‘No I want to be in the committee and help.’ And they said, ‘No, we want you as chairman.’ So it wasn’t my first choice but I guess I just got to the point, and this is the most important thing that I think about and that I tell people that are on my committee, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve said, ‘Enough.’ My grandfather used to have a word where I used to screw around and get in trouble or do things I shouldn’t be doing, he’d say, ‘Basta.’ B-A-S-T-A. That’s the Italian word for enough. Enough. I thought of that when they asked me. I said, ‘You know I’ve had enough.’ I’ve had enough of hearing that the University of Minnesota can’t compete. I’ve had enough of hearing the University of Minnesota can’t recruit. I’ve had enough of hearing all these reasons why other places are going to succeed and we can’t. I guess I’m just fed up with it. I’m frustrated by it. I’m upset about hearing that. I think more than anything I just, maybe it’s my competitive side, more than anything I’ve gone around, had the good fortune to follow the Gopher football team, and I’ve gone to these other places in the Big Ten, and I see these other places in the Big Ten and I say, ‘Why can they do it, and why can’t we?’ There’s no reason why we can’t. That’s where I got myself into this deal.
Q: Where do you think Minnesota ranks in athletic facilities in the Big Ten?
A: Jim Delaney was just in town and met with my leadership council and he told us we’re last, which we knew. I’m not making it up. All you have to do is just travel over there and you see it’s just a joke. It’s ridiculous.
Q: So you’ve personally seen that? Last in the Big Ten?