History of Philanthropy at UW-Madison

Fundraising was not organized in the early years of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but it did occur. Even into the early 20th century, private contributions were equated with private, not public institutions. Here’s a look at how philanthropy evolved at the UW-Madison.

This video was produced in 2010 to celebrate the impact of philanthropy on UW-Madison upon the 65th anniversary of the UW Foundation.


University of Wisconsin is founded.


Charles Wakeley, a member of the UW’s first graduating class, brings together 40 fellow alumni to found the Wisconsin Alumni Association.


Governor James Lewis makes the first gift to the University of Wisconsin: $100.


Cadwallader Washburn, regent and former governor, gives the first major gift to the university: $43,000 to build and furnish an observatory overlooking Lake Mendota.


William Freeman Vilas, former regent and law professor, leaves more than $1.8 million to the university in his will. The Vilas Trust is formed, which has since given millions to the university.


Construction of Memorial Union is completed as a result of the first organized fund drive.


UW donors and leaders form a Gifts and Bequests Council “to encourage the growing practice of making gifts to the university.” The council officially becomes known as the University of Wisconsin Foundation.


In its first year, the Foundation receives $95,378 from fewer than 1,000 donors.


The University of Wisconsin launches its first capital campaign, coordinated around the university’s centennial. It raises $5 million to expand lower campus.


The first annual fundraising campaign is organized.


The second capital campaign begins. It ultimately raises $3.5 million to build the Elvehjem (later Chazen) Museum of Art.


The President’s Club is organized to recognize major donors to the university. It becomes the Bascom Hill Society in 1977.


The University of Wisconsin System is formed. UW-Madison remains its flagship campus.


The City of Madison creates State Street Mall, completing the Library Mall envisioned by UW Foundation executive director William Hagenah Sr. in 1945.


The university’s first comprehensive campaign — Forward with Wisconsin — raises $18 million over four years for projects such as the Southeast Recreational Facility and the new UW Hospital and Clinics facility.


The Chancellor’s Scholarship Program is established, providing private support to increase educational opportunities for underrepresented minority groups at UW-Madison.


With the participation of 53,796 donors, the university’s second comprehensive campaign — Campaign for Wisconsin — raises $472 million over six years.


The university’s third comprehensive campaign — Create the Future — raises $1.86 billion over six years for campus priorities and new building projects.


The Wisconsin Partnership Program is created with $300 million from the conversion of Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisconsin.


An $85 million “no-name” gift from a partnership of 13 alumni preserves the name of UW-Madison’s business school as the Wisconsin School of Business.


The Van Hise Society is formed to honor donors whose lifetime gifts exceed $1 million.


The UW Foundation merges with the Wisconsin Alumni Association, forming the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.


Alumni John and Tashia Morgridge commit $100 million in matching funds to encourage other donors to establish endowed faculty chairs and professorships. The matching challenge is met and exceeded in seven months, raising a total of $250 million.


Alumni Ab and Nancy Nicholas commit $50 million in matching funds to establish student scholarships and fellowships.


All Ways Forward — the university’s fourth comprehensive campaign — is launched with emphases on faculty support, student support, the educational experience, and pushing the boundaries of knowledge.

UW Foundation Presidents

  • George Haight, 1945-1955
  • Robert Rennebohm, 1955-1988
  • Andrew “Sandy” Wilcox, 1988-2010
  • Michael Knetter, 2010-present