AFP Interview Series: Nominee Tracy Utech

With over 20 years of experience, Utech and her team have championed funds that have seen benefit outside of Wayne State’s campus.

On Nov. 8, the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Detroit Chapter will host its 27th annual Philanthropy Day Awards. Give Detroit sat down with each honoree for more on their work and the causes that inspire them. In this weekly series leading up to the event, we share our exclusive interviews with the award winners. First up, Tracy Utech, associate vice president for principal gifts at Wayne State University and winner of the Dr. John S. Lore Award for Outstanding Fundraising Executive.

Give Detroit: Where does your passion for fundraising for higher education stem from? Does it differ from the passion that you have for other causes that are not related to education?

Tracy Utech: Fundraising for higher education is multidisciplinary, multicultural. There’s a great diversity of fields, a great diversity of thought. In the words of Horace Mann, education represents the great equalizer in our world, or certainly in this country, and I wholeheartedly embrace that thought. You can be from anywhere, doing anything, with any set of circumstances, and education can help achieve dreams and pursue passions and develop who you are as an individual in our society. When I donate to an arts organization, an environmental cause or direct human services, the kind of basic support that people need, it personally fills up a gap, an absolute fundamental need. For me, the difference is that education ignites a fire; it bleeds into the future. But there are immediate needs that also require our support and attention, and so in some ways I think of them differently.

You’re the campaign director of Wayne State’s $750 million Pivotal Moments campaign, which achieved its goal two months prior to its close date. How will it change Wayne State?

The immediate impact of this campaign is that our current students, faculty, and research projects are all benefiting from donor support, which means discoveries are being elevated whether it’s medical, technical or education-related. Even in K-12, there’s research that’s done. As we build our endowment, we’re also building for our Detroit community. Wayne State is celebrating its sesquicentennial. Certainly, the university and Detroit have changed over time, and we’ve always been symbiotic and I think we’ve certainly helped lift up our city and our citizens. We are first and foremost a public institution working toward public good.

What is your relationship to Wayne State?

Public universities are my passion, I’ve been at Wayne State for six and a half years and I was at Oakland University for 17 and a half years. At Wayne State, I am just a passionate staff member at the only public university in Michigan that’s truly in an urban environment, and committed to its students, research, and the city of Detroit.

You also mentor rising fundraising professionals for AFP. What has this experience meant to you?

Mentoring in any and every field is important not only for the people shadowing, but for the people who are mentoring. Mentors learn as much as mentees, usually.

As a former board member of the AFP, how does it feel to be honored by the organization that you’ve worked for?

I’m humbled and honored, honestly. Maybe that sounds too trite, but it’s true. I’m sure none of the nominees — myself included — think about how their actions could incite a future, honorary award.

What are you looking forward to at the AFP award ceremony on Nov. 8?

I genuinely am looking forward to honoring the other awardees that evening!

Related: Introducing the Greater Detroit Philanthropy Awards’ Eight New Recipients