Why We Give: One Couple's Perspective

June 17, 2019

Mark Ritz ('75 M.S.E.) and Lee Gorman share their experiences with giving and inspiration for their philanthropy

Mark Ritz ('75 M.S.E.): 

Good afternoon. Lee and I would like to share some of our experiences and our motivation in being donors to the University of Michigan. I’ll talk about a couple of life-changing events that were a part of that experience, and Lee will then give some insight into our motivations.

We have a 40-year history of donating to the University beginning with becoming annual donors in our first years of employment after graduation. That level of giving continued for many years until a happy confluence of events that allowed us to up our game.

One of the core values that Lee and I share is a commitment to protecting the environment. Consequently, in 2006 we decided to install solar panels at our house to supplement the energy from the grid. In the course of doing the research for this project, I learned about a company named First Solar, an American manufacturer of solar panels, that was launching an Initial Public Offering, and we purchased a modest amount of stock.  We were pleased when the stock price started to climb after we bought it, we were happy when this trend continued for months, and we were ecstatic when, just one year later, that stock had generated over three quarters of a million dollars of capital gains!  It was a bit like winning the lottery in slow motion. But it presented the dilemma of what to do with such a windfall. At that time, we both had corporate executive jobs, so we didn’t really need immediate income.  As we were wrestling with this question, a fortuitous coincidence occurred in the form of mail from U-M touting the benefits of donating appreciated assets, particularly in the form of a Charitable Remainder Trust, something neither of us was familiar with at the time.  The more we learned about it from the University’s Planned Giving staff, the more we liked, and in December 2007 we donated our stock to the University of Michigan, creating a charitable remainder trust. Doing so provides the university with eventual access to those funds while, not only allowing us to avoid paying capital gains taxes but actually resulting in a significant charitable contribution tax deduction.  The trust now provides us with a life-time source of income which today allows us to travel the world. This was truly a life-changing event and allowed us to “graduate” to becoming major donors.

My second story is about another life-changing event that specifically involves UM-Dearborn. Frankly, my connection to UM-Dearborn had languished over the years since graduation.  But in June 2010, we received a very nice invitation from then Dean Sengupta to visit campus and have lunch. To this day I don’t know what prompted the invitation, but I strongly suspect the development office had a hand in it. The lunch was scheduled in mid-July and in the course of the conversation, we mentioned that our nephew, Geordie, had recently graduated from UM-Ann Arbor with a nuclear engineering degree, and was looking for a job. We were especially close to Geordie because he had grown up in Florida where his parents continued to reside while he attended Michigan.  So, we had become his local, surrogate parents.  Dean Sengupta volunteered that he had a contact at the Savannah River Nuclear site to whom he’d be happy to forward Geordie’s resume.

Well, Geordie got the job, moved to Augusta, Georgia and married a local girl.  Now nine years later they’re still living in Augusta and have two wonderful children.  Another life-changing event catalyzed by our relationship to the University of Michigan.  That reconnection, initiated by Dean Sengupta, led to my joining the alumni board and more recently making our donation in support of the new ELB.

Our entire experience in giving to University of Michigan, particularly over the last 12 years, has been an enjoyable, mutually beneficial relationship. We’ve been rewarded with many gratifying opportunities to work with faculty, staff and particularly students. Over that time, we’ve discovered even more ways to give both money and time to the University.  We’re excited by the prospect of continuing to do so by working with Dean Tony England to complete the new ELB and with Chancellor Domenico Grasso to realize his bold vision for UM-Dearborn.

Lee Gorman: 

Why do we give? In a word, gratitude. 

FIRST, gratitude for the countless and largely nameless people who have given to improve our world in some way.  Although we have both worked hard for what we achieved, we know that the education we so value wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of those who have given to our alma maters; that the dogs we love would not be with us if not for those who give to rescue agencies and humane societies; that without the millions in donations from other listeners we wouldn’t get our daily dose of public radio.

SECOND, gratitude for the people and organizations whose work our gifts go to support. UM-Dearborn provides a unique educational experience for people who will play a big part in revitalizing SE Michigan and the entire Michigan economy.  Scholarship and research at the Erb Institute in Ann Arbor will help move us toward a more sustainable society, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters continues to fight for clean water, clean air, and a safer environment overall.  All of these things will make our futures better.

FINALLY, gratitude for the privilege of being a part of something much greater than ourselves.  When we meet with and talk to the incredibly gifted U-M students whose scholarship we support, we are humbled; when we see the new ELB becoming a reality, we are excited to be involved, and when we are invited to events that recognize and celebrate the accomplishments at this great University, the feeling of belonging is so rewarding that we wonder how else we can give.

For this we are grateful, and we are proud to be U-M Difference Makers.


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