Spartan Fund leader connects alumni with their passions for helping MSU succeed and thrive

Rebecca Surian will lead the Spartan Fund as senior director of development within MSU Athletics.

“She has a long and storied career at Michigan State, both as a student and for many years in our central advancement office,” says Spartans Athletic Director Bill Beekman. “And most recently within the College of Music, where she was the principal fundraiser for the Billman Music Pavilion, a truly spectacular facility that sits in the center part of campus, adjacent to the Music Building.” Surian joins Beekman on this edition of MSU Today.

Surian describes literally growing up on the MSU campus as her father was a French professor. She sees similarities in raising funds for the arts and for athletics.

“People were surprised when they learned that I moved from the College of Music to Athletics and thought, ‘Really? Arts fundraising and now athletic fundraising?’ Frankly, I think it's very similar,” says Surian. “I'm talking with alumni who are passionate about Michigan State University. They are passionate about this university having great opportunities for our faculty and students.

“I see an easy transition. I know a number of alumni who have supported the College of Music over the years, as well as Athletics. So I actually see it as a very logical and easy next step in my career path. It's visiting with people and talking about their passions and desire to support MSU and see both our academics and the university as a whole succeed and do well and thrive.

“Being a fundraiser is about developing relationships with people and understanding what their passions are and what excites them about Michigan State University. The relationship evolves and gets to a point where you have an opportunity to talk with them about the experience that they get and the joy that they get when they make a gift to the university. It's really about letting donors understand the experience and the joy that they get when they make a significant gift to the university. It's really all about building relationships. The ask comes naturally. When you talk about passion and when you talk about how people want to invest in their university, it’s remarkably easy when it gets to the point where you talk about a gift. ‘What would you like to support that would be meaningful to you and your family at Michigan State University?’ When you reach that point, it's a natural, easy process.”

Surian shares some her current fundraising priorities, like the Munn Ice Arena renovation, implementing Mat Ishbia’s significant gift to MSU, and endowed support for students and travel funds for coaches and programs.

Surian is the first female to lead the Spartan Fund. “It is a profession that is largely male dominated. And yet you've taken this on with gusto and passion,” says Beekman. “What does that mean to you?”

“I'm honored. It also makes a great deal of sense. Fifty percent of the athletic scholarships are awarded to female athletes. Women love athletic competition just as much as men do. It makes perfect logical sense to have a woman in this position working with male counterparts and alumni who love sports. It  makes perfect sense to me.

“Many alumni want to be a part of the excitement. They want to be a part of the transformation on campus. And we want to be a part of the opportunity to help our student athletes be the best that they can. It's exciting that I'm the first woman to head the Spartan Fund, but I don't think it's particularly unusual or strange. We're just all people trying to figure out how to make our university better. And I just happen to be a female leading the Spartan Fund.”

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM and AM 870 and streams at WKAR.org. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.