$85 Million Will Buy You Nothing at the University of Wisconsin

Michael Knetter may just go down in history as one of the greatest fundraisers of all time. Knetter is the dean of the Wisconsin Business School. Other universities have managed to raise substantial amounts of money by naming their business schools after generous donors (think Carlson, Tuck, Goizueta, Sloan, etc.). But Knetter did something far more impressive. He managed to raise $85 million in return for promising not to name the school for the next 20 years. A bunch of boosters liked the fact that the school is simply called the “University of Wisconsin Business School,” and they were willing to pay to keep it that way, at least for 20 years.

As one of my colleagues pointed out, it probably would have been a lot cheaper for the boosters just to bribe the Wisconsin legislature to pass a bill preventing the naming of the business school, although that strategy would not have gotten them many positive headlines.

Apparently, Knetter is now offering a full slate of objects not to name at the business school. For $50,000, you can have a classroom not named after you. For $5,000, you can not have your name on a plaque in the entryway to the building. For those of you with a little less to give, $50 will guarantee that the urinal of your choice will go unnamed. But only for the next 20 years.


Haha... clever, but paying 85M to simply name the school "The Univeristy of Wisconsin Business School" probably would not have drawn any publicity and publicity is what they want to attract more applications...

Rocky - (madison, WI)

This is just the beginning of the Negative Reinforcement Marketing Service started here in Madison. Soon, we plan to move on to paying the Salvation Army to not ring bells at Yule time and paying Starbucks to not open stores every week.


This is a great idea. And for those confused, they donated to KEEP the name "The Wisconsin School of Business."

WaterCooler Solutions

And oh by the way, its actually
"Wisconsin School of Business"

It works perfectly since you can now have 19 loyal wisconsin business owners pool in the money instead of looking for one big donor.

I think the Dean ought to have this trademarked!

Bruce Umpstead

I wish my local PTA would run a "not-fundraiser." This weekend, hundreds of parents donated gifts and time to net $2,800 on a community carnival. Great community event? Yes. Effective fundraiser? No. Ask me for $50 not to work next year? Definitely, maybe.


I think there are often comments on whether or not a a given blog entry in freakonomics was valuable (i.e, "how is this based on economics", or "was this worth writing about?"). Given the nature of this blog, I think it would make a lot of sense for their to be some form of rating methodology. Obviously the "email this" and "share this" can provide some information, but I imagine that most people ignore these buttons (even when i do email out freakomics links, I tend to simply copy the url and paste it in my email client of choice).
The data on which blog postings were enjoyed, and which hated, would provide the writers invaluable data I imagine and I think would be fascinating for the readers as well. I think we'd all enjoy a little meta analysis of what works and what doesn't on this blog.


"Blaise Pascal: Harvard Business School isn't named after John Harvard?"

Good point. You know the Stanford Graduate School of Business hasn't changed its name either (still named after Leland Stanford Jr.).


He was inspired by Larry David's "anonymous" NRDC donation.


I was at the school during Knetter's first year and it was evident he was a different kind of dean. After a lapse in donating, this "gimmick" got me back on board. On Wisconsin!


whonellie @ 26.
thanks. Direct me to your posts. #s, please.


Another forward-thinking idea from a truly innovative business program!

I am SO proud to be an alumna!

Billy Bob

This is a brilliant idea, and works well in the Midwestern culture!

I could also see it working for the Green Bay Packers field.


jz: I may not have agreed with some of your comments in the past (you seem to be a frequent poster), but the Wrigley Field comment is GENUIS! I can picture a guy collecting money out on corner in front of the stadium with a big sign that reads "Save Wrigley Field".

Another Badger

I loved this when I read about it in the Alumni magazine. I wish the rest of UW would do it! Wrigley Field too.


Cool! Another demonstration of the Coase Theorem!

Speaking of which, now that Adam Smith's former residence is now on the market, how much do you think other economists might pay for it to prevent you and Steve Dubner from buying the property with your book revenues and renaming it "Freakonomics Manor"?

Wall Street Wisconsin Alum

Not only is Mike Knetter a fundrasing guru, he is a fantastic leader within the School of Business. Knetter's decision underscores the creativity embraced at the university and approaches the issue from a decidely financial angle, which is fitting considering the context of the issue--naming a business school. Keep up the good work Mike...students, please try not to have any fun on State Street (said with the utmost sarcasm). Go Badgers!


#8's suggestion cracked me up. And one gets the sense that Knetter would love the irony of this.

Buckingham B. Badger

The creativity, and success, of this fundraising scheme exemplifies the out of-the-box, forward thinking approach taught at the UW. Perhaps this is why the University of Wisconsin ranks at the top of all US colleges and universities in graduating the highest number of CEOs of companies included in the S&P 500.
Only Harvard, another college without a "leased out" business school (HBS), graduated as many CEOs. Both have 15.

There is something to be said for instilling pride in the institution itself.

Blaise Pascal

@13: Harvard Business School isn't named after John Harvard?

R Collumb

As an alum of University of Wisconsin Business School, I'm delighted with Dean Knetter's approach. In 20 years the school can be named or kept as is depending on donations. Naming a school indefinately removes any potential revenue upside in the future.