In 1956, Big Ten Conference development directors gathered in Northern Michigan for an informal exchange of ideas. This meeting of top university fundraisers—the first of its kind anywhere in the country—would serve as the impetus for the creation of the Big Ten Fund Raisers Institute as we know it today.

The First Meeting

Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel welcomed the inaugural meeting of BTFRI in 1963. Under the leadership of Darrell Wyrick, the first full-time foundation gift officer at the University of Iowa, the nascent conference set upon itself a unique goal: to foster education within the greater university fundraising community. For two days, Big Ten fundraising leaders served as faculty members, engaging university development professionals in training sessions and intimate discussions of best practices. Among the very first BTFRI faculty included Alan McCarthy, University of Michigan; Kenyon Campbell, Ohio State University; Bob Rennebohm, University of Wisconsin; Bob Toll, Michigan State University, Illinois, and Kansas State; and George Cook, American Alumni Association (later, CASE).

BTDC was Born

In just a few years, the annual conference opened its doors to participants from both public and private educational institutions outside of the Big Ten. By 1971, development directors began holding a separate private meeting—the Big Ten Development Conference—allowing for the focus of BTFRI to fall exclusively on professional development and the growth of a collegial and constructive network for the larger university fundraising community.


In 1999, Curt Simic, then president of the Indiana University Foundation, replaced Wyrick as dean of the conference. After serving BTFRI for seventeen years, Simic was succeeded as dean in 2009 by Jerry May, vice president for development at the University of Michigan. In 2012, the conference welcomed Rod Kirsch, senior vice president for development and alumni relations at Penn State University, as its next dean. Currently, Lynette Marshall, president and CEO of the University of Iowa Center for Advancement, is serving as only the 5th dean in BTFRI’s history.

To date, BTFRI proudly claims a student alumni body of more than 1,900, with fifty faculty alumni from across the country. Welcoming twenty-five participants in its first year, the conference prefers a small audience, inviting only 40 participants.

BTFRI continues to offer top-level professional development through hands-on meetings of the industry’s best leaders. With traditions founded upon sharing successes and thinking critically through challenges, the Big Ten Fund Raisers Institute remains a unique and powerful learning opportunity for the higher education development community.