Medical Schools

While there are some notable exceptions, major medical school donations are usually designated gifts. Rarely are donations made to a medical school's general fund that allow for much discretion on the part of administrators. Donors to medical schools definitely want their say on how their $1 million-plus gifts are spent.

Here at IP we have reviewed major medical school gifts from individual donors over the past few years and are analyzing new gifts nearly every week. This guide explores who's writing the checks, what med schools are getting the money and what strings are attached to these big checks.  

Who’s Giving?

Medical school donations are in line with most other higher education fundraising by where alumni make up the largest constituency of donors. One stunning exception is a 2017 $500 million posthumous gift to the the public University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) from the Helen Diller Family Foundation. The foundation's namesake, who passed away in 2015, was a longtime San Francisco resident who helped her husband found and run Prometheus Real Estate, a company specializing in commercial property in the Bay Area.

The Diller gift to the UCSF campus, dedicated solely to research and graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions with schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy, will increase UCSF’s endowment, which currently stands at $2.25 billion, by nearly 18 percent. Dwarfing the university's previous largest gift of $185 million in 2016, the Diller gift is unusual for another reason: It is largely unrestricted.

Another of the largest checks recently written was Michael Bloomberg’s $350 million donation to Johns Hopkins University. Bloomberg, a Hopkins alumnus whose total contributions to the institution have topped $1 billion, designated a portion of the $350 million for cross-disciplinary studies and need-based scholarships. The biggest share of the donation is to be used for largely global health purposes such as appointing and supporting faculty in water resource stability and individualized global health care.

In another news-making medical school gift, Muriel Block’s estate bequeathed $160 million to Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The funds are earmarked for neurological, clinical and translational research as well as toward the endowment of 10 med school chairs known as the Harold and Muriel Block Scholars. Over the years, the Block family has been a steady supporter of Yeshiva, resulting in a handful of buildings named after the widow and her husband, including the Harold and Muriel Block Institute for Brain Research, the Harold and Muriel Block Building and the Harold and Muriel Block Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.  

Billionaire couple Sidney and Caroline Kimmel's Sidney Kimmel Foundation recently gave $110 million to Thomas Jefferson University for its medical school, which has been renamed the Sidney Kimmel Medical College.

Gert Boyle, chairman of Columbia Sportswear Company, recently gave more than $100 million to Oregon Health & Science University.

Ronda Stryker and William Johnston of the billionaire Stryker family gave $100 million Western Michigan University, which renamed its medical school in honor of late Kalamazoo surgeon and inventor Homer Stryker. The couple has also pledged $20 million to Harvard Medical School for global health research.

Who’s Getting?

Large donations are generally born out of some type connection to a specific medical school. Rarely does an individual donor give a substantial gift to a school to which he or she has no ties.

Major Universities

Medical schools in major medical universities capture the most money in this giving space. After analyzing recent gifts, there isn’t necessarily one university that garners more donations than another. Large checks were written by individual donors to schools all over the nation including Duke, Johns Hopkins, SUNY Buffalo, Long Island University, Vanderbilt, Campbell University and the University of Chicago.

Smaller medical schools don’t receive as much attention from individual donors as larger universities, but they do get some big gifts. For example,. East Virginia Medical School, a school of less than 1,000 students, received a $5.85 million check from the estate of Virginia Glennan Ferguson to support the school’s Glennan Center for Geriatrics.

What are the Gifts For?

A large portion of medical school donations are designated for chair and professorship endowments. A few examples:

  • The late Harold Harrison, retired chief of surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta, left about $66-million to the Medical College of Georgia Foundation at Georgia Regents University to endow scholarships and professorships at the medical school.
  • John and Tashia Morgridge donated $5 million to the University of Iowa for the endowment of two chairs in nursing.
  • E. Vernon Smith gifted $4.2 million to the University of Kentucky for continued funding of the Dr. E. Vernon Smith and Eloise C. Smith Alzheimer’s Research Endowed Chair Fund at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.
  • The estate of Hertha Ramsey Cress left $1.2 million to Vanderbilt University to establish of a department of medicine chair.
  • Mary Joy and Jerre Stead gave the University of Iowa $10 million toward its pediatric medicine program, designating $8 million to support a pediatric chair in pulmonology, neurology, and general pediatrics.

Large donations were awarded to specific disciplines, such as Cornell alumnus Ira Druckier and his wife Gale's recent $25 million to Weill Cornell Medical College to establish the Gale and Ira Drukier Institute for Children’s Health. The focus of the institute is "cross-disciplinary approaches" to solving pediatric health puzzles such as asthma, autism, cancer, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases, and schizophrenia. Fred Eshelman, founder of a one-person pharmaceutical consulting firm in 1985 that now employs more than 18,000 employees, recently gave $100 million to the UNC School of Pharmacy, which has been named the Eshelman School of Pharmacy since 2008. T. Boone Pickens also recently gave $20 million gift to Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute. Doctors sometimes make large gifts to support their institutions. For example, in 2013, Dr. P.K. Vyas made a $1 million challenge gift to encourage other donors to support his employer, Campbell University's School of Osteopathic Medicine. 

Richard and Susan Rogel recently pledged $50.1 million to University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The gift will largely focus on beefing up scholarships at the medical school.

How the Gifts Happen

Medical school deans are typically the ones doing the heavy lift in medical school fundraising. Since most gifts from individual donors are designated for a specific discipline, individual school deans are often involved in the donor cultivation process.

It’s worth noting that donors touched by a certain disease or condition often give generously to programs devoted to preventing and treating those afflictions. However, for some contributors, their gift is not aimed at a disease and is more of a testament to the overall level of care provided to either the donors themselves or loved ones. For example, the Stead family gives heavily and regularly to the University of Iowa, and Mary Joy and Jerre Stead recently donated $10 million to that university's pediatric medicine department. The gift was made because Jerre Stead is an alumnus and also because, as he put it, “My oldest son was full of mischief. We had him over there every other week.”

    What Strings are Attached?

    The vast majority of these donations are earmarked for specific disciplines or areas of study. One recent major donation, from Dr. Steve and Rebecca Scott, went toward general support for a university medical school. The Scotts' $20 million gift to Duke University will first go toward the school’s sports medicine program, including clinical and research program development, training, and faculty recruitment. After those ends are met. What’s left of the $20 million will go toward general support for Duke’s School of Medicine.

    Chair and professorship endowments are almost always named after the individual or family providing the money. Occasionally, a new building or medical center is named after a donor, though this doesn’t seem to be a regular request by big-dollar donors. Take Mary Joy and Jerre Stead, for instance. After the couple gave $10 million to the University of Iowa, they were reportedly “floored” when the university renamed the pediatrics department for the family.

    Insights and Tips

    Individual donors in this space are largely but not always alumni, and the average graduation year for these $1 million-plus donors is 1965. In medical school fundraising, the donor's professional industry isn't as big a factor as it is in athletics or business school giving. Industry giants from oil, transportation, technology, and telecommunications have all made significant recent donations to medical schools. 

    Just about everyone in the country has a personal connection to the healthcare industry and by extension medical schools. That means medical school fundraisers have a vast pool of potential donors, including a constantly replenishing supply of former patients and their families, to draw from. 

    With its wide reach, medical school fundraising attracts many individual donors and families capable of writing big checks. Doctors and other officials from the health care industry would seem like a natural constituency, but in recent years only a handful of large gifts came from donors in the medical profession. Moving forward, that trend could change: Hospitals and medical centers are increasingly hiring fundraising consultants to help them build a "culture of philanthropy" in which doctors, nurses, and other employees support their institutions with monetary gifts and help raise money in other ways. One early lesson: Doctors have traditionally been reluctant to give more than their working hours to any employer, so such fundraising training must include the institution's most senior staff and board members. Only those leaders have the authority to change their organization's culture by convincing doctors and other staff members that their fundraising participation is essential.