Jackson — Decreasing federal and state support for medical education is a national trend and Mississippi is a part of that trend. With the establishment of a development office at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC), Mississippi also becomes part of the national trend to raise funds through private contributions.
One of the duties of this new office is to centralize fundraising efforts at UMC. For years fundraising responsibilities have been split between three areas — public affairs, alumni affairs and the vice chancellor’s office.
Over a five-year period, the medical center has had a net loss of $30 million per year from the state in direct support of educational programs. That loss coupled with a Federal reduction in Medicare payments has forced the 2,000-student school to look for other sources of revenue.
“This comes at a time when it’s clear that the future growth of the Medical Center will depend on our ability to raise funds and to be more self sufficient,” said Dr. Dan Jones, vice chancellor for health affairs. “In academic health centers across the country, government support is decreasing, and they are becoming more and more dependent on other sources of revenue. An important resource is private giving.”
Jones points out that those fund-raising efforts already in place have been a strong effort and UMC is very grateful for the private and business support they have. There is a broad range of support, particularly for UMC’s children’s hospital and among foundations in the state. Existing development efforts bring in an average of $5 million each year. He says it’s too early to set a fundraising goal for the new development office.
“This office will give the state opportunities to support this school that’s committed to providing increased knowledge in health related fields and healthcare for the state,” he said. “It’s not that the people of Mississippi have stopped loving us and supporting what we do, but there are fewer tax dollars for education everywhere. It’s not just Mississippi.”
Jones says it is now uncommon for a medical school to not have a development office. Dr. Tom Pitt, a veteran of healthcare fundraising for the University of Virginia Health System, leads UMC’s new development office. He was chosen after a nationwide search. Upon his retirement in Virginia, the development office had a staff of 40 people, and private fundraising had increased from $1 million annually to $38 million.
“We hoped to attract someone who had a strong track record of success and experience in running an office,” Jones said of Pitt. “He’s very experienced in this and has been very helpful in getting our office up and running.”
Pitt, who spent 35 years at Virginia with 23 years of that in the development position, says the biggest achievement there was that people had the foresight to see that public support was declining each year and saw the need to establish private sources of income.
“We built a large fund-raising program with an anonymous $50-million gift, the largest while I was there,” he said. “If we get the message out, people are glad to give to public medical education. The results will come down the road years later.”
Pitt points out that about 75% of most university fund raising comes from individuals, while in medical fund raising the numbers are reversed with about 75% coming from corporations and foundations. “That’s just the nature of it. Medical research is very expensive, and medical fund raising is different from other educational fund raising,” he said. “Part of my job here is an education process and trying to convince people that it’s different.”
Dr. Stacy Davidson was in the first graduating class at UMC and recently celebrated his class’ 50th anniversary. The Cleveland ophthalmologist is excited about the development office and sees it as part of the need for the future growth of the medical center.
“I am so positive about this. As one who started there, I’m ecstatic about it. It cost $9 million to build the medical center in 1955 and now the budget is over $700 million each year,” he said. “The state and Mississippi tax payers have been generous but private giving will become more important.”
Davidson is proud of UMC’s outstanding leadership and groundbreaking research. He feels other alumni are also proud of their alma mater and will support the new effort. “Most people are willing to give to a winner and this medical center is a winner,” he added.
UMC has hired four development officers to work with Pitt and plans to hire at least two more fairly soon. “We are hiring bright, smart people who can hit the ground running,” Pitt said. “We’ll be successful. Fund raising has changed and professionals are better at it. It’s not stopping cars and asking for money. Someone has to know their stuff including tax laws and planned giving. It involves sophisticated information and methods.”
Pitt was stunned that UMC didn’t have a development office. He said that recently a foundation almost did not come through with their million dollar gift because of the lack of such an office. “Development is good for the community and will be an economic multiplier and resource,” he said.
There are all kinds of concepts for development but the emphasis for the first capital campaign will be on building the center’s cancer research ability and raising cardiovascular research and awareness, noting Mississippi’s high rates for illnesses in both categories. UMC typically uses revenue raised through fundraising for endowed chairs, professorships, scholarships and other initiatives. Currently, there are four professorships, six lectureships and 13 endowed chairs.
“Fund raising is all about being flexible. We will get people’s trust and establish relationships over the years,” Pitt said. “We will make UMC better for the people of Mississippi.”
UMC has five schools including medicine, dental, nursing, health-related fields and graduate studies in health sciences.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.