Philanthropy crucial to supporting UT system

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Blueprint for the Future

Editor’s note: This is the last in a four-part, weekly series examining System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s plan to increase efficiency across UT institutions.

Each of the UT institutions confront different cultural, financial and geographical challenges that affect the philanthropic revenue that can be generated. Philanthropy efforts go towards scholarships, construction and endowments.

Under Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s Framework for Excellence Action Plan, he calls for the UT institutions to “enhance philanthropic success.” About 72 percent of philanthropy for the UT System is brought in by three out of the 15 UT institutions. The top three fundraising institutions include UT-Austin, UT-Southwestern Medical Center and UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center, which raised a combined $510.2 million in the 2010 fiscal year.

Patrick Mulvey, vice president for development at UT-MD Anderson, said fundraising for medical education is based on maintaining donor relationships and has been more difficult in recent years because of the frail state of the economy.

“Finding good staff to go out and raise funds is a challenge to all institutions,” Mulvey said.

He said philanthropy efforts for MD Anderson are closely linked with its mission of eliminating cancer.

“We have a magnificent faculty at MD that tells the story well to individuals who may want to contribute,” Mulvey said. “You can see that where patients come from is where gifts come from.”

Mulvey said faculty in the development office travel around the country to raise funds because many patients come from the states that surround Texas. He said his office plans to increase philanthropy through social media improvements and outreach to first time donors.

The UT Health Science Center at Tyler brought in the lowest amount of philanthropic donations. Mac Griffith, vice president and chief development officer at the Health Science Center, said the center, which does not have a medical school, is the smallest of the UT medical institutions, making it difficult for the institution to establish a widely known reputation.

“We had a very small donor base and because of the physical constraints, we also have a small development base,” Griffith said.

He said the center does not have a full-fledged development department to raise funds, but philanthropy is important in sustaining the center financially.

“A small portion of our funds come from state funds,” Griffith said. “The rest are self-generated revenue, and the philanthropic part of that needs to grow.”

In the 2010 fiscal year the UT Health Science Center at Tyler raised $900 thousand in philanthropic donations. Griffith said he plans to better communicate the center’s health mission in hopes that it will bring in more donations.

“Fundraising is all about developing relationships so our challenge is getting that message out to the Tyler and East Texas community,” Griffith said.

Philanthropy for UT-El Paso totaled $22.2 million in the 2010 fiscal year. Sylvia Acosta, associate vice president for development and alumni relations, said the location of El Paso on the far western tip of Texas makes philanthropy efforts difficult.

“Raising money for us is a bit more expensive because we’re in El Paso,” Acosta said. “We can’t just get in our car and go to Houston.”

She said staff in the UTEP development office fly to donors in Texas, specifically in Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and Houston to stay in contact with previous donating alumni. Acosta said the office hopes to hire regional officers for these areas to cut flying costs and establish consistent ties within the various cities to UTEP alumni.

UTEP serves about 22,600 students and about one-third of these students’ families live on an income of $20,000 or less. Acosta said students who attain a good job after attending UTEP can double their family’s income, but it can be a challenge to bring those philanthropic efforts back to the university.

“Many of their first inclinations in giving are back to their family to help their family,” Acosta said. “In that, there’s a clear effect in terms of giving.”

However, she said this also leads alumni to be loyal to UTEP fundraising efforts because they recognize the financial importance of earning a college degree. Acosta said philanthropy is especially important at UTEP because it allows the university to keep tuition from rising dramatically.

“We know that if we increase tuition, we’ll price out a lot of students,” Acosta said.

She said philanthropic efforts also go towards scholarships for students who may otherwise not go to college.

“We have so much talent, and UTEP has been able to capture that talent,” Acosta said. “Our alumni know the commitment we have to our community.”

Printed on Monday, October 3, 2011 as: UT institutions aim to increase philanthropic fundrasising