UCI Sets Sights on Big Donors

Times Staff Writer

Plunk down $50 million or so, and UC Irvine’s new medical center can be christened after you. One $2-million donor already has earned title rights to a future medical scanning building. Still too pricey? How about $10,000 for a conference room to memorialize the family name?

Now that the University of California Board of Regents has given the go-ahead to build a new complex to replace the existing center in Orange, the really hard work -- finding the money for it -- begins. State bonds will finance most of the $365-million cost. But UCI must come up with $50 million in what will be the biggest fund-raising campaign in its 38-year history.

UCI officials would like to raise even more to ensure that the new facility will be the most modern and best equipped, which will help attract star faculty from across the nation and lift the medical school into the top ranks nationwide.

But university higher-ups can’t just drop in on wealthy people and ask for a check. They must capitalize on old friends and cultivate new ones to find the cash, and do so at a time when the slow economy is making fund-raising difficult for all nonprofit groups.


“Major gift fund-raising is all about relationships,” said John Zeller, associate vice president for development at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins medical school, which is in the midst of a $1-billion fund-raising campaign.

UCI’s medical center fund-raising campaign won’t be announced officially for several months. But university administrators six months ago began raising $10 million to prove to UC system leaders there is enough local support. In the fund-raising world, it’s called the “quiet period,” a time to gain momentum in the first phase of a campaign.

UCI Chancellor Ralph Cicerone, medical center Chief Executive Dr. Ralph W. Cygan, medical school Dean Dr. Thomas Cesario and Thomas J. Mitchell, the campus’ chief fund-raiser, have been meeting with potential donors, most of whom already have been major contributors to UCI.

“They are extraordinarily well-connected,” Cygan said. “We brainstorm to find people who would have an interest, and they help introduce us to them.”


Much of the early money has come from leaders of the UCI Foundation, the university’s fund-raising arm. Other contributors have included UCI administrators and faculty.

“You approach individuals in the county or nearby who are known to have interest in a particular kind of project,” said Ted Smith, founder and retired chairman of FileNet Corp., who now serves as head of the foundation. “You approach them early and try to develop a program to get from them larger participation.”

So far, Cygan said he has met with about 20 people, 15 of whom made contributions. He expects several others to follow.

“What has connected with the donor community is the vision, is the potential of our college of medicine to be a truly great academic medical center,” said Cygan, an internist who expects to spend a third of his time on dinners, receptions and meetings with potential contributors for the next few years.


Cicerone also has enlisted deans of the university’s 10 schools to help.

“He just mobilized the entire administration and community support structure,” Smith said.

The medical center is scheduled for completion in January 2008, the deadline for hospitals throughout the state to meet seismic safety standards. Although the medical center was not damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, UCI officials determined it would cost less to build a new hospital than to upgrade the old one. It’s also an opportunity to trade in what was once the county hospital, built in the 1960s, for an academic medical center designed for teaching and cutting-edge research and treatment.

In terms of national fund-raising, UCI’s $50-million campaign barely registers. Cornell University’s medical college is the midst of a $750-million capital campaign. Johns Hopkins is more than halfway to its $1-billion goal for its hospitals and medical school, including a $150-million gift from Sidney Kimmel, a billionaire women’s clothing manufacturer.


UCI will follow the same script, although a more low-budget version, fund-raising experts said. The money it collects will come from a relatively small number of people the campus will identify early on. The general rule is that 90% of the money comes from 10% of donors. Mitchell said he expects the figure to be closer to 75/25.

“This project will affect many people in Orange County and therefore, many people will have an interest in supporting it,” he said. “Everyone is interested in first-rate health care. When you’re sick and want medical attention you want to go to the best.”

While college fund-raising campaigns get their money from alumni, corporations, foundations and other supporters of the school, a university hospital can target other constituents. Among UCI’s 75,000 alumni, 22,000 live in Orange County, and thousands who attended the medical school are making a good living as doctors. There also are faculty and residents who have trained there.

UCI will reach out to former patients grateful for the medical care that may have saved their lives. Joanne Pollak, vice president and general counsel of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said nearly all the money her institution raises comes from former patients.


The ailing economy has made raising money more difficult. But experts said the slowdown has been only a minor factor in college fund-raising. A study by the Council for Aid to Education in New York found contributions to higher education, which included university hospitals, dropped just 1.2% in the last fiscal year.

“It’s somewhat reassuring that even in difficult times people still make philanthropic gifts to educational institutions,” said John Lippincott, vice president of communications for the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, a Washington, D.C.-based association representing educational fund-raisers.

Still, there are changes in the way people are giving. During the 1990s, large contributors were more likely to pay their donations in one or two lump sums. More donors these days are spreading their contributions over several years.

The UCI Foundation’s Smith said that lately he has found wealthy people willing to continue their previous support, but less likely to take on new organizations.


“Even though many people are in good economic shape, they feel poor,” he said. “Even if you [were] a billionaire and now you’re only at $400 million, it’s a different view.”

Several people at first turned down his entreaties to give, Smith said, only to offer contributions after he continued to pitch them on its importance to coming generations.

“As opposed to a particular arts deal or a particular education deal, I’m dealing with my health or that of my spouse or my children or grandchildren,” he said. “For someone who has sort of shut down on new projects, they realize this is a strategic investment in Orange County and an important thing they need to pay attention to.” There’ll be a menu for potential donors who want a piece of the medical center named for them. Someone could decide the hospital would look splendid with their name on the building. That donation alone, Cygan said, would cover UCI’s entire contribution to center’s construction.

“You don’t want to sell the name of Orange County’s only university hospital for a small amount of money,” he said.