Posted September 2nd, 2015

How OHSU Raised $1 Billion to Close the Door on Cancer

Barden 2013Ann Barden is Director of Gift Planning at Oregon Health & Science University Foundation (OHSUF) in Portland. The OHSUF fundraising team just managed a remarkable feat—raising $500 million in under two years to earn a $500 million matching gift. Here Ms. Barden explains how they accomplished this and also shares some of the lessons she has learned over her 25-year career in gift planning.

Give & Take: What led you to gift planning?

Barden: I was a trust officer in San Francisco for a long time before deciding to try something new. Shortly after I started working at California Pacific Medical Center Foundation, they offered me a newly created position in gift planning. I didn’t even know gift planning existed until that moment, but I soon discovered it was absolutely the right career for me.

Consultant PerspectiveGive & Take: Congratulations on completing the $1 billion Knight Cancer Challenge! Can you discuss how the challenge came about?

Barden: In September 2013, Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike and a long-term supporter of OHSU, stepped up to the podium during our bi-annual Targeting Hope cancer gala and announced that he and his wife, Penny, would donate $500 million to fight cancer at OHSU if OHSUF could raise another $500 million in two years. The scope of his intentions completely took us by surprise.

The Knight Cancer Challenge took transformational philanthropy to a whole new level. Our fundraising team, led by L. Keith Todd who had just joined the Foundation as President, was honored to take on the challenge.

Give & Take: Did all fundraising at OHSU during the two-year window count toward the $500 million challenge?

Barden: No. To count, gifts had to be directed to cancer. However, the rest of the university benefitted from the challenge, too. Rather than restricting their gifts just to the challenge, many donors gave to fight cancer while also supporting other parts of the university. We also acquired more than 5,000 new donors because of the challenge.

Give & Take: What role did gift planning play in raising the $500 million?

Barden: Gift planning played quite a big role in raising the funds. Mr. Knight was generous in allowing us to count planned gifts toward the $500 million. One of our larger gifts was a planned gift, and the challenge inspired many other donors to establish planned gifts as well.

Mr. Knight’s announcement received a lot of media attention both locally and nationally. We continued to spread the word to our gift planning donors through our Insights newsletter, on our website and at special events. Aviva Shiff Boedecker, Elizabeth Smithers and the rest of our team at Sharpe Group help us produce Insights and our gift planning website, and worked closely with us to create custom copy about the challenge.

Give & Take: And you finished well under the two-year window?

Barden: Yes. Mr. Knight realized that OHSU would need a little time to plan for the two-year campaign, so he set the deadline for World Cancer Day on February 4, 2016. As it turns out, OHSUF didn’t need the extra time. We reached our $500 million goal 22 months after Mr. Knight’s announcement in September 2013.

As we approached the finish line, we were contacted by a number of people who wanted to participate in the challenge but hadn’t had a chance to give yet. By the end of June we had received a total of $511 million from more than 10,000 donors from all 50 states and 14 foreign countries.

Give & Take: What do you find to be the most effective ways to get the word out about gift planning opportunities?

Barden: We work very hard to form strong relationships with our advisor community. About four times a year we host high-quality professional luncheons that offer the continuing education credits many professional advisors and attorneys need. We see a lot of advisors that way, and many of them have subsequently introduced us to potential donors.

Several times a year we host educational sessions for donors featuring OHSU healthcare experts. We feature topics that are on donors’ minds, such as arthritis, cognitive disorders or joint replacements. These sessions allow donors to talk one-on-one with experts in the field while at the same time strengthening their ties to OHSU.

We make a point to reach out to all of our gift planning donors several times a year with our Insights newsletter and our website. My colleagues and I enjoy working with Sharpe on these projects because of their responsiveness, intelligence and professionalism. The communications tools Sharpe helps us produce enable us to reach a wide range of donors with messages that are timely and on target.

OHSU imageGive & Take: Do you have any tips for working with donors’ family members?

Barden: It is important that you take all your cues from your donor. Every family dynamic is different. If the donor is comfortable with having family present during discussions, this inclusiveness can be wonderful. But there are unfortunately many family relationships that are frayed or broken. In such cases, overstepping boundaries donors have set in any way is a big mistake.


Give & Take:
A lot of new fundraisers are nervous about contacting donors for the first time or about asking for a gift. What is a good first step?

Barden: Don’t be nervous. Most of the donors we work with have already made the decision to give before they ever linked up with us. Our job is simply to find the best way for them to make their intended gift.

I have found that many younger fundraisers are afraid to ask a donor to consider a bequest because it involves the D word (death), but it is usually the fundraiser who is scared by the idea of death, not the donor. However, you need to develop a relationship with a donor before you even broach the subject. By raising the subject of an estate gift too soon, you may inadvertently close the door on other gifts. If you wait until you are able to build an appropriate level of confidence and trust, you may naturally have the opportunity to present some other ideas that will do a better job of fulfilling the donor’s wishes.

A good way to start off a conversation with a potential donor is to thank them and then ask, “What if I were to tell you there’s a way you can make gifts while also enjoying additional income?” Rather than strictly making an ask, you’re offering to make someone’s life better, which is really a wonderful thing. ■

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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