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USF donations favor medicine, marine science

The departments, colleges and schools at USF that get the most money don’t necessarily have the most donors.

And even though donations across universities nationwide favor athletics programs, such is not the case at USF, even though donations to sports are growing.

USF received $75 million in private donations from more than 36,000 donors last year. The donor gets to choose where the money goes, and some programs receive more money from less donors and other programs have more donors who give less money.

In 2007, USF Tampa received $51.2 million and USF Lakeland received $21.2 million. The latter received one large gift of $21 million in land to expand the campus.

With more than 39 percent of the total – over $20 million – USF Health’s College of Medicine received the largest amount of money. Behind them, miscellaneous areas of USF Health received a total of $6.5 million and the marine science department received $5.7 million.

These numbers, however, do not express the philanthropic popularity of these programs.

“In each one of those instances, there was a leadership gift,” said Jeffrey Robison, vice president for university advancement and CEO of the USF Foundation – a non-profit organization that distributes all private donations given to the University. A leadership gift is a gift worth $1 million or more. The College of Medicine was given an $11 million grant to build a neonatology center and hire a neonatology professor. The marine science department acquired a $5 million pledge from the Mote Marine Lab.

The College of Medicine, however, had 1,129 donors and the marine science department had only 57 donors. In comparison, the public broadcasting department received $3.2 million from 20,823 donors and the College of Arts and Sciences was given $894,123 from 2,292 donors.

USF gets 90 percent of its donations from 10 percent of USF’s donors, said Rodney Grabowksi, associate vice president for central development and campaign manager for the foundation.

Michelle Cummings, the director of the foundation, said that donors choose which part of the University to donate to through the foundation. The easiest way to donate is online, she said. When donating online, 16 academic institutions and associations are listed for donors to choose and donors have the option to search for a certain category. Donors can contribute any amount of money they want.

“I refer to the big gifts as an anomaly,” said Robison. “They’re unusual; they’re spectacular.”

Nationally, there has been a rise in private donations to athletic programs at the nation’s 119 biggest athletic departments, but the amount of private money received by these universities remains stagnant, according to the Journal of Sport Management. In 2003, athletic donations made up 26 percent of all private contributions, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

USF, however, breaks the mold with 3.3 percent of all private donations going towards athletics. This number has been on the rise over the years, said Vicki Mitchell, associate vice president of athletic fundraising for the athletic department.

“Look(ing) at athletics program from the beginning, it had gradual increases but the start of football dramatically increased it, naturally,” she said.

The University’s recent football success may change those numbers for athletics.

“When athletics succeed, donations can increase,” Grabowski said. “People want to support a winning program.”

This expansion mirrors the growth USF is experiencing as a whole. In fiscal year 2007 (July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2007), the USF Foundation received $75 million to distribute to different areas of the University. They hope to reach $80 million this fiscal year, Grabowksi said. They are on target for reaching that goal, he said.

Mitchell said that donating to different programs makes it easier for people to engage with the University. She doesn’t, however, believe athletics takes donated money away from academics.

“Athletics is an easy way for people to get to know the institution,” he said.

More than half of all donors are friends of the University, meaning they have not received a degree from USF. Out of the 36,000 donors, 22,000 of them were friends of the University.

Robison said that each donation positively impacts the University, no matter the amount.

“A principle often lost in philanthropy is that all of the gifts are important,” he said.

Robison also said that in light of state and national economic struggles, donations are the only sure solutions.

“It’s the only silver bullet that’s out there,” he said. “It’s the only thing that addresses the quality of education, students and faculty.”