Telling our stories

Illustration of doctor holding a bullhorn to shout out Emory message

by Rhonda Mullen

With a $1.6 billion campaign in full swing, Emory is speaking up about the good it can do for health and healing.


Table of Contents

Emory Health Magazine


For the past 15 years, Emory University has been quietly going about its business. Educating generations of health care providers. Recruiting scientists of international repute. Discovering life-saving drugs. Growing its outside research funding faster than all but one other school in the country. But despite Emory's steady climb into the ranks of America's best 20 universities, it sometimes has remained less visible than many of its peers.

Emory is now ready to make up for its lower profile. In September, the university launched its first campaign in 15 years. Its goal of $1.6 billion marks the biggest fund-raising effort in Emory's history and the biggest ever in Georgia, and the university is already more than halfway to meeting that ambitious goal. Of the total amount, two-thirds of the money raised—some $1.07 billion—will go to the health sciences.

Fred Sanfilippo, CEO of Emory's Woodruff Health Sciences (WHSC), is no stranger to campaigns. During his tenures at Duke, Hopkins, and Ohio State, he found that "all those institutions were continuously in campaign mode." By contrast, "folks here are not in the habit of spreading the message of what we're doing and why it's valuable," he says. "We don't tell our stories well."

For that reason, Sanfilippo sees Campaign Emory as an important and welcome cultural shift for the campus. "The campaign is about more than dollars," he says. "It's about educating people about what we do and why it's important and getting them on board. It's about raising our visibility."

He learned the value of raising visibility by watching his wife, Janet, run the first campaign for a children's hospital and center at Duke in 1983. While Sanfilippo was awed by the celebrities who participated (Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Gerald Ford) and impressed by the engagement of more than 10,000 people, he was disappointed that the campaign didn't generate much money. "I was a Philistine back then," he says. "I thought it was all about the money. But what happened is that raising the awareness for the children's center in that campaign allowed the center's fund-raising to really take off within the next five years."

Quote by Fred Sanfilippo

These many years and multiple campaigns later, Sanfilippo knows that what a successful campaign really does is "increase the awareness and level of engagement of those we serve—patients and families, students and parents, faculty and staff, corporate partners and foundation friends. It helps us do a better job of serving them downstream."

That service in the health sciences encompasses a broad range of support for people, places, and programs with the goal of transforming health and healing. It involves development of a radical new paradigm for health care, a switch from treating disease to creating health. It involves building new facilities that not only have state-of-the-art technology but also center on patients' and families' needs. It means discovering the basic science behind today's biggest killers and translating those findings into new treatments and cures. It means building an endowment for health care to make sure it is growing and vital for future generations.

These past 15 years, Emory has, in fact, been engaged on all these fronts. But now, to continue to grow, to go beyond excellence, it needs to raise both money and visibility. It's time to speak up.

The endowment bucket

Illustration of doctor wearing sandwich board reading Help Emory Cure CancerAfter a historic gift by the Woodruff Foundation in 1979, Emory's endowment shot to the fifth largest in the nation. Yet over the years, as other institutions have engaged in multiple fundraising campaigns, they have bypassed Emory in endowment. In 2007, Emory's endowment of $5.6 billion had dropped in rank to 17. And the current economic meltdown has wrecked further havoc on Emory's endowment as well as others throughout the country. It therefore comes as no surprise that almost half of Campaign Emory is focused on increasing endowment.

Why is endowment so important? Endowed gifts are invested, preserving the principal gift and giving the university future security. But a portion of the investment earnings (approximately 4% to 5%) is spent annually, providing funds for operating expenses and the enhanced ability to pay for unexpected opportunities that arise.

Ronnie Jowers, vice president of health affairs and CFO of WHSC, gives a rundown of the picture he puzzles every day. As of August 2008, 37% of the university's total endowment was in health sciences. Of the WHSC portion of endowment, only 3.5% is in health care. "There are zero dollars in endowment for the Emory Clinic," says Jowers.

While he hopes to get designated gifts for endowed chairs, student scholarships, and new buildings, what he really needs to handle those unexpected expenses are unrestricted funds. "Designated money goes into specific buckets. If we get a request for a new initiative that doesn't fall in any bucket, then we may not be able to fund it."

And there are many out-of-bucket expenses to fund. "Every day, we get requests to support so many good ideas and initiatives brought forward by deans and directors," Jowers. "We have more ideas than we can afford to fund. That is a good problem to have."

Dividends unavailable in the market

Illlustration of doctor jugglingMargery McKay, vice president for health sciences development at Emory, says that with so many worthy areas to support, "we're fortunate we have a very clear roadmap for moving forward." She's referring to the Emory strategic plan that details overarching goals of the university and specific areas of distinction and focus. It is a thoughtful plan that identifies areas where Emory can make a difference on the world stage, says McKay.

As a fund-raiser, she takes the long view when faced with raising $1.6 billion on the rollercoaster of the current economy. In the past 40 years, philanthropy nationally has been fairly stable, with only three years falling flat, according to McKay. She believes that even in these incredibly tough economic times, people will want to invest in Emory.

President James Wagner echoes her belief. "If anything," he wrote to the Emory community after the collapse of financial markets
in October, "now is the time to redouble our efforts to secure private funding for our future and to offer opportunities for donors to
invest in ways that produce dividends of the sort not available in financial markets."

Interesting those donors is really about education. "We demonstrate the value of faculty work in areas where donors are interested, and it is an easy presentation when you have world-class work to showcase," says McKay. "It is also important to steward gifts, to come back to donors and show them how their funds have been used, that we have used the support wisely."

McKay has plenty of priorities to match to donor interests—scholarships, for one. Scholarships attract the highest achievers to medicine, nursing, and public health, students who could not otherwise afford an education of Emory's caliber. Scholarships also reduce the debt that students carry after graduation. Currently, for example, many Emory medical students graduate with between $110,000 and $120,000 in debt for medical school alone, not counting any undergraduate debt they might have. Often, that burden causes them to choose specialties based on income rather than personal interest.

Recruiting and retaining the best faculty, including funding endowed chairs, is another priority. In the past two to three years, Emory School of Medicine has recruited or is in the process of recruiting nine new chairs, and Rollins School of Public Health currently is searching for three chairs. "Recruiting a chair is like trying to hire a free agent baseball star," Jowers says. "You have to put together a good package. It's expensive."

Beyond investments in people, the WHSC continues to garner support for facilities such as new clinics and research buildings and a second building for public health. "For every penny we raise, that's money we don't have to borrow," says Jowers.

Then there are the myriad initiatives and programs—to fund the five Centers of Excellence (in heart and vascular, neurosciences, transplant medicine, respiratory health, and cancer), to increase the power of computational life sciences, to improve global health, to cure cancer and AIDS, to address global nursing shortages, to develop vaccines for today's most devastating diseases. None of these is a small project. All take more than a little money.

Return on investment

One of the questions that Jowers gets most often, is: "Ronnie, where are you going to find the money?"

Leveraging is one answer he gives. "It helps us advance our work by working with affiliates," says Jowers. For example, the Emory-Children's Center is developing a closer alliance with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and already has created one of the largest multi-specialty, pediatrics practices in the country. With Georgia Tech, Emory shares a Department of Biomedical Engineering that is ranked second in the United States, and it is collaborating with Tech on other projects such as a predictive health initiative. The Emory Winship Cancer Institute has received funding to attract distinguished researchers and scholars through the Georgia Cancer Coalition. Likewise, the Georgia Research Alliance has supported many joint projects with Emory.

Campaign Emory will generate further support to help the health sciences rise to meet its big-picture goals. "I know that what we do is helping society," says Jowers. "If I can play a small role in educating the next generation of health care professionals, in finding a cure for cancer, in learning how to keep the body from rejecting organ transplants, I'll do that. Our missions are extraordinarily good for making a difference in the world."

Undergirding Campaign Emory is a desire to lead not just in Georgia but also in the larger world. President James Wagner summed it up in his remarks to launch the campaign. "Our vision is guiding Emory to become the very best that it can be, not to be like another university. I have no desire to beat any university, but I do have a burning desire to lead them. That is the difference between competitive excellence and contributory excellence. That is the part that requires resources of a magnitude that we have not had before, focused in areas where Emory is especially well positioned to lead education in our society."

In the WHSC, Sanfilippo has similar sentiments. "Hands down, Hopkins provided the 20th-century model, but Emory is building the 21st-century model for academic health care." One reason for his claim is Emory's ability to reach across interdisciplinary lines to solve health care challenges. "The Institute of Medicine has found, across the board, that science, education, and patient care all benefit from an interdisciplinary approach," says Sanfilippo. "But interdisciplinary work is difficult in the academic setting because it requires work across silos. In an academic environment, faculty are often promoted by what
they do themselves, not what they do as a team. Yet, Emory has many interdisciplinary programs because our structure allows us to pursue that."

He points to acute myelogoneous leukemia, a disease that had a survival rate of only 25% ten years ago and now is curable 75% of the time. Emory's model of interdisciplinary collaboration is ready to take on other diseases, such as pancreatic cancer, where no progress has been made. It is a model to change from disease care to disease prevention.

Just as surely and steadily as it has in the past 15 years, Emory will continue going about its work to improve health at home and in the world. But with Campaign Emory now in full mode, don't expect Emory to be quiet about it.