UConn Foundation targeting parents, health center patients in effort to boost donations

As the University of Connecticut looks to boost private donations, its fundraising arm says it will be seeking more from two groups with untapped potential for giving: patients at the UConn Health Center and parents of current UConn students.

Joshua Newton, president of the private UConn Foundation, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he understands solicitations may be resented by some already facing large bills for medical treatment or tuition, but there are others who just need to be informed of the opportunity to donate to a cause that is important to them.

"I think one of the things we should be asking any potential donor is, 'What is your passion?'" he said. "People will give to support their passion."

Other schools regularly look to parents and patients for donations. Claire Gaudiani, a professor of philanthropy at New York University and former president of Connecticut College, said they are two of the most important donor pools at any university.

"Both are very grateful groups of people, because of what the institution has done in terms of educating their children or in addressing their health issues," she said. "Some of the largest gifts made to medical schools and university health centers come from grateful patients."

UConn is aiming to raise its endowment to $1 billion. It has grown from $288 million to $390 million over the last four years and ranks 212th among U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities, Newton said.

The UConn Foundation raised about $78 million in private donations for the school during the last fiscal year. About $2.1 million of that came from parents. The school has not tracked donations from patients at the health center, the foundation said.

Newton came to UConn two years ago from Emory in Atlanta, where he says $120 million of the school's $200 million in annual donations comes from patients or former patients at Emory University Hospital.

Newton said the theory is that if someone has survived a heart attack, beaten cancer or received a new treatment as a result of the work being done at UConn, that person might be willing to donate to ensure others can receive the same care or can benefit from research breakthroughs.

"We should be a destination for philanthropy for people who care about research into certain diseases and things that we are good at," Newton said. "I think we're missing out."

UConn has about 23,000 undergraduate students. And there were almost 402,000 outpatient visits to UConn's John Dempsey Hospital in the last fiscal year, more than 8,500 patients admitted to the hospital, more than 574,000 visits to the UConn medical group and more than 30,000 visits to the UConn Health emergency room.

Newton said the size of UConn's endowment puts it at a competitive disadvantage with schools that can count on more money from investments. Without an increase in philanthropy, he said, state budget cuts will lead to more tuition increases.