“Our donors wanted to help people,” Brian Hervey, vice chancellor of university advancement and alumni relations at the University of California, Irvine, told the Business Journal.
“Things like student support, basic scientific research—there were a lot more gifts in those areas. People gave from the heart to support the community during a difficult time,” he said.
The shift toward meeting individual needs was also fueled in part by foundations that set up COVID-19 funds.
“For a time, we said we’re only going to ask our donors to contribute to our COVID relief fund,” said Doug Corbin, chief development officer at CHOC Children’s Foundation, noting most of those funds went to families struggling to pay for care.
“We felt it was the right thing to do, and it was part of our design to be proactive on the COVID front,” he said.
The largest gifts in Orange County totaled $204.9 million in 2020, according to the Business Journal’s annual list of Largest Charitable Gifts.
That’s a 9.9% decline from year-ago levels, although 2019’s totals included a $50 million pledge for a land site in Newport Beach. The largest gift in 2020 was just under $13 million, by comparison.
Yet despite the dip in total dollars, community members and donors met the challenge of 2020 with more flexible donations and matching grants, leading to better-than-expected results, execs said.
By the Numbers
There was an uptick in the number of gifts totaling $1 million or more, the cutoff for inclusion on the list, from 61 in 2019 to 65 in 2020.
Those include a number of challenge grants and COVID-19 relief donations.
Recipients of OC’s largest gifts included:
– $66.7 million on 24 gifts to UCI
– $47.6 million on 11 gifts to Chapman University
– $31 million on nine gifts to Hoag Hospital Foundation
– $13.5 million on three gifts to California State University, Fullerton
– $12.2 million on three gifts to CHOC Children’s Foundation
– $11.2 million on five gifts to Pacific Symphony
– $8 million on four gifts to Orangewood Foundation
The cumulative $190.2 million from those 59 gifts represented nearly 93% of the list’s totals, both in overall value and number of gifts.
Patient, Caregiver Focus
An uptick in unrestricted gifts provided vital funds for health and safety needs of the community, execs said.
“With COVID, when we turned to our donors again, their generosity was breathtaking and many made outright cash gifts knowing the resources were needed immediately,” said Flynn Andrizzi, president of Hoag Hospital Foundation.
Since last March, more than $8.3 million was raised in direct support of Hoag’s COVID efforts, which were used to offset increased costs, expand COVID-19 testing capacity, and support more than 25 COVID clinical trials, Andrizzi said.
Hoag also received a $7.5 million to support its nursing programs from the Argyros Family Foundation, good for No. 5 on the list.
Likewise, “unrestricted donations gave our health leaders a lot of flexibility in determining the greatest need at the time” at UCI, Hervey said.
About half of the $2.5 million gift from the John and Mary Tu Foundation, for example, went to setting up drive-thru test sites and converting non-patient areas at UCI Medical Center in Orange into “COVID capable” treatment spaces, among other pandemic-related services.
Health donations were rivaled by another area of increasing interest: student scholarships and support programs.
The largest single donation of the year was a $12.9 million donation from the Simon Foundation for Education and Housing awarded to Chapman University. It’s aimed at supporting low-income and minority students with STEM and Physician Assistant scholarships as well as new dance program facilities.
“The pandemic highlighted we’re on the right track” in terms of fundraising priorities, Sheryl Bourgeois, chief advancement officer of Chapman, told the Business Journal.
“Scholarships are at the top of the list—we know our students need support now more than ever.”
Another notable donation to Chapman was a $1 million matching gift, which supported steps taken to safely reopen the school. The university more than doubled the gift, raising another $1.57 million in 2,650 gifts from 1,500 donors, Bourgeois said.
The Orangewood Foundation, long supported by the Samueli Foundation, completed its “Innovation in Education” campaign, reaching its goal of $35.5 million, used to create on-campus housing for youth in foster care, as well as an academic Innovation Center and facilities for junior high students.
The community “is still missing the fellowship that philanthropy usually comes with—the events, the dinners, the gatherings,” Bourgeois noted.
The move to donor outreach and relationship building in a virtual environment was met with mixed outcomes, execs said.
One positive impact is that “we’ve reached thousands more people inside and outside of the state,” Bourgeois said.
While universities experience budget cuts and unexpected expenses, there’s also a financial incentive to hosting some events online rather than in-person, she said.
Still, others said their eager to see a return to in-person interactions as soon as this summer.
“Our donors love CHOC and have continued to support us, but so much of philanthropy is about storytelling,” Corbin said.
CHOC is looking forward to a return to its live events and tours, Corbin said, which allow donors to “experience our child life programs, pet therapy and other specialized programs for patients. We want to properly thank our donors.”