Johns Hopkins announced Saturday a $4.5 billion fundraising goal — among the largest in the country — to help the university and health system address some of the world's most challenging issues, including water scarcity, education quality and city revitalization.
Contributors have already committed nearly $2 billion, including a $350 million pledge from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Hopkins alumnus, in what is known as the "quiet phase" of the campaign, dubbed "Rising to the Challenge." The money, which Hopkins hopes to have promised by July 2017, will fund financial aid, research partnerships, new programs and additional professorships.
"This campaign is really a call to action on the part of all our constituencies to enhance our capacity to be responsive to these very important challenges that confront society and where we can make a difference," University President Ronald J. Daniels said in an interviewthis week.
The multibillion-dollar effort is also likely to help Baltimore, which increasingly relies on education and medicine — the "eds and meds" — to boost the city's economy, said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute.
"In pursuing its educational mission, which is first and foremost what universities are supposed to do, they are also furthering this role in the [local] economy," he said. "The better Hopkins is doing, the more endowment it has, the more students it brings, the more research it does, the better the city of Baltimore is."
Among its goals, Hopkins hopes to develop solutions to revitalize urban areas, including Baltimore. The university has pledged to spend $10 million through 2017 to stabilize and strengthen neighborhoods around its Homewood campus. And the school and health system are among the city's biggest economic drivers.
Hopkins elicited pledges of more than $3.7 billion — less than 10 percent of which is still outstanding — in its previous campaign, which concluded in 2008 and focused largely on enhancing physical facilities. The amount was a record for the institution, which, like its peers, was driven to raise the goal again by inflation and ambition.
Cornell University hopes to raise $4.75 billion in committed funds by 2015. Columbia plans to have $5 billion pledged by the end of the year. And Stanford University — the nation's top higher-education fundraiser —announced last year unprecedented commitments of $6.2 billion raised during a five-year campaign that was begun as the country slid into a recession.
The nation's premier schools can still draw significant capital even during hard times because of the quality of their work, charity experts said.
"There are maybe a dozen institutions at the very top in the U.S. that are in campaigns of this size," said Myrna Hall, a fundraising consultant for New Jersey-based Marts & Lundy."They are also our leading academic and research institutions, and the work they're doing is so phenomenal that it really commands the philanthropy, the philanthropic investment."
Charitable giving accounts for just 10.8 percent of Hopkins expenses, according to figures provided to the Council for Aid to Education. But it is a "critical 10 percent in making Hopkins what it is," said Fritz Schroeder, vice president for development and alumni relations at the university.
Hopkins spends more on research and development than any other academic institution — $2.1 billion in fiscal year 2011 alone. And while its balance sheet is healthy, most of its important revenue streams are not certain, officials said.
Endowment returns are dependent on the economy, the state budget is tight, tuition can't keep rising and sequestration could affect federal research funding and student aid. This year, for example, Hopkins is expecting $40 million in funding cuts from the National Institutes of Health.
But the wealthy are still giving to their alma maters, said Paul Schervish, director of Boston College's Center on Wealth and Philanthropy.
Hopkins is a "world-class university, and their alumni have gotten rich on that education in medicine and in science and in technology and in business," he said, noting that donations are often a gift of gratitude but also an investment in the future, because the alumni recognize the value of the university and sister health system.
The cash infusion from the campaign — announced at a dinner attended by about 500 alumni, donors, staff and students— will help attract top talent, officials said. It will pay for 300 endowment-funded professorships, thousands of scholarships, new graduate fellowships and five interdisciplinary "signature initiatives" in areas of strength for Hopkins: global health, individualized health, the science of learning, water and the American city.
Those initiatives represent about 20 percent of the campaign. Roughly half of the funds raised will be spent on research and program support, while 17 percent will be spent on financial aid and 9 percent on facilities.
Hopkins expects the signature initiatives to attract new donors who might not have a connection to Hopkins but have an interest in the area of study, Schroeder said.
The bulk of Hopkins' funding over the past five years — the cash in hand versus commitments — has come from foundations, grateful patients and organizations focusing on specific areas of research.
The number and size of alumni donations have been steadily dwindling nationwide. Hopkins has seen fewer donations from that category every year, but some are so large it can make up for the loss — such as Bloomberg's pledge of $350 million, announced in January. Bloomberg could not be reached for comment this week.
Philanthropy is vital on the health side, said Steven A. Rum, vice president of development and alumni relations for Johns Hopkins Medicine.
"Medicine is always in a state of trauma," given the low reimbursements for health care, he said.
Representatives from across Johns Hopkins met during the past 21/2 years to develop a focus for the campaign, which is driven by core academic priorities, Daniels said.
"It offered an opportunity to stand back and look at the institution anew" and develop goals important to Hopkins and the greater community, the president said.
"We're really doing our best to use the campaign as a way to link a number of parts of the university together ... to solve significant problems that are confronting society," Daniels said. "It draws from this idea that Hopkins has a responsibility, given the bounty of intellectual resources that we have."