It was the kind of call that university officials live for.
Harry Feinstone, who received his doctorate from the Johns Hopkins School of Health and Public Hygiene in 1939, was telephoning the school's dean, Dr. Alfred Sommer, a few days after agreeing in January to make a gift to subsidize young researchers there.
I know I told you I'd give $1 million, Feinstone told Sommer, but I've had some time to think this over. And I think I ought to give $3 million instead.
Feinstone's contribution might seem dwarfed by the megagifts of $10 million to $55 million that the Johns Hopkins University has received recently. But fund-raisers at Hopkins and elsewhere said donations such as Feinstone's are the backbone of the university's six-year, $900 million campaign, which is scheduled for completion in February 2000.
"I can't tell you how important unrestricted money like this is," Sommer said last week, recalling Feinstone's gift. "Particularly in public health -- we don't have grateful patients and we don't have wealthy alumni."
Despite its international reputation, Hopkins faces many challenges in pulling off a campaign of this size.
The university lacks schools of business and law, traditional wells of financial support, and a major athletics program, which can also aid in raising money. Also, Hopkins' undergraduate student body -- and hence its alumni base -- is relatively small, and graduate degree recipients, as a rule, are less generous than people who spend their undergraduate years at a campus.
But university officials say they're ahead of schedule: As of Sept. 30, the initiative had collected roughly $634 million in contributions and pledges. While nearly one-quarter of the total came from five huge gifts, including trustee Chairman Michael R. Bloomberg's $55 million pledge slightly more -- $166 million -- came from 100 major contributions, each worth $1 million to $5 million.
Many of the contributors are trustees or major Baltimore figures with names like Krieger, Hoffberger and Meyerhoff, people of whom there is almost an expectation of significant patronage in philanthropic circles.
In Feinstone's case, his donation stemmed from a relationship cemented over meals, cigars, fine wine and hourlong anecdotes that tapped into a man's enduring adoration for a school now far different from the one that accepted him 60 years ago.
A Brooklyn-bred Jewish immigrant from Poland, Feinstone dropped out of New York University after a year in the Great Depression. He cast about for work -- he claims not to have sold a single suit as a salesman on commission from 1931 to 1933 -- and finally headed south to the University of Arkansas, where he could afford the tuition.
"To continue my education, some of my professors at Arkansas whom I had snookered into thinking I could do well called around and they got me my situation at the school of public health at Hopkins," said Feinstone, a gravel-voiced man whose deliberate delivery masks a ready, self-deprecating wit. "In those days, I was so impressed with these people whom before I had only read about."
After he graduated, Feinstone went on to establish a series of commercial laboratories, developing sulfa drugs to combat infectious diseases. He eventually became vice president of what is now the Schering-Plough Corp., a pharmaceutical company.
In the past 18 months, the public health school's chief fund-raiser, Sylvia Eggleston Wehr, stopped by Feinstone's Memphis, Tenn., home several times while visiting her mother-in-law. She encouraged him to visit the Baltimore campus for the first time in five decades, drawing out his memories of working with Dr. Perrin Long.
'The emotional aspect'
"Behind it all is the emotional aspect," Feinstone said. "It's a feeling I have had all these years. I hadn't always had the means to make it up to them. When it was pointed out by Sylvia Wehr that I had the means -- she's the head of getting money out of people -- I felt it was payback time."
When traveling to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Dean Sommer took a detour through Memphis to tell Feinstone of his old department's need to subsidize research in new areas. Feinstone offered a $1 million endowment -- a significant increase from the $150,000 he had already bequeathed in his will.
Then, a few days later, Feinstone called back to up the ante.
"They captured me all over again -- my attention, my excitement," he recalled last week.
Several people who raise money for universities said the meat of a campaign comes in significant chunks that are not astronomically high -- in Hopkins' case, $1 million to $5 million gifts that result from continued conversations about the school's future.
"Your most sophisticated and in some ways your most important donors are the ones who respond to your featured needs," said David M. Glen, director of principal gifts at Stanford University. "Your closest donors are going to be the ones who will respond to your highest priority needs."
Despite its size, Hopkins' $900 million campaign is far from the largest.
Harvard University and Yale University have completed drives of $2.1 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively. Similar figures can be found at comparable private campuses -- Cornell's goal was $1.25 billion, Columbia's $1.15 billion and Stanford's $1.1 billion. Now some public campuses, such as the University of Michigan and the University of California at Los Angeles, are getting into the act, also exceeding the billion-dollar mark.
Yet if these campaigns' sizes are imposing, their aims are relatively modest: Unlike their predecessors, they do not dangle the creation of new schools or new campuses before potential donors. On the whole, the money will be used to repair and renovate and to supplement endowment for future generations of students and scholars.
Hopkins officials have set aside much of the campaign's total to increase the endowment, currently at $982 million, the 21st largest in the country, according to a recent national survey.
The Hopkins initiative's five largest gifts to date, all worth more than $10 million, comprise $154 million. The next 12 largest commitments, worth $5 million to $10 million apiece, total $77.2 million, or a little more than 12.2 percent of current gifts. All told, the top 117 donors gave 62.6 percent of the total, and the top 513 gave 84.5 percent of the total. The other 72,100 contributors made gifts to the Johns Hopkins Initiative totaling $98.2 million.
"At the bottom of the pyramid, they're all very important, because embedded in those smaller donors are the big donors of your future campaigns," said Stanford's Glen.
Hopkins has more than three years left to pull in the remaining $266 million -- seemingly a relatively reasonable task, as the university averaged about $90 million in annual giving before the campaign kicked off two years ago.
Completing the initiative
Much work remains, even though most of the mammoth gifts have probably been secured, several officials said. Now, the university needs many more Feinstones to show their appreciation of Hopkins -- in gifts that are large, but not enormous -- to complete the initiative.
"What I try to do, first of all, is show people how important big gifts are," said Robert R. Lindgren, vice president for development and alumni relations.
"We assure them that smaller gifts are still very important. We haven't quit raising them or lessened our commitment to raising them at all. But we expect that these numbers will probably need to hold up in order to complete the campaign successfully."
Pub Date: 10/21/96