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Education

USF 'Unstoppable' campaign raises $621 million

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Published:   |   Updated: July 29, 2013 at 09:19 AM

TAMPA - From the construction of grand athletic facilities and state-of-the-art medical centers to fattening the president's paycheck to providing faculty chairs and professorships, the University of South Florida Foundation's footprints are all over the USF system's three campuses.

But often, the foundation's impact isn't so visible.

Porsche Purkett, a 25-year-old whose unusual double-major of violin performance and sign language interpreting has led her on a six-year slog through USF was having money issues. That double major, however, made her ripe for a Chip Weiner Uncommon Sense scholarship - a Foundation award that will help Purkett complete her senior year this fall.

"It's given me a way to continue my schooling," Purkett said. "Without it I would have had more debt, I would have had to get more loans, maybe even postpone my schooling for a bit. I'm really excited to receive this scholarship."

Valerie Bay, meanwhile, is a mother of grown children with a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher. She found that financial woes aren't unique to the younger set, and a Carol Bellamy Scholarship in Constitutional Studies provided a lifeline.

"It couldn't have come at a better time," the master's candidate in education said. "This takes the pressure off me in one area so I can focus on others."

The USF Foundation has just wrapped up it's "Unstoppable" campaign, a fundraising effort that has collected a whopping $621 million since its public unveiling in 2009. Exceeding their goal of $600 million, Foundation officials are understandably crowing.

"Phenomenal," said Steven Blair. "It was driven by big ideas. We have leadership at this university that has grand vision, starting with a president who sees a bold and strong future for this campus, and it goes all the way down to the donor population, which wants to see the big ideas," said the chief development officer and associate vice president at USF Health.


How does a university spend $621 million?

The vast majority of "Unstoppable" benefits are donor-driven, said Noreen Segrest, an associate vice president and foundation counsel. Just 3.7 percent of the donations come with no strings attached, she said.

"We get very little in unrestricted gifts," Segrest said. "Most of the time a donor will have something that drives them to be involved in philanthropy. Different things drive them - maybe they got a scholarship when they were here, and they want to help somebody else going forward."

The biggest chunk of the "Unstoppable" contributions, $336 million or 54 percent, will go to program enhancements - a broad category described as the creation of better opportunities for teaching, learning and research. Facilities will get $148 million, or 24 percent of the receipts, with $74 million, or 12 percent, earmarked for scholarships.

A major benefit of the "Unstoppable" campaign was a boost to the USF's endowment, which now stands at $365 million. A university's endowment consists of long-term, invested funds that are designed to provide benefits into perpetuity. There are 900 different funds in the USF endowment, including the scholarships earned by Purkett and Bay.

While USF's endowment is dwarfed by the University of Florida's $1.3 billion and is behind Florida State's $498 million, officials are more than satisfied with the number. "There is no other state university in Florida that's anywhere close to us that's as young as we are," Segrest said. "We're really proud of where our endowment is."


As a tax-exempt non-profit, the USF Foundation is required to file a document with the Internal Revenue Service known as a Form 990. Such disclosure can assuage donors and watchdogs, and keep an institution out of the kind of trouble recently faced by the University of Texas system, where administrators were provided with mortgage assistance and forgiven loans by academic foundations.

USF's most recent Form 990 lists its largest donations, but the foundation can protect the donors' identities. The form lists contributions of $26 million, $2 million and $1.5 million without identifying the givers.

The form also provides a glimpse of the less glamorous side of the fund-raising industry. At USF, the foundation spent $445,000 for professional fundraising services that netted the organization $178,217.

It spent $303,000 on lobbyists, but was careful to point out that in keeping with federal law, none of that money was used to support any candidate.

It paid $179,000 to TECO Energy for the use of its luxury suite at Raymond James Stadium, and paid social club dues or initiation fees for eight officials.

The foundation also augments USF System President Judy Genshaft's salary. The state restricts her take of public dollars to $200,000, far short of what a president of an institution the size of USF can expect to earn, so the foundation kicks in $270.000 to make her base compensation $470,000 a year. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ranked Genshaft at No. 22 in public university presidents' pay, with a total compensation package of over $685,000.


A top-tier university's foundation fund-raising may run into the hundreds of millions, but recipients of some of USF's largesse say even a tiny break can be immeasurable. Recipients of USF Foundation scholarships were reluctant to discuss the value of their awards, but the university lists them as anywhere from up to $1,200 for the Uncommon Sense scholarship to as much as the full cost of attending for a first-generation scholarship.

"It's made a world of difference," said Christelle Joseph, a Miami resident originally from Haiti who earned a first-generation award and is majoring in information technology at USF. "I'm fortunate to have it. It really contributes to my finances."

Bay, the second-career teacher-to-be, described herself as financially strapped when she applied for her Foundation scholarship. "I don't have Mommy and Daddy paying my bill. I put five kids of my own through college," she said. "I think this whole school situation, for me, it gave me the opportunity, it gave me a venue to share my passion.

"And then they rewarded me for it!" she said. "That's the best part."

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7834

Where "Unstoppable" donations go

Pam and Les Muma Basketball Center

Carol and Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare

Sembler Family Fountain and Plaza (St. Petersburg)

Corbett Soccer Stadium

Patel Center for Global Solutions

Gonzmart Family Plaza

Chowdhari Golf Center

Frank Morsani Football Complex

James Tennis Center (to be constructed)

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