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Donors give $2 billion to benefit the health and well-being of Oregonians

More than 50,000 community members, organizations contribute to OHSU’s seven-year ONWARD campaign; philanthropic gifts support institution’s health care, education, research missions
Portland Aerial Tram in silhouette at sunrise, with Mt. Hood visible against the pink and purple sky
Portland Aerial Tram at sunrise, 2007. (OHSU/Tim Jewett)

In September 2013, Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, issued a challenge to Oregon Health & Science University. The Knights pledged to donate $500 million to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute if OHSU could raise an additional $500 million over the next two years. By June 2015, OHSU had met the challenge with time to spare, launching a new era in early cancer detection and treatment.

However, the effort to address some of the largest human health challenges didn’t stop there.

In October 2015, the OHSU Foundation launched the second phase of its philanthropic campaign known as ONWARD with another ambitious goal: to raise an additional $1 billon before the end of 2020 and expand areas of focus – from blindness to brain function.

Thanks to the support of more than 50,000 donors, OHSU once again met its goal: $2 billion raised over the course of seven years, all to benefit the wellness of people across Oregon and beyond.

“Human health, equitable access to health care, education and medical research have never been more important to our communities than they are right now,” says OHSU President Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., FACS. “We are incredibly grateful to everyone across the state and country, as well as the Oregon State Legislature, who stepped up to invest in OHSU’s future. Every dollar will help strengthen our ability to positively impact the health and well-being of those we serve.”

Knight Cancer Research Building exterior
The OHSU Knight Cancer Research Building creates capacity for nearly 700 scientists and staff members to focus on the advancement of early detection research, precision oncology clinical trials and transformational immunotherapy programs. (OHSU Foundation)

Putting $2 billion to work

Although ONWARD just recently concluded, campaign funds are already contributing to OHSU’s recruitment efforts, as well as innovative basic and translational research, a state-of-the-art scientific infrastructure, student support and more. OHSU accomplishments supported by philanthropic giving generated through the ONWARD campaign include, but are not limited to:

  • Cancer research: The OHSU Knight Cancer Research Building, funded by bond support authorized by the Oregon State Legislature as a part of the state’s investment in the Knight Cancer Challenge, creates new capacity for nearly 700 scientists and staff members to focus on the advancement of early detection research, precision oncology clinical trials and transformational immunotherapy programs.
  • Pediatrics: Donations to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital fuel research into new, targeted treatments for children facing health challenges such as cancer or developmental disabilities such as autism. The hospital has also developed and enhanced innovative programs such as NICH, or Novel Interventions in Child Healthcare, to improve outcomes for children, and their families, whose medical needs are compounded by social, personal or financial challenges.
  • Brain health: ONWARD gifts have helped to support the full continuum of brain health and science -- from basic to translational research, as well as care -- in fields that include Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and traumatic brain injury. In late 2019, OHSU opened the Pacific Northwest’s first dedicated Center for ADHD Research to help accelerate the understanding of causes and new treatment options for the condition.
  • Patient-centered care: A 76-suite guest house for both pediatric and adult patients who travel to OHSU from outside of the Portland Metro area, The Gary & Christine Rood Family Pavilion meets a sizable demand for safe, comfortable housing convenient to OHSU. Doernbecher families stay free of charge at the Rood Pavilion, and affordable rates for adult cancer patients are set on a sliding scale.
  • Eye health: The Oregon Elks Children’s Eye Clinic, a 60,000-square-foot building located on OHSU’s Marquam Hill campus, opened December 2020. Expanding the original pediatric clinic’s space by nearly one third, the facility also provides state-of-the-art eye care for issues ranging from macular degeneration to inherited conditions that can cause blindness. Supporters of the OHSU Casey Eye Institute have also invested in innovative telehealth and mobile screening services, as well as expanded clinical trials and gene therapy programs.
  • Rural health and education: A joint effort between Sky Lakes Medical Center and OHSU, the Sky Lakes Collaborative Health Center in Klamath Falls helps to serve local patients, while educating a future workforce to better meet the unique health care needs of rural patients throughout Oregon. The center, which houses the OHSU Campus for Rural Health and the OHSU Cascades East Family Medicine Residency Program, opened in December 2019.
  • Heart health: OHSU’s clinical and research teams are broadening the focus of cardiology beyond the treatment of advanced disease to encompass the preservation of health and quality of life. Philanthropic gifts received as a part of ONWARD have advanced the Knight Cardiovascular Institute’s programs in electrophysiology, nutrition and microbiome research, and gene and cell therapy.

Responding to the pandemic

Additionally, as the novel coronavirus crept into the final year of the ONWARD campaign, more than 900 donors took note and gave nearly $12 million to help OHSU respond to the pandemic. This support allowed OHSU to safely expand patient access through digital technologies, build a clinical testing laboratory -- capable of processing thousands of COVID-19 tests each week. People who have questions about COVID-19 should contact a health provider.

“I believe that supporting OHSU is an investment in the health of all Oregonians,” says donor and OHSU Foundation board chair, Gary Reynolds.  “The ONWARD campaign has dramatically increased OHSU’s ability to more effectively care for Oregonians, educate clinicians and researchers, and continue groundbreaking research. Raising $2 billion is a remarkable achievement, and it is from these gifts that much has been accomplished already. The foundation that has been created will continue to generate even more possibilities in the future.”

Community impact

“The successful conclusion of the ONWARD campaign positions OHSU as one of just a handful of other academic health centers nationwide that have attempted, and completed, such a bold fundraising effort in the name of health, science and education,” explains Matt McNair, OHSU Foundation president. “This is a testament to the generosity of our philanthropic supporters joining together to make a difference across our state.”

Campaign accomplishments include:

  • Nearly 80% of campaign gifts came from donors within Oregon and Southwest Washington.
  • More than half of the individuals and organizations that contributed to ONWARD represent first-time OHSU donors.
  • OHSU’s endowment -- which provides long-term financial resources for OHSU’s missions of health care, education and research -- grew by 115% throughout the campaign.
  • ONWARD donors established 213 new endowed funds, including 11 new endowed chairs and 34 new endowed professorships, helping to bring the best and brightest minds to Oregon and impact the future of health care across the state.

“Gifts of every size were necessary to achieve this ambitious goal,” says McNair. “Of the nearly 180,000 gifts given during the seven-year campaign, 96% were below $10,000. At the same time, we received 242 gifts of over $1 million. Each and every one of those contributions helps to improve the health of our communities.”

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