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Celebrating the power of philanthropy with AFP Advancement Northwest

Today, I was honored to give a talk at AFP Advancement Northwest’s annual celebration of the incredible power of private philanthropy where some of our community’s philanthropic leaders were recognized for their tremendous impact on our state and region.

Speech as prepared for delivery

I’m so happy to join in recognizing some of our community’s most generous and visionary philanthropists – people and organizations that do incredible work to better our communities. The Satterberg Foundation and the H. Martin Smith Family, REI and the Watershed Pub, Ann Ramsay-Jenkins and Leadership Tomorrow – all of you are doing inspiring work to transform our state and region in ways that will be felt for generations. On behalf of the University of Washington, we share your passion and are proud to be your partner in building a better Washington and a better world.

From protecting the environment, to advancing arts and culture, to fighting homelessness and supporting education, your combined impact on our world is extraordinary. As donors, you come in all forms – individuals, family foundations, and businesses, large and small. As fundraising professionals, you are thoughtful and passionate, and you enable the many non-profits you represent to do their important work. Together, you share the conviction that through giving and leadership, the world can be healthier, more prosperous, more equitable.

How do we begin to gauge the impact of private philanthropy on our world, especially here in the Pacific Northwest? Last year, Americans gave more than $390 billion, a record level of generosity. They gave to help their neighbors, their cities and schools. They gave to help disaster victims they will never meet and to preserve human and democratic rights. And they gave with ambition, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s audacious investment in vaccine delivery for the developing world. At scales large and small, donors have said, “I want to help.”

“I want to help.” It’s such a simple idea, but its impact is limitless, especially when we work together to ensure that funds are being used most effectively to return the best outcomes.

We often speak of philanthropy in the language of investment, because unlike a birthday present, which is generally meant to show appreciation or provide joy to another, with philanthropy, the plan is that what you give will grow in its impact.

Today I’m going to mostly talk about investments in public higher education, because that’s what I know about. And, I admit I might be a wee bit biased, but there may be no investment with greater return than those we make in higher education, and especially in public higher education.  In fact, each and every one of you is already an investor:  as a taxpayer.  To all of you – I say THANK YOU.  We are YOUR University – as I like to say – the University for Washington.

But, while it’s not always well understood, public funding, your taxes, and tuition ALONE doesn’t pay for public higher education.  But in fact, private giving on public higher education, has a HUGE impact, not only for students, but also for the many causes and values that bring us ALL here today. We used to call private giving our margin of excellence, but quite frankly it’s a LOT more.

When you make a gift to higher education, the results can be both highly personal – the transformation of a single life – and at the same time, a benefit to our whole society. One gift can change an entire family for generations when one member earns a degree. Or, it can change the course of health for thousands when it manifests in new treatments and products. It can inspire us through music and dance and or create jobs and opportunities through innovative community partnerships. It pays off in ways that are easily quantifiable and in ways that are intangible but invaluable. It pays off in the advancement of our values, like equity and access.  And in vision:

For example, in the late 1800s, Mary Garrett, heiress to the B&O railroad fortune, discovered that despite her intelligence and her wealth, she had few paths to higher education or a professional career. She offered to pay for the medical school that Johns Hopkins University was trying to open, but she made her gift on the condition that the medical school be open to both men and women on an equal basis. Her vision transformed medical education by opening the door for women to enter the field, a change that reverberated far beyond a single university.

Historically, private universities have always relied mostly on philanthropy to achieve excellence, and, historically, they provided opportunity mostly for the privileged. Today, philanthropy provides access to underrepresented and low-income students on public and private campuses. But, it’s public universities that carry the bulk of the load, especially for low income students. In fact, 88 percent of students earning bachelor’s degrees are enrolled in public universities. Public higher education produces the lion’s share of educated people in this country, and they produce by far the lion’s share of degrees for low income students. The UW, for example, provides more degrees to Pell grant students (a family of four making less that $50,000) than all the Ivy League schools — combined!!

In fact, this year this year UW has a little over 10,000 low income students enrolled that are paying no tuition because they are low income. That’s almost twice as many total students enrolled at Yale or Princeton and about a third more than all the undergraduate at Harvard.

That’s partly due to size — we enroll 31,000 undergrads compared to 5-7,000, but it also has to do with the PROPORTION of low income students at our universities. While at Yale or Princeton the share of low income students is 12-13 percent, and Harvard does a bit better at 15 percent – we’re about twice that.

We all know that when someone gets a college degree it generally translates into a higher salary — one study found that a 4-year degree holder will, on average, earn nearly a million dollars more over her lifetime than someone with only a high school degree.

But the benefits go far beyond dollars and cents.

Education affects our health — college graduates are more likely to get health screenings, engage in preventative care, make regular doctor’s visits vs. getting care at ER. They also live longer.

Higher education also correlates to greater volunteerism, charitable giving and participation in community projects.  And of special interest to this in this room — it’s related to more charitable giving — future donors for every cause in the room! (So you should all be rooting for us).

Like the old saw about teaching a man to fish, when private philanthropists support public higher education, they are teaching millions of people to fish. And when they support public research universities, they may even be helping to invent new methods of fishing, or to discover a whole new kind of fish!

The knowledge produced by our nation’s research universities is a lot more than ivory tower abstractions. It’s cures for devastating diseases — abroad and at home (because they’re related – better to fight Ebola in West African that Eastern Washington). It’s inventions that will save energy, and help us save our coral reefs and salmon and our beloved orcas. It’s our social workers using technology to fight the sharp rise in teen suicides, and it’s our faculty in dance putting on innovative programs featuring student dancers that are differently abled. And it’s innovations – using your cell phone to diagnose anemia or pancreatic cancer (and everything I’ve mentioned is happening in the public research university in your backyard). Public research universities are an unparalleled national resource and support for them is an investment in our collective future.

That’s why we are the midst of our own philanthropic campaign: Be Boundless — For Washington, For the World. It’s a campaign driven by the belief that you don’t just give TO the University of Washington, because you’re an alum and it helped you; you give THROUGH it — to the causes you care most deeply about. More than 300,000 people have seen this campaign as an opportunity to serve a mission greater than themselves, for which our students and all those we serve are deeply grateful. Their support also enables the UW to be a more effective community partner, through large initiatives such as our Population Health – which includes partnering with the China CDC or eradicating HIV in Africa as well as working with migrant worker clinics in Eastern Washington, and deep engagement with public schools of South King County.

And of course, partnering with so many of you here in this room, because we are ALL stronger when we work together, multiplying the loaves instead of fighting for our share of some pie that can’t be grown — because when any part of our community is better served or supported, it creates opportunities that benefit us all.

And that power is here in this room, in your transformative giving and our collective vision. As we get ready to celebrate National Philanthropy Day, there is no community I could be more proud to stand with.

So thank you, all of you, for caring. For turning caring into commitment, and commitment into action. I believe what you care about truly does change the world. Each of you is testament to how true that really is. And we’re all in this together.