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AAMC 2014: Why Invest in Medicine? Perspectives from a Transformational Donor


In 2014, The James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family foundation gave $14 million to the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute (UCNI). This transformative gift is an example of venture philanthropy, designed to boost UCNI’s ability to accomplish its goals, including raising additional funds for a new building. 

Gardner Family Foundation chairman Gary Johns likened the foundation’s work with the University of Cincinnati to the three-stage approach to a person’s relationship with science mentioned by Alan Alda in Saturday’s opening plenary session. Attraction > infatuation > commitment. For the Gardner foundation, attraction came when they saw the great care provided to Joan Gardner, who suffers from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Infatuation resulted from seeing UCNI’s commitment to not only treating patients, but to advancing cures for neurological disease. Most importantly, commitment became real when the Institute asked the Gardner Foundation for a large donation.

Johns appreciated UCNI’s desire to listen to Foundation representatives and engage them in a strategy to fight neurological disease. He also appreciated that the institute asked for what they really wanted rather than what they thought they could get and recommended that other organizations seeking philanthropic support do the same. 

To paraphrase Johns: You have to ask for what you really want. You might not get it, but asking for less will not get you where you want to be either. You’ll never have an endowment the size of Harvard’s, but that shouldn’t stop you from becoming great. 

Johns also shared other tips for engaging philanthropy, emphasizing the importance of establishing and meeting goals. He said that donors want to see that schools/hospitals have goals and are able to stick to them over the long term. Donors should be kept in the loop at all levels, and organizations should not return to the donor to ask for more money until they have met all of their promised commitments.

Following the main presentation, Joseph P. Broderick, UCNI’s director, gave some suggestions for helping physicians play a role in working with patients who might one day also become donors:

  • First, fundraising must be kept separate from patient care
  • Doctors can listen to and tell stories
  • When a patient expresses interest in being a part of or offering support to something, the physician should be prepared to refer that patient to the appropriate person or foundation so they can get involved.


Joseph P. Broderick, MD – Professor of Neurology & Rehabilitative Medicine; Director, UC Neuroscience Institute; University of Cincinnati

Gary D. Johns, MBA – Chairman, James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Foundation

Santa J. Ono, Ph.D. – President, University of Cincinnati

J. Christopher Smith, CFRE, MBA – Vice President for Development, Academic Health Center; President, UC Health Foundation; University of Cincinnati Medical Center

By: Aaron Lovell

Aaron Lovell is a communications specialist for University of Utah Health Sciences.