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USF surpasses its ambitious goal to raise $600 million

In the midst of a recession in 2009, University of South Florida officials set their most ambitious public fundraising goal ever — $600 million in donations.

They have finally hit that number, and then some.

The USF Foundation, a nonprofit entity that handles private gifts for USF, announced Wednesday that, as of June 30, the capital campaign surpassed $621 million from some of Tampa Bay's biggest benefactors.

The USF: Unstoppable campaign drew more than 140,000 donors, raising $34 million for faculty chairs and professorships and $325 million for academic programs. More than $75 million funded scholarships, including $1 million from USF president Judy Genshaft and her husband, Steven Greenbaum, for students to study abroad.

More than $170 million went to USF Health endeavors. Donations from Frank and Carol Morsani led to the naming of the Morsani College of Medicine and a new six-story health care building in their name. Almost $40 million went to USF athletics, much of it for facilities with donor names attached — the Pam and Les Muma Basketball Center, the Corbett Soccer Stadium, the Gonzmart Family Plaza, the Chowdhari Golf Center, the Frank Morsani Football Practice Complex. Tom James, executive chairman of Raymond James Financial, funded the forthcoming James Tennis Center.

An additional $140 million funded facilities, including the Patel Center for Global Solutions in Tampa and the Sembler Family Fountain and Plaza at USF St. Petersburg.

Four years before the official launch, USF officials lined up top donors and began raising starter funds, metaphorically padding the tip jar to encourage others to give. By the time the campaign went public in 2009, USF already had raised more than $300 million. USF alumni hosted parties. Fundraisers built relationships with donors, trying to decipher passions and motivations.

"It's a very scientific approach, but there's a lot of art to fundraising, too," said Joel Momberg, chief executive officer of the USF Foundation. "They could be an alum. They could be someone who sees the university as the economic engine for the area. You may work with that donor for months or maybe for a couple years."

But there was no denying the economic reality of the times, and donations lagged for two years of the campaign. The state suspended most donation matching, and some colleges scaled back or abandoned fundraising campaigns.

"We had to make some strong decisions whether we'd keep going or whether we'd stop the campaign," Momberg said.

Rather than pull out of promises, donors asked to wait until business got better or to give partial donations, he said. In 2011, the campaign turned around. Donations totaled more than $111 million in a single year.

"When you have a culture of giving the way we have with this campaign, you want it to continue," said Momberg. "There very likely will be an Unstoppable II."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3394.

USF surpasses its ambitious goal to raise $600 million 07/10/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 10:52pm]
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