The importance of a chair

Faculty endowments pave the way for long-term success

By Drew Vass

Gloria J. Bazzoli, Ph.D., primarily studies multi-hospital systems and hospital participation in the safety net. Her research has examined how financial pressures affect the quality of hospital care and hospital community benefit activities, including the care provided to low-income, uninsured and vulnerable populations. As a professor in the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Health Administration, she’s held this focus for 15 years and considers her research as timely and important today as when she first began. Bazzoli holds the Bon Secours Professorship in Health Administration, which allows her to stay the course when research funding drifts away from her area of interest.

“Sometimes, faculty will move from topic A to topic B, simply because they can get grant money in a given area,” Bazzoli says, suggesting that often the flow of grant money may dwindle for areas of particular interest to a researcher. “What the endowed professorship does for me is — it allows me to continue working in a given direction and in a given area, or allows me to move to new, related areas, even when funding for a particular topic is not readily available.”

Philanthropy at its finest

Faculty endowments (labeled professorships, distinguished professorships or chairs) match private and corporate donors with faculty members whose efforts mirror their philanthropic interests. Professorships and chairs can be used to reward and honor existing or new faculty members with salaries that are commensurate with their accomplishments and high-level efforts. The donor’s original intent is preserved through a formal agreement with the university, which governs and ensures the endowment remains on target and aligned with a donor’s goals (indefinitely). Part of this process includes the review of faculty appointments every five years by the provost or vice president for health sciences and the school.

Bazzoli serves as an example of a perfect match.

“My research and goals are especially relevant to Bon Secours’ organizational mission,” she says. “Given the research I do, there was a philosophical link to their organizational objectives and activities. It’s a great honor, especially from the perspective of how it relates to and acknowledges the work I’ve done and continue to do.”

Brian Thomas, senior executive director of development for the MCV Foundation, which handles the financial side of endowments, says most aren’t funded by corporations (like Bon Secours), but by individuals. When donors come forward with the desire to donate the $250,000 to $1 million required for establishing a professorship or chair, respectively, the foundation matches their interests with MCV Campus priorities and establishes a plan for action.

“Sometimes a donor comes with a specific idea, wanting to support one specific area,” explains Anne Hoffler, senior director of donor relations for the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. “Maybe a family member has suffered from a specific disease and they want to contribute to faculty who research or work in that area of medicine.”

Donors can contribute the full amount required to instate the endowment at once, or they can pledge to fulfill the amount over a five-year period. Once the full funds are secured by the MCV Foundation, they’re commingled in a larger investment account, though the principal amount of each gift is carefully tracked, reported and remains intact. Gains generated through investment are divvied up according to each endowment’s share of the overall profits (based on principal), which are then used to fund each individual endowment year after year.

“The MCV Foundation serves an accounting function for these endowments,” Thomas says. “We deposit the funds into the appropriate accounts and invest the funds through our investment portfolio. We also serve as stewards, providing reports for all activity.”

Thomas says the foundation board reviews the spending policy for endowed funds annually. The current spending policy allows an annual payout of approximately 5 percent. Any return greater than the 5 percent is put back into the corpus of the endowment to ensure long-term growth. Growth is a primary goal, especially for professorships, which start at $250,000 but can ultimately convert to chairs when they reach the $1 million mark.

Functionally, the only difference in endowed professorships and chairs is the principal amount of investment. Often donors will establish a plan for increasing their investment over a given period, but it’s worth noting that anyone can contribute any amount to any endowment, not just the original donor or donor group.

A legacy of influence

When it comes to naming endowments, donors can do as they wish, which often includes commemorating prominent figures in VCU’s history. The Payton Professorship in Physical Therapy, for instance, was established by an anonymous source in 2004 to honor Otto D. Payton, PT, Ph.D., the former professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, who served for 28 years. Payton was — and continues to be — nationally recognized as a therapist, educator and researcher.

“The Otto Payton Professorship brings a certain amount of recognition from folks that I don’t necessarily know, or aren’t even necessarily familiar with me, but knew Dr. Payton,” says Daniel L. Riddle, PT, Ph.D., the Payton Professor in Physical Therapy. “It garners a certain amount of credibility.”

Riddle suggests that not only do endowments bring prestige and recognition to faculty members and the university, but they also raise the bar for performance.

“I think it creates a higher level of expectations and effort,” he says. “I expected better of myself, regarding my goals and accomplishments.”

Power in numbers

Philanthropy isn’t limited to $250,000-plus donations. And not every endowment begins with a lump sum. Endowments can be established with $10,000 and often start as campaigns, such as the Department of Gerontology’s recent launch of an initiative to raise funds for a professorship (see Page 34 for details).

Campaigns have been “my main focus since joining the foundation,” says Rebecca Perdue (B.S. '62/CLS), a School of Allied Health Professions alumna who recently became a trustee of the MCV Foundation. “We have these huge campaigns which target philanthropists, people who are able to donate large sums of money, but other folks want to feel a part of this as well. And the fact is, every bit counts, so we need to help people understand how they can contribute.”

For example, with the 85th anniversary for the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences in 2012, Perdue and other CLS graduates are creating a campaign that celebrates this milestone. Perdue and others also intend to organize campaigns designed to solicit donations from professionals who benefit from clinical laboratory services, such as pediatricians, doctors and laboratories recruiting VCU students. Their primary goal is to establish a professorship for the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, but ultimately Perdue says they would like to see the professorship graduate to a chair. In those cases, and with any corporately funded endowment, no goods or services can be exchanged, as donors are not allowed to benefit directly from faculty members’ efforts. At the same time, Thomas points out that, for corporate donors, name recognition alone — among all those associated with VCU — carries value.

Ultimately, the real beneficiaries of professorships and chairs includes students who study under endowed faculty members, as well as anyone who is touched by their research. In the end, everyone benefits.

Drew Vass (B.A. '02) is a contributing writer for VCU Allied Health.

Make a difference

For more information on endowments, visit the MCV Foundation and click on “Ways of giving” and then “Endowments.” Donations are welcome for existing opportunities, or contact Jessica Gurganus to help align your philanthropic goals with one of the school’s many causes.

A complete list of endowed professorships and chairs for the School of Allied Health Professions can be accessed online at .