News and analysis
July 28, 2014

$100-Million Gift Pushes Oregon University to Brink of Securing $500-Million Match

Oregon Health & Science University said Monday it received a $100-million anonymous gift for its campaign to raise money for cancer research.

The anonymous pledge is part of a $1-billion drive for the Knight Cancer Institute. The campaign began last September, when Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, and his wife, Penny, promised $500-million for the institute if the university matched the gift within two years.

The university declined to reveal any details about the donor.

The campaign has grown at a fast clip, surprising even university officials. In 10 months, the university has raised $418-million toward its goal, including $200-million in state bonds. The university has until February 6, 2016, to raise the remaining $82-million needed to match the Knights’ challenge. There are no plans to increase the goal.

Keith Todd, president of the university’s foundation, said the key to the campaign’s success has been the high pressure placed by the Knights’ gift.

"The Knights created an urgency we couldn’t have manufactured," he said.

Mr. Todd said the foundation typically raises about $100-million a year for the entire university. It has received gifts from all but two states throughout the nation, and it has tripled the number of gifts of over $1-million it earns in a year.

Although the foundation has specifically dedicated 25 fundraisers to work on matching the Knights’ gift, all of its 108 staff members are encouraged to discuss the fundraising drive and to solicit gifts. Mr. Todd said the foundation’s receptionist even managed to secure a gift from the university’s coffee vendor.

"Even if they don’t give, people are fascinated by it, so they want to hear about it," Mr. Todd said. "We have to have everyone up-to-date as to what’s going on."

And more major gifts are in the pipeline. The ambitions of the university have grown considerably because of the campaign, Mr. Todd said.

"We refer to this as the new normal," he said. "We have these great opportunities that this has allowed us to pursue."

See this and the year's other largest gifts in our database of America's top donors.

Send an e-mail to Caroline Bermudez.