News and analysis
February 06, 2012

An Honest Discussion of Strengths Helps Ore. University Win Big Gift

Eric Griswold

Bob and Charlee Moore, founders of a natural-foods company, pledged $25-million to establish a nutrition and wellness institute.

When one of Oregon’s major public universities received a request from a lawyer to outline smart ways the institution could promote nutrition and wellness if it got money from a new benefactor, it was not much of a mystery where the money might be coming from. Officials at the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation easily guessed the donors were Bob and Charlee Moore. After all, not many people who live in and around Portland, Ore., have made a fortune from natural foods.

They also knew that the Moores, founders of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, had donated at least $1-million to two other local colleges for programs on nutrition and healthy eating. It was clear from the donors’ lawyer that his clients were considering giving a very large sum. But rather than pulling out bells and whistles, Allan Price, president of the OHSU Foundation, says simple honesty was the best approach to securing what turned out to be a $25-million gift.

He and his staff put together what he calls a “statement of strengths,” a 12-page document that focused on the university’s myriad efforts related to nutrition and well-being: its efforts to educate people on healthy eating, an academic program that studies how pregnant women’s nutrition affects the health and development of their children, and a childhood obesity clinic, as well as the natural-foods store at the university’s hospital and the farmers’ market that it operates on its campus in the summer.

“We had depth across the institution in the area that Bob and Charlee Moore were interested in, and, secondly, we had a long history and track record,” Mr. Price says. “So this wasn’t something just being ginned up in response to donor interest.”

The statement was given to the donors’ lawyer, who then contacted the foundation to arrange a tour of the university for himself and the donors’ financial adviser. When the lawyer informed Mr. Moore about the tour, says Mr. Price, he quickly replied, “Well, why aren’t I going?”

'Be Authentic’

Sure enough, Mr. Moore showed up for the tour. He met faculty members and listened to scholars holding a public discussion of their research on nutrition and pregnancy.

After three more follow-up meetings, the Moores invited university officials to tour their company plant. Mr. Moore then asked them to work out with his lawyer how big a gift they needed.

The pledge, which established the Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition and Wellness, was announced in September to coincide with the university’s hosting of the World Congress on Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.

Sincerity pays off, says Mr. Price.

“Really focusing on the substance, and trying to make sure there’s good alignment between the donor’s interest and the institution’s strength, and be authentic about that connection,” he advises other fundraisers seeking large donations. “You can’t make that up, and if you try, it doesn’t end up working out very well.”

The highlight of the whole endeavor came after Mr. Moore committed the pledge.

“Bob turned to me after he made the gift and said, 'This is why I made the money I made, so I could do this,’” Mr. Price says. “Frankly, it brought tears to my eyes.”