Grateful clients contribute funds to veterinary colleges

Human-animal bond, official donation programs facilitate giving
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Dr. Andrew Vaughan with client, William Kermis, and patient, Ceymoure

Scroll through the latest news releases from veterinary colleges and schools and there's a good chance at least one article will report a donation from a grateful client of the teaching hospital.

One of the most recent high-profile donations came from Roy and Gretchen Jackson, owners of Barbaro, who donated $3 million to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in February.

This type of donation has become a larger portion of veterinary colleges' annual private fundraising revenue, experts say, accounting for a small but crucial portion of income.

According to the 2005-2006 Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges' Comparative Data Report, the mean revenue for all U.S. colleges of veterinary medicine was approximately $56 million. Just less than $2 million of that total came from gifts for current use. Statistics were not available on what portion of the gifts was from appreciative clients.

Why the jump?

Veterinary colleges reported several opinions as to why donations have increased.

Dr. Dianne Dunning, assistant dean of college relations at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, noted that the growing influence of the human-animal bond has contributed.

"I think that as colleges and schools of veterinary medicine ... we're paying the due diligence to the human-animal bond that is necessary," Dr. Dunning said. "People realize that a gift of that sort can contribute ... a part of their legacy toward that vision of the human-animal bond in all its facets."

The establishment of official, grateful client-type programs at many veterinary colleges has also facilitated more donations.

For example, NCSU reaches out to clients through the Coat of Excellence Program for donors who give a tax-deductible gift of $10,000 to the college. The gift enables them to name a coat in honor of a special faculty or staff member, intern, or resident. The coat is embroidered with the name of the recipient of the coat as well as the pet's name.

Launched about a year ago, Dr. Dunning said, the program proves popular with clients, particularly because it's tangible and directly related to the client's experience at the hospital.

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine also has a program to encourage giving, appropriately called the Grateful Client Program.

"More and more people who are thankful for their veterinarians want to somehow thank them, and this (program) is one way they do it," said Lynne Haley, director of veterinary development and external relations at the college. She said donations have also increased because when clients ask their veterinarian how they can thank them, their veterinarian asks them to donate to the program.

Providing 'a margin of excellence'

Although there are multiple opinions as to why donations from appreciative clients have increased, many veterinary colleges seem to agree on one thing: donations are more needed than ever before.

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, dean of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, pointed out several reasons why donations and private fundraising overall have become more crucial.

For one, funds from the states continue to decline.

"When I talk to donors, I tell them that private fundraising really provides a margin of excellence that we can't get from the state anymore," Dr. Klausner said. "We get the basics from the state, but to do the things that are really going to make a difference in the world are often when private fundraising becomes very important."

Another need for donations, Dr. Klausner said, is the growing cost of funding veterinary teaching hospitals, especially equipment.

The veterinary teaching hospital at NCSU serves as an example. In late 2005, the veterinary college received $20 million from a publisher who brought his Golden Retrievers to the hospital. As a result of the donation, the hospital will undergo a much-needed expansion.

"In our current veterinary hospital, which has served us well over nearly 20 years now, we're bursting at the seams at the moment," Dr. Dunning said. "Building and completion of the center will provide 120,000 square feet of additional space and allow us to accommodate more companion animal clients and increase caseload."

Not just pet owners

Pet owners seem to account for the bulk of grateful clients, but practicing veterinarians also play a hand.

For example, the Gastrointestinal Laboratory at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has launched a yearlong campaign that encourages veterinarians who send their laboratory samples to them to help raise money to expand the number of faculty members as well as improve the facilities.

Dr. Jorg Steiner, director of the laboratory, and his team are asking practicing veterinarians to place fliers for the laboratory in their reception area, to contact major philanthropists, and to organize a group donation in the name of the clinic or by themselves.

As of March, approximately 300 veterinarians had agreed to display the laboratory's fliers in their reception areas, Dr. Steiner said. So far, the laboratory has received donations from more than 70 veterinarians and pet owners.

Whether targeting veterinarians or pet owners, fundraising campaigns such as the TAMU laboratory's, coupled with official donation programs, are just a few tools veterinary colleges will most likely use in the future to ensure appreciative client donations continue to increase.