Quick Study

By Hannah Wallace June 30, 2005

Every nonprofit hopes to garner at least a little bit of financial support from the corporate community, but few have been as successful as USF Sarasota-Manatee.

In its quest to raise $3 million for enhancements to its new campus under construction across from the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, it has raised big, big bucks-well over $1 million-from area businesses. At press time, the campaign was expected to end July 1, six months earlier than originally announced. (The entire campus will cost just over $29 million, including the land purchase. Of that, $26.4 million is coming from the state. Completion is expected by the fall of 2006.)

Barely a week went this year without a major announcement: $250,000 each from FCCI Insurance and the Manatee Memorial Hospital Foundation; $100,000 each from Jan Smith and Company, Bruce Williams Homes, Neal Communities, Vern Buchanan and W.G. Mills and Schroeder Manatee Ranch, just to name a few. Sun Hydraulics, Lee Wetherington, Jackson Hewitt, Charles and Linda Baumann of Kerkering Barberio and WilsonMiller, Inc., also have given substantial gifts.

(In contrast, because this just isn't a corporate headquarters kind of town, YMCA Foundation president Karin Gustafson told us last year the Y was thrilled when 10 percent of its funding for the Evelyn Sadlier Jones campus came from local businesses. A Tampa Y in the middle of a capital campaign at the same time gathered 90 percent of its donations from Hillsborough County businesses. "If we get 4 percent from the corporate community we're doing good," Gustafson told us last year.)

So how did USF Sarasota-Manatee do it? The first smart choice administrators made was naming newly retired Schroeder Manatee Ranch president John Clarke as chairman of the campaign. Clarke brought to it a genuine zeal for higher education, and was able to communicate his enthusiasm to his fellow fund-raisers and the business leaders they approached.

"The developers who have been very strong in supporting this absolutely understood that a university town is a far more exciting area to build in than just any small town," Clarke told us. "If you look at the list of top 10 places to live and work-work being important-they all have universities.

"And the manufacturers and even large companies like FCCI have understood the very close relationship between higher education and good economic development. Education here is really all about building the prosperity of the area. It's all about keeping our best and brightest here."

Clarke says at his own company, "I was surprised at how many of our top people were USF graduates. I asked the people in our accounting department, and they said if they'd done their accounting degrees outside the area they would have likely ended up marrying someone from outside the area and establishing their careers there instead of here."

Director of campus advancement Alexis Upham says workforce training is why USF is getting these businesspeople's support. "They really do get the value of all that training." Among the enhancements the campaign will fund are state-of-the-art technology and equipment for programs that teach the area's next generation of teachers, accountants, hospitality industry leaders, social workers and nurses. USF expects to graduate double the number of students-1,000 versus the current 500-within the next decade.

Clarke served on USF's local leadership council for the campus for many years, "and many of those years were very frustrating," he says. "It's a very special opportunity, and if you think back, we've been waiting for the growth of this campus for a very long time."

Smart businesspeople also know how to stretch their dollars; all monies raised for the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus are being matched 100 percent by the state of Florida Division of Colleges and Universities.

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