Almost a third of the total money raised came from the 11 largest donations per year of the campaign.

Ohio University would need to receive more than $500 million to outdo what it collected from its recently concluded fundraising campaign.

The combined total of the largest single donations per year to the Promise Lives Campaign spanning 11 years exceeds $156 million, according to a Post analysis of campaign donation data collected between 2005 and 2015. More than $500 million was raised throughout the eight-year campaign.

The Promise Lives Campaign started in July 2007, but $27.5 million was collected in donations that came as early as 2005, according to Promise Lives data.

The largest single gift topped $58 million and was given in 2008 by the estate of Dolores Russ, who co-founded Systems Research Laboratories, an engineering and technology research firm, with her husband, 1942 OU alumnus Fritz Russ.

In the university’s hands, that gift became an endowment for the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, which bears their names.

In 2008, Dolores Russ’ estate gave a total of more than $72.8 million and pledged another $8.25 million.

Throughout the campaign, her estate provided a total of more than $110.5 million, according to Promise Lives data.

The campaign was marked by three major donation pledges — one from Russ, another from OU alumna and educator Violet Patton, and the third from the Columbus-based Osteopathic Heritage Foundation, a medical education non-profit — all in the multi-million dollar range, according to Bryan Benchoff, vice president for university advancement and president and CEO of the OU Foundation.

Those three contributions “positioned” OU to gain $500 million in donations by the end of the campaign, Benchoff said. The campaign’s original goal was to raise $450 million.

“For Ohio University, those are kind of off-the-chart gifts,” Benchoff said. “I’d suggest that for an institution of our size, one of those $100 million gifts would be a once-in-a-lifetime for our university, for many universities of our size, of our type.”

Some of the larger donations, such as the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation’s $105 million gift, were split in the university’s data to reflect the different purposes intended for portions of the money.

The Promise Lives Campaign would have surpassed its goal, but not broken the $500 million mark, if it did not backdate some of its larger gifts.

New campuses drew groundbreaking gifts

Out of the big-ticket donations received per year throughout the campaign, the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine received the most of the top 11.

OU-HCOM received the largest single pledge from the campaign, a $105 million gift from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation in 2011, which the college has used to create its two new satellite campuses in Dublin and Cleveland.

In the university’s data, donations were split both by date and reason for the gift.

The gift was intended to be divided among OU-HCOM’s projects, including new Athens campus centers to address diabetes research and the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute.

However, all of those projects required funding from other sources. For example, the OU-HCOM campus in Cleveland also received $2 million from Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital, $5 million from the Brentwood Foundation, $4.34 million in rent reduction from Cleveland Clinic and $1.8 million toward renovations from Cleveland Clinic to start operations, according to Linda Knopp, director of communication for OU-HCOM.

Once the medical college received the financial boost from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Health Systems invested in OU-HCOM to help establish a Cleveland campus.

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Physical gifts

Not every donation came to OU as a check or a pledge. The university also assessed the value of physical gifts to the institution and added that sum to its campaign total.

Lynn Johnson, a freelance photographer known for her work in National Geographic, donated her photographic archives to OU’s Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections. Her work, which included both the final stills and the out-of-focus attempts needed to get those perfect shots, is valued at $7.5 million, according to campaign data.

A $20.4 million chunk of the money raised in the Promise Lives Campaign represents the value of physical gifts to OU, according to Jennifer Bowie, executive director for OU Advancement's communication.

As she continues as a photographer, Johnson said she plans to gradually give her entire photographic archives to OU Libraries in hopes that other photographers also will add their archives to the collection.

She gave her archive to fill in a tool she found to be missing during her studies: a look into what photographers must do to get that perfect shot.

Johnson completed her master’s degree through the School of Visual Communication in 2004 after feeling uncertain whether she wanted to stay in the photography industry.

“I needed to just rethink photography and journalism and the industry in general,” she said. “It was a great experience being at OU and just disconnected from the deadline pressure and moving from one project to another.”

Bringing in the big donations

Multimillion-dollar donations generally do not come as a surprise to the university.

The process starts with algorithms, Benchoff said. From a database of more than 212,000 living alumni, University Advancement narrows down the list by estimated financial capacity and what Benchoff called “affinity:” participation in alumni chapters, Homecoming week visits or past donations.

University Advancement representatives then take those names and make multiple phone calls and visits to the donors they court.

“It’s a lot of work, a lot of effort, but there’s no substitute for, you know, visiting with someone in person, having the conversation, finding out where their interests lie,” Benchoff said.

While building a relationship with donors, OU officials talk with the donor about where they want their donations to go.

Because University Advancement still is analyzing results from this campaign, Benchoff said he does not expect to see donations as large as those that marked the 10 years of the Promise Lives for a few years.

From this campaign, Benchoff said he hopes to see OU “broaden the pipeline,” or create and continue more relationships with their donors who are giving small gifts annually, or may be preparing to give larger gifts.

“We can’t rely on the same folks to do it again and again and again,” Benchoff said. “We need to broaden that base, and whether that’s $1 or $1 million, at all levels we need to broaden that pipeline and secure the future frankly going forward.”