MINNEAPOLIS - The Mayo Clinic's reputation and grateful testimonials from people like the CEO of Marriott hotels have brought it within striking distance of an ambitious five-year goal to raise $1.25 billion.
Mayo has raised nearly $1 billion since its campaign began in 2005, and planned Friday to publicize its final push to raise the rest to boost patient care, education and research.
When Bill Marriott's daughter needed open heart surgery in 1962, he took her to Minnesota, where surgeons at the Mayo Clinic performed the procedure with the help of a cutting edge heart-lung machine.
Today, Deborah Marriott Harrison has five children and works in government affairs for the Marriott hotel empire, and her father's gratitude has never waned. So when the clinic approached Bill Marriott to help with the biggest fundraising campaign in its history, he said yes - and got the ball rolling with a $25 million donation himself.
"Mayo has the ability to provide for the patient, no matter what the patient needs," Marriott, the chief executive of Marriott International, said Thursday in explaining his fondness for the clinic. "They reach quick conclusions, their diagnoses are always correct. ... I just really admire the efficiency of Mayo."
To coordinate the fundraising, Rochester-based Mayo recruited 220 volunteers, including some of its own physicians.
That includes Dr. John Noseworthy, a neurologist and the clinic's medical director for development, who said Mayo is "in a position to move more quickly in transforming medicine." In particular, the clinic hopes to use the funds to take a giant leap forward in genomic medicine - the science of screening for disease and pinpointing the proper treatment for a particular patient.
Like other clinics around the country in recent years, Mayo has felt, as Noseworthy put it, "changes in the economic environment," including the impact of rising health care costs and an aging population, lower revenue and stagnant government aid. All of that has cut into money available for research.
Daniel Callahan, an expert in health care costs and technology at The Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute, called Mayo's goal a "huge amount of money." While clinics and hospitals routinely raise money to stay competitive, others do so to offer some new type of service. In the case of Mayo, he said, it will require a large investment to develop the field of genomic medicine.
"On the competitive side, that might help them gain patients," he said.
The clinic also said its fundraising will help improve the quality of care while reducing costs.
"That's the trick of the year," Callahan said. "But how do you do it?"
Mayo has banked on its stellar reputation and its relationship with patients in raising the money. In the seven years before the campaign, the clinic was already raising an average of $140 million per year in donations, a spokesman said. That yearly figure has doubled since the fundraising effort began.
The clinic has received 300,000 separate donations in a direct-mail campaign - from $2 to $50,000. Other major benefactors include The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, which gave $49 million for a center devoted to cancer research. Schulze founded the consumer electronics giant Best Buy Co.
The money is being shared among the clinic's other sites in Phoenix; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Jacksonville, Fla.
The sales pitch to heavy donors, Marriott said, "has seemed to resonate very well with people."