Retiring Vice Chancellor's Four-Decade Career Inspired Visionary Investments in Higher Education
For the past decade, UC San Francisco has placed among the top 20 colleges and universities that received the most charitable contributions in the nation – and among the small handful of public institutions to make the annual list.
The distinction caps an extraordinary career for John B. Ford, who retired as UCSF’s vice chancellor of University Development and Alumni Relations at the end of 2017 after five successful years that cemented UCSF’s position as a premier public university for fundraising.
Over those five years, Ford partnered closely with Jennifer Arnett, who has since assumed the vice chancellor role, to build a highly productive fundraising enterprise that supports UCSF’s faculty and students. His work positioned the University for the October 2017 launch of UCSF: The Campaign. UCSF is already well on its way toward the ambitious $5 billion campaign goal, having raised over $3.7 billion, including more than $1 billion in new endowment, since the quiet phase of the campaign began in 2013.
In 2017 alone, UCSF recorded $422.2 million in private contributions, placing fourth among public universities and 17th overall, according to the Council for Aid to Education.
“John encouraged many of us to think boldly about UCSF’s future,” says Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “He helped shape the ideas that inspired transformative gifts to UCSF, which in turn have enabled extraordinary advancements in science and health.”
John encouraged many of us to think boldly about UCSF’s future. He helped shape the ideas that inspired transformative gifts to UCSF, which in turn have enabled extraordinary advancements in science and health.
A Tremendous 5-Year Run
When Ford joined UCSF in September 2012, his charge was to elevate the role of philanthropy at UCSF and grow philanthropic revenue for the University. He immediately started shaping a broad vision for fundraising at UCSF and began reaching out to the University’s 2,400 faculty members to learn more about UCSF’s leadership areas and opportunities for growth.
This type of inclusive, big-picture thinking helped attract substantial gifts, such as the transformational commitment from Michael Moritz and Harriet Heyman to establish the Discovery Fellows Program in 2013. They worked closely with Michael Faber – now associate vice chancellor of University Development – to create an innovative funding source to support all PhD students in the basic and biomedical sciences at UCSF. “This was a phenomenal gift that forced us to be more holistic in our thinking about our graduate students. It was an incredible opportunity to think in bigger ways about important cross-cutting topics,” Ford says.
Ford credits several other donors with the willingness to think big and boldly when considering their gifts to the University:
- The combined support of major donors including Chuck Feeney and The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Dolby family, Bill and Susan Oberndorf, and Sandy and Joan Weill has revolutionized the neurosciences at UCSF.
- Marc and Lynne Benioff are changing the way we conduct children’s health research and provide care. They have partnered closely with Michael Anderson, MD, MBA, FAAP, president of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, and Erin Hickey, assistant vice chancellor of Development for Children’s Health, to spearhead the integration of UCSF’s San Francisco and Oakland campuses through UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals.
- Gerson and Barbara Bass Bakar helped establish UCSF’s presence in Mission Bay with UCSF Bakar Cancer Hospital and provided tremendous additional resources to cancer research, cardiovascular health, the neurosciences, and scholarships.
- The Diller family has long supported cancer research and faculty at UCSF, and their newest gifts will be an enormous source of support for faculty members, students, the chancellor’s priority areas, and the revitalization of the Parnassus Heights campus.
“We are so fortunate to have partners who care deeply about this university and who believe we are best positioned to carry out this important work,” Ford says. “They have seen the value in supporting our brilliant faculty members and researchers, our talented students and our innovative programs, and have truly made a difference.”
The genesis of these gifts was due in no small part to Ford’s talent at forging relationships with people and articulating why UCSF deserves their support.
“John is such a strong advocate for UCSF,” Arnett says. “He is so engaging, and within days of his arrival was able to describe the exciting work happening here, in a way that made people want to get involved.”
Bill Oberndorf, chair of the UCSF Foundation Board of Overseers, links this ability to generate excitement and momentum to Ford’s success at building out visions for UCSF’s priority areas and other crucial initiatives, such as restructuring the Board of Overseers.
“John and I worked hard to implement structural changes to the board,” Oberndorf says. “This allowed the board to better partner with and support the chancellor. I’m proud of what we have been able to accomplish these past few years, and I look forward to continuing this work with Jennifer and Sam.”
A Vision, A Commitment
When Ford was initially recruited in 2011, the idea of pursuing a campaign was percolating in then-Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann’s mind. She had asked Arnett, who was serving as interim vice chancellor at the time, to begin planning for a campaign. The work to make the campaign a reality then guided Ford’s time at UCSF.
He was drawn to UCSF by the team of Desmond-Hellmann; Hawgood, then-dean of the School of Medicine; and UCSF Medical Center CEO Mark Laret. (Desmond-Hellman is currently CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Laret is president and CEO of UCSF Health.)
“We all wanted to carry forward UCSF’s public mission in a big way,” Ford says. “I was immediately impressed with this group’s close and productive working relationships and the early success of fundraising efforts at the time.”
Oberndorf also was keen to recruit Ford given his vast experience and impressive 30-year record of success at Stanford University. For his part, Ford was well aware of UCSF’s reputation but is the first to admit that even he hadn’t fully appreciated the quality, breadth and depth of this university.
“Bill, Jennifer, and the University leadership team really got my attention,” he says. “Pretty quickly they introduced me to longtime UCSF advocates like Barbara Bass Bakar and Marc and Lynne Benioff, all of whom spoke to the important work UCSF was doing in the community. It was their commitment and enthusiasm for UCSF that brought me here.”
Reflecting on Time Well Spent at UCSF
“My time here was a wonderful immersion in a culture that truly believes in public service.”
A lifelong California resident, Ford had always admired the University of California system, and he appreciated the friendly rivalry that existed between UC and Stanford. For him, it was a culminating achievement to finish his career in the UC system, and an honor to spend the end of his 40-plus year career at UCSF. “My time here was a wonderful immersion in a culture that truly believes in public service,” he says. “I am especially proud to have been part of a campaign that features health equity as one of its three main priorities.”
Ford has helmed three other $1 billion-plus fundraising campaigns and notes that this is the only campaign that has been co-led by faculty members – a unique setup that has deeply engaged UCSF’s faculty and fostered a sense of inclusivity.
“The success of our launch and of UCSF: The Campaign thus far can be attributed to the campaign leadership team,” Ford says. “We owe a large debt of gratitude to these individuals for their tireless dedication to our cause.”
With UCSF’s expertise in neurology, basic science, children’s health, cancer and other important areas, Ford believes the University is poised to take advantage of this transformational moment at this transformational place. The ability to combine technology, medical expertise and data in powerful ways will continue to drive new approaches to problems and advance health. “Working with Sam and this team at UCSF has been a real privilege,” Ford says, “and it was an incredibly rewarding partnership for the last five years. I am confident that Sam’s vision, Jennifer’s leadership, and the guidance of UCSF’s multitalented Board of Overseers, will secure the future of this remarkable university.”