Hospital's charitable triumph Even in a bad economy, Children's was able to raise $476 million.

Posted: September 17, 2009

Her name was Emily and she lived only three days 21 years ago, but she is the reason that Lynne and Bill Garbose gave money to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Hope Lives Here fund-raising campaign.

That effort, officially marked with a closing party tonight, raised an ambitious $476 million over seven years - $76 million above its goal - and has fueled $1.5 billion in spending at the West Philadelphia hospital. Its fund-raising experiences over the last year reveal not only the toll the recession has taken on philanthropy, but also the staying power of children's charities.

Lynne Garbose learned late in her pregnancy that she was carrying a baby with a rare, fatal heart defect. She had no choice but to have the baby in an adult hospital in Washington, where she and her husband, both new law-school graduates, lived then. Emily was then transferred to a children's hospital a 30-minute drive away.

Lynne Garbose, who'd had a Cesarean section, was allowed to leave her own hospital bed for a few hours each day to see her daughter. "I wanted to see this baby," she said. "I didn't know how long this baby would live."

Meanwhile, her husband was torn between his wife and his dying child. "He didn't know how to spend his time," Lynne Garbose said. Emily died in his arms while his wife was on her way back to her hospital.

Because of that experience, Lynne and Bill Garbose, who now have two teenage boys and live in Blue Bell, jumped at the chance in 2006 to give the lead donation for the Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit, which allows women carrying babies with known birth defects to deliver at Children's. Lynne Garbose, cochairwoman of the Hope Lives campaign, would not say how much the couple gave. Her parents, Harriet and Ronald Lassin, also donated to the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.

Bill Garbose is listed as president of Harriet Carter Gifts Inc., with headquarters in Montgomeryville.

Asked if she and her husband would still have pledged the money after the recession started, Garbose said she hoped they would have. "It was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as a donor. If we ever wanted to do anything really meaningful, that was it."

The Garboses were among 281,440 donors, but the majority of the money came from big givers like them. Seven- and eight-figure gifts accounted for $335 million of the $476 million total, said Stuart Sullivan, executive vice president and chief development officer. Seventy-seven donors gave $1 million or more.

The campaign ended June 30, but the party celebrating donors is tonight at Karamoor, the Fort Washington estate of Athena and Nicholas Karabots, who gave $15 million for a primary-care center to be built in West Philadelphia. Invitations went to 1,500 people who gave $10,000 or more or who are significant benefactors for the Carousel Ball, a black-tie fund-raising event scheduled for Oct. 10. About 200 are expected to attend, Sullivan said.

Donors also provided money for the 11-story, 423,000-square-foot Colket Translational Research Building and 35 new endowed chairs (at about $2 million a pop). The campaign is supporting research into teen driving, autism, childhood cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and blindness.

Hospital chief executive officer Steven Altschuler said Children's had about another billion dollars worth of needs and likely will start another campaign next year. While demand for care at Children's is increasing, he said, the hospital is being cautious with spending. "Obviously, the economy is still in a very fragile state," he said.

Michael Nilsen, spokesman for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, said he was hearing from members that "this is probably the most difficult fund-raising environment they've experienced in their careers and these are 30- and 40-year veterans."

The Giving USA Foundation, he said, found that total giving dropped from $314 billion in 2007 to $307 billion in 2008.

Laura Otten, executive director of the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University, said nonprofit groups that cater to children have an advantage. "People will tell you anything that involves kids is easier to raise money for than almost anything else," she said.

Nonetheless, Children's Hospital felt the chill cast by the recession and Bernie L. Madoff, Altschuler said. A $15 million gift is still on hold because of Madoff, and overall giving slipped in the last two years. When Altschuler arrived as CEO in 2000, he said, Children's was lucky to get $20 million in gifts in a year. During the campaign, which aggregates normal annual gifts and special donations, philanthropy peaked at $90 million in fiscal 2006-07. It fell to $68 million the following year and $48 million last year. The hospital's goal is to raise $56 million this fiscal year. The hope is that the campaign will raise the overall level of giving in coming years, Altschuler said.

While small donations have been steady for years, the recession took a toll on the big donations that are essential for a campaign like this, Altschuler said. "As we look back at the last year," he said, "we lost the ability to get those very, very large eight-figure gifts."

Typically, the hospital can get 10 to 12 seven-figure donations a year, Sullivan said. Last year, there were only seven. It was also harder work to get donors to commit.

"People are taking longer to make decisions . . . and we're having to ask more donors for gifts in order to receive the number of gifts we've received in the past," he said. Before the recession, one out of four might give. Now it's one out of five or six.

Lynne Garbose saw her gift at work late last year, soon after the special-delivery unit opened. She watched a delivery, saw the baby have surgery, and held the healthy baby several months later. "Seeing your dollars in action, that really felt good," she said.

Contact staff writer Stacey Burling at 215-854-4944 or sburling@phillynews.com.

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