Brilliant doctors find money through her efforts

When Regan Botsford reaches out to patients, their doctors gain funds for cutting-edge research

During her college years Regan Botsford had a keen interest in biology, especially marine biology. But she was also drawn to communications. She put the two skills together to form the ideal background for a fund-raiser supporting the physician scientists in the surgery department of the University of California San Francisco. They need her quick grasp of vanguard science so she can present technical projects to non-scientists without jargon. They especially need her ability to relate to people who have suffered from an illness and have the interest and ability to donate money to further their own doctors' research.Regan Botsford

Initially Botsford worked at Amazon.com in customer service and then marketing. "It was a really great place for my first job. It was the dot.com boom—a very exciting time, a time of firsts. I learned a lot through that experience."

Then she moved from Seattle to San Francisco to work for the Sierra Club. That was the beginning of her development career. She worked at UC Berkeley's Cal Performances as campaign manager. Her talent bloomed and she managed a $15 million fundraising campaign. "That was the largest campaign they had ever done," Botsford recalls. "It put Cal Performances on the map." The money went to support new theater seats and an endowment fund for artists. The experience set her up to be recruited by the University of California, San Francisco, where she has worked as senior director of development for about five years.

The department of surgery has surgeons whose expertise ranges from pediatrics to plastic surgery and organ transplantation.

"We raise a lot of money—in the millions. It's a significant impact on the department."

Her job is to raise money for the entire surgery department, including all its subspecialties. "We create fundraising strategies and cultures within each division of the department of surgery," Botsford says. "We define what the goals of the divisions include and put together business plans to identify priorities." By "culture," she means determining the best strategy to move forward.

Most donors are former patients who have been in the hospital, as well as their family members. "They want to give back. The money goes directly to support whatever is decided upon by the physician and the donor—most often research or a capital project. We raise a lot of money—in the millions. It's a significant impact on the department. We're doing very well." She expects the annual total this fiscal year to exceed $10 million.

Philanthropy allows research that otherwise would not occur, Botsford says, because National Institutes of Health funding has diminished in recent years. "That money has been significantly impacted. Philanthropy has become more popular. People want to do good. The impact on research is tremendous, what people can do with their money." NIH funds usually come only for research projects with nearly certain successful outcomes, she notes.

"Philanthropy has become more popular. People want to do good."

"It's a wonderful marriage and partnership," Botsford says. "The faculty here are topnotch. What they're doing is amazing. Donors are visionaries as well. To bring those two entities together is a real gift for me. I feel lucky to be a part of it. I enjoy the faculty and the donors. I learn something new every day." Many of the faculty members at UCSF have international reputations in their fields.

She typically meets with donors and faculty, identifying shared interests. One of the most popular recipients of donations is the division of transplantation, such as kidney and liver. Matching organ donors to patients who need organ transplants can be challenging if the blood types differ, for example.

Patients who need kidneys and other organs typically have to put their names on a waiting list. "People are on lists for years," she says, especially for kidneys. While they wait, they may have to be on dialysis, a treatment that replaces part of the kidney's function. "It's a long, long wait. People who have transplants want to give back. They don't have to be on dialysis any more. That frees up hours a week. They don't have to be stuck to a machine."

Thoracic oncology—lung cancer surgery—is another research area that readily attracts philanthropic funds. "Lung cancer is the forgotten cancer. Younger and younger women are getting lung cancer," she says, even non-smokers.

"I hate to single any one of them out," Botsford says of the various surgical departments. "They're all wonderful. The faculty are all so dedicated and driven. If you are a donor who has been impacted and wants to give back, any specialty area is significant. The procedure or research may not seem of high impact to you, but it can change a person's life—even small procedures. That is a life-changing situation where others see the benefit of advancing research and science. It's inspirational to be around these people who have been through life changes, who want to impact programs and services."

In 2008 she organized a celebration acknowledging the 45th anniversary of kidney transplant service and the 20th anniversary of the liver transplant service. "We had a week-long celebration that brought together patients, faculty and staff. It iincluded seminars, celebrations and open forums. It was fantastic."

"These donors are the reason transplantation medicine has advanced as much as it has."

Philanthropy can have a direct impact on the quality of care received by patients of the future. "It makes a huge difference," Botsford says. "It's giving life. These researchers are brilliant. People are really impacted by the ability to advance research and in this climate, it is most effective through the vehicle of philanthropy."

Some donors give back as a form of personal legacy, gifting much or all of their fortunes to the research that saved, prolonged or boosted the quality of their lives. The foundation has a planned giving department that helps provide language for wills and trusts to ensure that funds go to support research. "Even if they're alive, the legacy they leave is here at UCSF," Botsford says. "They want to see it happen in their lifetime."

In the six years she has held this job the largest donation Botsford has attracted was $5 million from an anonymous donor—and that gift was matched. The money went to a capital project: construction of a building. Even tiny donations—$5 to $100—help to support research where otherwise there is no money. Direct mail campaigns frequently generate volumes of donations of modest individual amounts. "People give what they can," she says, "even when they don't have the means to give."

"People give what they can even when they don't have the means to give."

"The faculty member is the reason people give," Botsford says. "They're not here because of me. I'm in the background. I help to make it happen. People are moved to give back because of the experience they had with a faculty member. It's a shared interest of the faculty member and the donor. Family members sometimes contact us years later."

A few months ago Botsford had her first baby, a boy, at UCSF Medical Center. "I was in great hands," she says, laughing.

"I really like people," Botsford says. "What I'm doing is making a difference. I am driven by helping others. Faculty members are trying to make improvements in medicine so that people tomorrow can benefit. I meet patients who say they wouldn't be alive if a certain doctor didn't help them. The experience they had was life-changing. Patients remember the little things. They are grateful for what they are getting." She pauses reflectively and says, "I am lucky to be healthy."

—James Dunn
Click for more job profiles