Skip to Main Content

On Generosity

November 15, 2021

To the YSM Community:

During this month of Thanksgiving 2021, I am drawn to reflect on the meaning of philanthropy. On October 2, Yale University unveiled the public phase of a $7 billion capital campaign. The title of the campaign, For Humanity, may seem like hubris to some. Rather it is meant to convey that the work we do here must have impact far beyond Yale. It captures the meaning of the word philanthropy, from the Greek “phil,” love, and “anthro,” human.

The campaign pillars—Science for Breakthroughs, Collaboration for Impact, Arts and Humanities for Insight, and Leaders for a Better World—are extraordinarily aligned with the priorities of Yale School of Medicine. Investments in neuroscience, inflammation, biomedical informatics, and cancer will all contribute to Science for Breakthroughs. Efforts to promote multi-disciplinary team science and to invest in shared resources such as biorepositories support the priority of Collaboration for Impact. Our goals to make medical education debt-free, expand support for graduate students, invest in physician-scientists, and promote diversity and belonging advance the priority of Leaders for a Better World.

A campaign with specific goals may seem to exclude important areas for investment. On the contrary, when philanthropists make investments in one area, it frees up money to invest in others. All boats rise. In addition, some donors energized by the campaign may identify specific areas in which they are motivated to invest. The campaign creates the opportunity to introduce that donor to faculty and programs and often leads to long-term relationships. Thus, the role of leaders at Yale School of Medicine is to articulate a vision, impart confidence to donors, steward their investments, and engage our faculty and staff. We benefit from a relationship of mutual trust and respect with our development colleagues.

How can you contribute to philanthropy efforts for Yale School of Medicine? First, be prepared to articulate what makes us truly unique. What are those things that differentiate Yale School of Medicine—the science we pursue, the education we offer, the clinical care we provide—from others? Develop your “elevator pitch,” a succinct statement about your work and why it is important. In that way you will be ready when a donor asks you to describe your vision and needs. Next, recognize when someone is inviting you to suggest a need. Those of us who are physicians often experience discomfort when a patient or family member asks “how can I help?” We understand the importance of avoiding conflict of interest in the physician-patient relationship. In those moments, the physician-patient relationship is paramount, but it is also important to recognize that for many of our patients and their families, philanthropy serves not only as a means to express gratitude but also as a way to exert control over an illness and to prevent others from suffering. We can honor that need by acknowledging the desire, articulating our own commitment to the physician-patient relationship, and referring them to a third party in development who can work to understand and enable their vision, allowing us to remain focused on care.

Lastly, it is important that we “walk the walk,” and give back to our community. Some may feel that we give to the community through our work, but it is important to differentiate citizenship from work. Many of our faculty and staff give to the community by contributing their time. For those developing their careers or with young families or elders for whom they care, time is a precious commodity. Still, many of you manage to find ways to give of your time in a way that is aligned with your family obligations, such as volunteering at a school, making volunteer work a family outing, or participating in support groups where you help others by sharing your experience.

With continued gratitude and amazement for all that you do,

Nancy J. Brown, MD
Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine
C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine