Saturday, November 18, 2017
Education

With $15 million donation to USF, top donors urge others to follow their lead

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TAMPA — The university had already hit its $1 billion fundraising goal, and the college sweethearts had already cemented their spot as the top donors to their beloved alma mater.

At a black tie gala at Amalie Arena on Saturday, though, philanthropic giants Pam and Les Muma surprised the crowd by announcing yet another massive donation to the University of South Florida.

They hope their blockbuster gift of $15 million sends a message: USF’s fundraising campaign may be winding down, but the gifts should go on.

"It feels damn good," Les Muma said in an interview with his wife at their Belleair home. "What we’re doing is making students better, making kids’ lives better, and it just feels good."

The Mumas, who have given more than $56 million to USF in all, are the largest individual donors in the school’s 61-year history. Their names already adorn the college of business and basketball practice center.

Now comes another wave of money to support the business school, boost athletics programs, create a women’s health center and help build a football center.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Record $25 million gift spurs newly named USF Muma College of Business

At a university so young, the Mumas’ gifts signal a shifting tide. Les Muma graduated in 1966, among one of USF’s earliest classes, from a campus practically devoid of trees, let alone many classrooms. Now, he said, USF has come of age. His peers have come of age. They’ve build their nest eggs, and they’re ready to give back.

Yet the Mumas were once reluctant to attach their name to their donations.

It took some advice from fellow donor Frank Morsani to recognize that they could set an example.

"Having the Mumas’ name up there is like a stamp: ‘This is something to invest in,’" said Joel Momberg, one of the faces of donor relations at USF. "They won’t say that, but I’ll say that."

Gift-giving has changed in recent years, especially at public universities, which can no longer count on the kind of state support they once leaned on.

The saying used to be that 20 percent of donors gave 80 percent of the money. That balance has narrowed to 10 percent giving 90 percent, said Momberg, senior vice president for advancement and CEO of the USF Foundation. Now, courting major donors is critical.

It helps that USF’s youth can entice philanthropists with the feeling that every gift moves the needle, Momberg said.

Recently, USF has had some banner years for fundraising, with tens of millions going toward business and health programs in particular. And this summer, with support from nearly 200,000 donors, USF hit its $1 billion goal a year early.

"We were so excited by it, and then we said, ‘Wait, this isn’t the end of the campaign,’" Momberg said. "This is really why it’s important that Les and Pam are doing this."

Balloons fell in 2014 as the Mumas announced what is still the largest gift in university history, $25 million to the college of business.

Things are going so well, they said, that they’re giving the college another $5 million.

"It can’t but help keep adding more icing to the cake," Pam Muma said.

Consider it an "attaboy" to Dean Moez Limayem, who Les Muma called "an aggressive visionary."

Elsewhere at the school, $2 million will create the Pamela Muma Women’s Health Center in the USF building at Tampa General Hospital.

It follows Pam Muma’s experience dealing with a health issue. She knew the system well, but still struggled to navigate appointments and tests. She told USF Health leader Charly Lockwood, "Women should not have to go through this."

She said he responded by asking, "Why don’t you do something about it?"

She began working with doctors to craft a comprehensive center for women, which will boast same-day physical results and easy booking.

The Mumas, who are Bulls fanatics, are also giving $1 million each to men’s basketball, women’s basketball and men’s golf.

And $5 million will kick-start construction for a football center, featuring weight rooms, coaches’ offices and an indoor practice field.

READ MORE: USF unveils plans for $40 million football complex on campus

The facility is separate from the school’s exploration of a potential stadium, but aims to attract coaches and recruits.

"We have a great program," Les Muma said. "We need this."

Les Muma led the first phase of USF’s Unstoppable campaign, which sought to raise $500 million. When donors blew past that, the university doubled the goal.

Of the $1.03 billion now raised, $122 million has funded scholarships and fellowships, and $115 million has gone toward faculty and program development.

The Mumas’ $15 million gift will be funded upon their deaths. USF may borrow from its foundation to spend that money in the meantime.

The couple has come a long way since they began dating at USF in 1964.

After some internships and IT work, Les Muma built a company in Tampa, merged it with a friend’s business, and shepherded their financial services company, Fiserv Inc., into a Fortune 500 powerhouse.

He retired in 2006, but by then, the company had spread worldwide, providing technology products and services to thousands of financial institutions.

So too has USF grown from a barren bombing range into a preeminent research university.

"It’s not a small, little, local school anymore," Les Muma said. "Look where it is now."

Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8321.

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