Q&A: What’s Inspires Giving? Meet Larry Schafer

After 26 years with Weill Cornell Medicine, Larry Schafer, the Vice Provost for External Affairs, will be retiring at the end of 2017.

Larry joined the Development Office of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in 1991, and was appointed Vice Provost for Development at Weill Cornell Medicine in 1998. He led institutional fundraising under the administrations of Deans Antonio Gotto, Jr., Laurie Glimcher and Augustine M.K. Choi and Board of Overseers Chairs Arthur Mahon, Sanford Weill and Jessica Bibliowicz, while also serving as vice president for development at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital between 1998 and 2012. He has been Vice Provost for External Affairs at Weill Cornell since 2012. Larry’s accomplishments include leading Weill Cornell’s two largest capital campaigns – raising approximately $3 billion – as well as overseeing the institution’s rebranding and increasing its engagement with the public.

Larry recently sat down with Dean Augustine M.K. Choi to speak about his career at Weill Cornell Medicine and the critical role of philanthropy in the institution’s growth.

AC: Over the years, you’ve cultivated many meaningful relationships. What’s your secret for engaging and inspiring Overseers and donors?

LS: We’re like a family. We’ve spent a lot of time together sharing each other’s personal joys and crises, and we all agree the goal is to make Weill Cornell Medicine the best it can be. I grew up on a farm in Minnesota and I feel the same sense of community here in New York City because of my experience at Weill Cornell. People here act like we’re all in this together. This may sound sentimental, but it’s true: if someone needs something, our community comes together to help. Our board, our leadership and our faculty have each other’s back, and that’s what has made this place grow.

AC: How have you worked to align donors with each part of our mission – Care. Discover. Teach. – so that they are more inspired to give?

LS: Most of our donors are experienced philanthropists, and our job is to maximize their goals. We’ve always had very strong strategic plans at Weill Cornell, which has been one of the reasons we’ve been successful at raising money. There’s rarely been a time when we couldn’t take a donor’s interest and fit it into our strategic plan. There’s always a place for partnerships here.

AC: You were the driving force behind two of our largest and most successful capital campaigns: Advancing the Clinical Mission, from 2001 to 2005, and Discoveries that Make a Difference, from 2006 to 2013. Are there any gifts that stand out in your mind?

LS: There have been so many transformative gifts, it’s hard to know where to begin. Working with Joan and (Board of Overseers Chair Emeritus) Sandy Weill on their own philanthropy has always been a joy. Some of the most memorable gifts have demonstrated a deep personal connection to the institution. When I started here in the summer of 1991, I met a donor who is now on the Board of Overseers. When I thanked her for her gift, she talked about her young son, who had a brain tumor that was successfully treated, and she was so grateful to the team of doctors here at Weill Cornell Medicine who saved his life. Many donors start out as grateful patients. Then they see the larger vision that comes out of the dean’s office and board leadership. It’s been wonderful to watch.

AC: A series of strategic plans enabled the construction of both the Weill Greenberg Center and the Belfer Research Building – the latter of which was funded largely through philanthropy when the recession was at its peak and our peer institutions restricted expansion. To what do you credit that success?

LS: Let’s go back to the family analogy that I made. Most of the board leadership became very engaged as we were beginning to do work on the Weill Greenberg Center. Everyone had the sense that we needed to build the clinical building first. So when it came time to talk about the research building, even before there was a hole in the ground, we had already received some very big gifts – and we were committed. Even when the economy was scary, a lot of second gifts still came in. We had very good leadership from (former Dean) Tony Gotto, who I had the pleasure of working under for 15 years, and at both the Board of Overseers level and the university level. There was a lot of concern, but we were already in for a penny, in for a pound, as it were. We all knew this was the right way to go.

AC: As a donor yourself, you helped create the Schafer Family Scholarship at Weill Cornell Medicine. What is your commitment to education and why was this important to you and your family?

LS: When I grew up, there wasn’t a lot of extra money in the household budget, but education was always extremely important to my parents. My brothers and I were all encouraged to do our very best, and we all had jobs, we all had loans, and we all were very committed to our education. When my mother graduated from high school in the 1940s, she felt the only option for her was to become a schoolteacher or a nurse. So she went to college and became a registered nurse. I think if she had grown up in the next generation, she would have had a different set of opportunities. So scholarship support, education and opportunities for women have always been very important to me.

AC: Legacies are sometimes overstated, but not for you, Larry. What do you see as your legacy at Weill Cornell?

LS: Thank you, Dean Choi. That’s a good question. We are most definitely a bigger place than when I first got here. But I didn’t do this alone. I didn’t raise $3 billion. The faculty leadership and the board, now under Jessica Bibliowicz’s leadership, and the donor community and the External Affairs team are all in this together. If whatever I’ve been able to do to help foster that community remains, it will be my legacy.

Milestones Archives

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