Focused on a cause

Donors, foundations seek to advance issues of high importance

  •  | 
Print this page by Robert Powell
Article image

People often donate money for two reasons: to support an institution or advance a cause. This sixth edition of the Generous Virginians Project looks at both philanthropic motivations in some special circumstances.

Dr. Neal Kassell, a neurosurgeon at the University of Virginia, founded the Focused Ultrasound Foundation in 2006 to further the research and development of a promising medical treatment. At a time when federal grants for medical research are declining, Kassell has put his faith in private donations to continue the momentum behind focused ultrasound treatment and speed the normally glacial pace of adoption of new medical technology.

A second story looks at the philanthropic cause of one person, award-winning musician Pharrell Williams. A native of Virginia Beach, Williams has been inspired by his mother, an educator, to provide disadvantaged children with additional educational opportunities. The project has spread from one site in his hometown to 13 sites in Hampton Roads and Florida.

A third story examines what happens to gifts to an institution when it is forced to shut down. The decision to close Sweet Briar College, a 114-year-old women’s college in Amherst County, angered many of its loyal alumnae and raised questions about how its donations and endowment should be handled. (At presstime, parties in the dispute were holding meetings with a mediator in an attempt to find a resolution.)

The Generous Virginians Project also includes a series of charts showing donations by individuals, corporations and independent foundations during 2014. The chart information was primarily gathered in a survey of hundreds of businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations throughout the commonwealth.  

Moving the needle
Foundation raises money to speed adoption of medical technology. by Robert Burke

Grants by Community Foundations
Donations by individuals and family foundations


Making children ‘Happy’
Pharrell Williams’ nonprofit shows that learning can be fun. by Joan Tupponce

Donations by independent foundations, groups


Determining Sweet Briar’s fate
Donations are a big factor in dispute over closing women’s college. by Gary Robertson

Total corporate donations
Donations by companies and corporate foundations

showhide shortcuts