Share this article

print logo

$10 million lets you name Children's

Think of it as the extreme version of "Buddy, can you spare a dime?"

For $10 million, you can have the coming-in-2015 Women & Children's Hospital named after you.

It is a lot of cash. But it brings a lot of cache. Your name goes up in lights, and down in history, for the rightest of reasons: Aiding arguably the most benevolent of causes, the care and -- hopefully -- cure of sick kids.

Dig into your pockets, empty the piggy bank and search the attic for a forgotten Van Gogh. Stock up on MegaMillions tickets. Persuade an obscenely wealthy elderly relation to remember you in the will. Don't leave the weight room until you are studly enough to command a $100 million NFL contract. Or change your name to Mario Williams and hope his paychecks are mistakenly direct-deposited into your account.

I concede the obvious: A spare $10 million is beyond the reach most of us.

But not for everybody. The problem is excavating deep pockets in a region without a single Fortune 500 company; a region whose central city is the third-poorest in America; a region with just a handful of community-connected folks on the Forbes list of 400 richest Americans.

Which means that Elsie Dawe has the toughest job in town. As head of the Kaleida Health Foundation, she is chief fundraiser for the hospital network that includes Women & Children's. It is largely her job to entice someone from the shallow local pool of deep-pocketed potential donors into going naming-rights big.

"In the conversations I've had with Jim (Kaskie, Kaleida CEO)," Dawe told me, "$10 million looks like the number."

Dawe is a lively, engaging woman who dresses Talbots-corporate. She is as comfortable connecting with journalists and hockey grunts -- Sabres from Pat LaFontaine to Jordan Leopold have stepped up for Children's Hospital -- as she is passing the salt to multimillionaires at dinner parties.

But this is the heaviest load of a 30-year fundraising career. The $10 million naming-rights lure is a fraction of an expected $30 million to $40 million fundraising lift. Next month's feasibility study starts the wheels turning. Aside from a yet-to-be-formed campaign committee, and some 100 volunteers, it falls on the backs of Dawe and four staff people. In a dollar-challenged region.

"The biggest campaign we've ever done was $10 million, for the Children's centennial in 1992," Dawe told me, sitting in her Delaware Avenue office. "So yes, I do have sleepless nights."

The national landscape is dotted with Children's Hospitals with a family or a corporate name -- from the Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA to the coming NYU-affiliated Hassenfeld Pediatric Center, acknowledging a family's $50 million throwdown. A $50 million check. That must be nice. Dawe chuckled.

"That's New York City, where you've got Wall Street hedge fund managers pocketing $5 million year-end bonuses," Dawe said. "It's different in Buffalo."

Yes, it is different in Buffalo. The short list of locally connected folks on Forbes's wealthiest list is, well, a short list: News' chairman Warren Buffett (No. 2); Sabres owner Terry Pegula (114); Rich Products' Bob Rich Jr. (200) and Delaware North's Jeremy Jacobs (227). Of those, only Jacobs has a primary residence in the region. There are other wealthy folks with Western New York connections. But it is a tiny club, compared even to a Pittsburgh or a Cleveland.

We soon will have a new Children's Hospital. For $10 million, you can fill in the blank atop the building. In a lot of places, it is spare change. In Buffalo, as Dawe knows, it is a different story.