A 39-year career has helped fueled institution's growth
When Jim Fisher retired as MUSC’s vice president for development and alumni affairs on June 30, he ended a 39-year career that helped fuel the Medical University’s growth into a nationally recognized academic medical center.
As leader of the university’s advancement team, Fisher has been responsible for raising private gifts for the university, a job that has become increasingly important with the steady decline in state funding of higher education. Under his leadership, the team has raised more than $1.1 billion in gifts and pledges over the years.
“It’s hard to find any place on this campus that hasn’t been touched in some way by philanthropy,” said President David Cole. “It has transformed MUSC in almost every way, not only physically and programmatically, but also in terms of quality, care and reputation. Jim Fisher helped open that door and made a lot of that progress possible.”
When Fisher joined the Medical University in February 1979, he was one of just two people responsible for raising private donations. At the time, the university had just wrapped up its most successful year in fundraising, with about $400,000 in gifts and pledges. Fisher believed they could do better, with a little help.
“Back then, MUSC was doing great work, but it was seen mainly as a Charleston institution,” said Fisher. “I felt we needed more people on the road, making calls and spreading the word that the work we were doing was much larger than that.”
When he had the opportunity to become executive director for development in 1982, Fisher began working to grow the fundraising and alumni affairs team, which eventually came to include 55 people. He also encouraged faculty to become more active in the development process, sharing their vision and achievements with potential donors.
In terms of fundraising strategy, Fisher encouraged his team to approach potential supporters from a position of strength, not weakness.
“I used to bristle a little when someone said MUSC had ‘needs,’” he said. “MUSC is not needy, we don’t have needs. We have opportunities, for people who want to make a difference in the world. Our job is to bring those two things together.”
Fisher’s strategy worked. Word began to spread about the university’s work. Donations grew, providing the university with money for scholarships, faculty recruitment, new buildings, and research, academic and clinical projects.
“Jim’s impact through the years is not just measured by the amount of money he helped bring in — that is too narrow a view,” said Cole. “His broader contribution was more cultural: He created a greater awareness about the power of giving. He helped people both inside and outside MUSC see, in a warm and personable way, how they make a real impact with a gift. He helped people understand that giving changes people’s lives — both the donor and recipient.”
Fisher and his team have compiled an impressive list of wins during his time at MUSC. He led the university’s only two capital campaigns, both of which exceeded their goals. He led efforts to build the Harper Student Center, the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine, the Darby Children’s Research Institute, the expanded Storm Eye Institute and Hollings Cancer Center, and the new MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital.
He has reported directly to four university presidents during his time here. “Each arrived to that office with a totally different set of strengths and approaches to leadership. Truly, I learned many important lessons from each,” he said.
But of all these accomplishments, the ones he will treasure most in retirement are the relationships he has built over the years. “Relationships are all about people — their hopes, dreams, aspirations and challenges — and I have been most blessed to have developed hundreds and hundreds of wonderful and meaningful relationships that I will carry forward for the next 39 years.”