November 15, 2022

One year later: Looking back at the historical Heersink gift and celebrating our Office of Advancement’s tremendous year

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Cain article resizeMegann Bates Cain, MPPMOne year ago, our medical school received a historic gift from longtime supporter Marnix E. Heersink, M.D., and his family. The $95 million contribution named our school the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine while setting us on a transformational path of excellence and opportunity.

“To be a named public institution helps the trajectory of growth for us,” says Megann Bates Cain, MPPM, assistant vice president for Development at the Heersink School of Medicine. “The impact is huge.”

“Still, a year later, the sheer vastness of it is incredible, but also how we came together as a team to really rely on each other.”

In addition to the generous gift, the Heersink School of Medicine's Office of Advancement had a historically successful year last fiscal year.

The Heersink communications team sat down with Megann Bates Cain to learn more about advancement’s fruitful year, the process of the naming gift, and why investing in ourselves is critical for growth.

Better by working together

Reflecting on the banner year, Cain accredits teamwork to every successful moment. A seed planted years ago by one development officer may bloom into a big opportunity cultivated by another.

When it comes to the Heersink gift specifically, collaboration was required to secure it—within Cain’s team and across UAB.

From leadership to communications and legal, as well as the city and state, the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, UAB’s central advancement team, and so many others—a gift of this size involved a lot of players working together.

It also involved a lot of time. Finding and securing the gift did not happen overnight.

Cain explains that the initial stages of developing the naming gift, as with any gift, started with data. “There is an extreme amount of data and analytics; there is a process building relationships, and a tremendous amount of teamwork and collaboration across the institution,” she says.

The process of securing gifts can take years and requires the contributions of several individuals to complete.

Securing the largest gift in UAB’s history

When asked what it was like to work with Dr. Heersink directly, Cain responds that the entire Heersink family is characterized by humility and kindness—traits that foster long relationships. "They each have an incredible work ethic, and it was easy to get to know them," she says.

They have been generous donors to UAB’s programs and invested in UAB from a personal perspective for a long while. Several of Dr. Heersink’s children are graduates from one or more of UAB’s programs, including several who completed medical school.

As the Office of Advancement prepared for the naming gift, it was important for the team to be flexible and reliable to meet Dr. Heersink’s goals, Cain explains.

Dr. Marnix E. Heersink and his wife, Mary Heersink are walking the grounds of their home in Dothan, AL. Dr. Marnix E. Heersink and his wife, Mary Heersink“We worked out a plan that was best for him,” she says. School leadership and advancement were both very intentional in every detail and waited for the right time to ask.

Once the gift was committed, nearly every team in the medical school had a role to play—be it small or large—and several groups across UAB’s central campus were involved.

Cain says the gift has been a win for many across the school and UAB.

For example, Meredith Burns, executive director of the school’s Medical Alumni Association, and her team are heavily involved in many medical student events and programs (such as Commencement and White Coat Ceremony, among others). They have included the Heersinks in their events for years.

Likewise, many individuals on the Advancement team and leaders in the Dean's Office had been working with the Heersinks for a long time.

“It has been so inspiring for Advancement and alumni teams to watch this unfold," she says.

“Being named takes us a level up—it shows someone believes in us and wants to invest in us."

Dedicated to mission-oriented goals

Cain, whose background is in nonprofit work, strives to lead by collaboration—a trait she and her team utilized while securing the Heersink gift.

Her life and career path offered experiences in mission-oriented organizations before UAB, which instilled the value of collaboration early on.

“I had a mother who was very involved in the community: Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels. I grew up doing all those things.”

While she was unsure exactly where her career would take her in the long-term, the dream was to be in roles where she could serve and where "there was a focus on betterment of community, people, processes, and organizations.”

Cain spent the first decade of her career in community-oriented roles such as working for nonprofits and the Community Service Center at the University of Alabama—a position that began just six weeks before Hurricane Katrina. She also spent time working with the YWCA of Central Alabama and, through a fundraising campaign with donors and stakeholders, helped revitalize the Woodlawn community of Birmingham.

“Building relationships has always been a cornerstone of my career,” Cain explains.

And in the same way, that talent for relationship-building helps her give people opportunities to make a difference now.

In advancement, officers provide donors with opportunities to enhance and strengthen local communities while broadening the health care landscape for the next generation.

Transforming the community one gift at a time

In addition to the banner gift, UAB Heersink School of Medicine’s advancement team had a banner year themselves, raising $164 million in the 2021 fiscal year—“the biggest fundraising year we have had in our history,” Cain says.

Many fundraising initiatives contributed to the final amount, including planned gifts and scholarship gifts, the Grateful Patient Program, and several large departmental gifts.

“When you build relationships with people and provide them experiences that can be life-changing, it does make a difference.”

Cain says her team’s mission is to “invest in people, treat every donor with the respect that they can change the world for the better,” and apply a similar approach as providers do with patients: treat them well and take care of them with excellence.

“It’s all about listening, finding out what is important to people,” she says. “Invest in people, and they will invest in you.”

In addition to building relationships with philanthropists and finding ways to impact the Deep South, the advancement team invests in themselves, too.

“My biggest advice to others is find mentors who invest in your leadership development, find others who will teach you,” Cain says.

“UAB invests in us,” and “provides opportunities to work on ourselves,” she says.

Cain’s goal is to empower her teams, so they can empower themselves, and ultimately, the next generation.

How the Heersink gift shapes our future

As we look ahead, growth is on the horizon. "This has been a holistic win for the university," Cain says.

For advancement, and several other teams within the school, the Heersink gift did not end once the announcement was made but instead rolled out a new phase of making the most of opportunities the gift makes possible.

Sharing that evolution with the Heersink family offers continuing chances to strengthen those relationships. “We work on annual and quarterly reports, the Heersinks visit campus often, and are committed to international collaboration such as introducing us to many other great partners like the Dutch ambassador.” Cain states the need to continue growing still exists. “This is a catalyst for innovation,” she says, as other donors will see this growth and be inspired to give.

For example, global health is very important to many donors, including Mary Heersink, Dr. Heersink’s wife and a member of the school’s Board of Visitors, for whom the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health, which was established as part of the school naming gift, is named. Supporters of UAB have expressed interest in this area for years.

Furthermore, the Marnix E. Heersink Institute for Biomedical Innovation is very meaningful to Dr. Heersink and has become a strategic asset that spans beyond UAB to encompass other parts of the state, especially Dothan, the Heersinks’ hometown.

To illustrate, the institute is partnering with programs in both Birmingham and Dothan to host new entrepreneurship programs. Each is a 12-month intervention program that aims to impact economic development through local innovation. Some program partners include Live HealthSmart Alabama, Prosper, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Troy University, and Wallace Community College.

Our banner gift was given by a family whose sense of citizenship drives their actions. “They have a strong sense of community that really shines in everything they do,” Cain said.

Cain’s vision for the future of advancement at the Heersink School of Medicine is to continue building a team of rising stars and to equip them with the proper tools so they can continue investing in relationships and changing our communities—one gift at a time.

Meet the Heersink family