From iPads to food, how donors are making a difference at the U

Heidi Woodbury

On the "U Rising" podcast, President Ruth V. Watkins engages in insightful conversations with students, staff, faculty, alumni and community stakeholders who are at the center of the state's flagship research university. President Watkins also connects with other leaders to give listeners a fresh take on top issues and innovations in higher education in Utah and across the country. You can subscribe to U Rising via iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and other podcast streaming services.

Heidi Woodbury’s own experience at the University of Utah helped shape her understanding of the difference an education makes. She applies that now as she helps donors see the ways they can change lives. Listen as Woodbury, vice president for institutional advancement, shares what donors are doing and highlights recent changes in advancement to create a One U effort. Recorded on Thursday, June 11, 2020. Thanks to Brooke Adams and Dave White for technical assistance. Music by Taylor Hartley.

President Ruth Watkins: Welcome to the U Rising podcast, where you have a chance to learn about the people who are helping the U achieve new heights. I'm so honored today to have as my guest, Heidi Woodbury. Heidi is our vice president for institutional advancement. Welcome, Heidi! Great to have you with us.

Heidi Woodbury: Thank you, President Watkins, and what an honor to be here today.

President Watkins: Well, I think you are a U person through and through and I'd love to hear a little bit about your background, and I know our listeners would welcome that, too.

Heidi Woodbury: You are correct. I am 100% a U person. I've worked on campus for about 35 years in advancement. I started my career in public broadcasting and then moved to the David Eccles School of Business where I spent about 22 years working in advancement. And then last year, in February, I came over to work with you and it's just been a wonderful experience and a delight. But what I would really like to share is that in addition to working at the U, I'm a product of the U, which is what I'm the most proud of—I'm a graduate of this institution.

I grew up in rural Utah, was not planning to come to college and the U of U outreached to me in my little community and provided me with a really generous scholarship that changed my life. So, my job is not a job to me, it has so much meaning to be able to help other people have the same opportunity that I had. It's just really a delight for me to do this.

President Watkins: You know, I think that is one of the most special things about your story, because still, now, we are so focused on providing access to quality higher education and helping students through completion, and your personal story is that story. You are the success story of the University of Utah. It's a wonderful thing.

One other thing I want to really highlight about your success and your impact is, as you know, we've been working so hard to think about a One U framework of working together across health sciences and main campus. You've been very focused on a really specific One U effort in integrating parts of our advancement and fund-raising efforts. Tell us a little bit about that.

Heidi Woodbury: Yes. In February, the University of Utah main campus Advancement Center and the University of Utah Health Advancement co-located. We're in one location for the first time ever. And what this really means is that we share resources, we collaborate more effectively, we increase productivity, we work daily on the One U mindset and all this leads to a much better experience for our U donors.

President Watkins: I couldn't agree more. We're right in the middle of a capital campaign, Achieving New Heights. And I think that is an important thing that universities do. We have the support of so many members of our community, we're really privileged that way. Give an update about where we are in that campaign and what you see coming ahead.

Heidi Woodbury: We are in great shape. In the last two years of our campaign, we have raised $1.73 billion toward our $2 billion campaign and something that I think that's really amazing is 113,000 donors, different donors, all different individual donors, have supported the campaign to date. So, we've had tremendous response. And, as you know, the funds we raise make a significant difference for our students, our health care system, for the arts and cultural organizations on campus, for research, our faculty. It's just been tremendous.

President Watkins: One of the things that is so noteworthy about Utah and the University of Utah is how many people in our community care about the U and the success of the U and have joined us as investors and partners in our mission. The pandemic has shifted how we do that a little bit—not whether we do it, but how we connect with those stakeholders and donors. It would be great to hear from you a little bit about that.

Heidi Woodbury: Well, like everyone, we've had to pivot. And we are using now these virtual platforms in a way we never even imagined we could. So, we have moved a lot of our donor outreach and alumni outreach to a Zoom or a digital platform. And what we're finding is for our alums that are around the country or globally located we can be in touch with them more frequently than ever before. So, it's really an exciting thing.

I also want to take a minute to talk a little bit about my staff who are really forward-thinking and, luckily, we had almost all of our processes in the office paperless. So, we were able to move within 24 hours to remote working really without a hiccup. And our gift processing team, in the month of March, when we moved home, they processed the most gifts ever—30,000 gifts in the month of March from home. It's just been really, really amazing. It's been a good team effort, and I'm so glad for really their thoughtfulness and forward-thinking to have us prepared to be able to do that.

President Watkins: Yes, I applaud them for that creativity and innovation. I think the other area where they've been really innovative is helping us get together in these donor town halls that are focused around particular topics. I have personally found it really helps to restore my own health and well-being by seeing so many friends of the university on those town halls. I love to be able to see that our community cares and is paying attention to what's happening even during this very, very difficult time. So, I congratulate your team on that creativity as well. Nicely done!

So, one of the things that our donor community has done with the help of you and your team is see the needs that have arisen in our students during this time. Our community has responded swiftly and robustly to help us create and support a student emergency fund. That is helping students stay in school, buy food and pay rent, and address other critical needs. Give us a little insight into how that works and why it matters so much for our students.

Heidi Woodbury: Yes. Well, one of the things that we've done recently is make sure that it's very easy for people to make a gift online. So, if you go to the webpage, it's right on the homepage, and you should find a really easy link to make a contribution if that's something that you would like to do. And it is incredibly important. We had 1,174 students apply for assistance but have only been able to support 448. So, our funds, as quick as they come in, they go out, we have a waiting list of students that need assistance and so our office is working as quickly as we can to try to find more funds for the students.

The funds were used initially to help students get home. Some of the students were stuck here. Some are still struggling with technology needs and we're trying to make sure they have access both with computers and the internet and WIFI. And then, of course, some have basic needs, food and housing. So, it really runs the gamut and a little goes a long way. These are grants that aren't really big grants, but they make a really big difference in somebody's life. And as you know, the vice president for Student Affairs office helps administer those funds. So, really important.

I also want to mention, too, Ruth, one of the other things on campus that we're doing for students is supporting them through our resiliency and our counseling center. And then the Marriott Library has some amazing programs to help them with laptops. It's really a big One U story of all the ways that we're supporting students at this time.

President Watkins: Such important work. And I've heard some personal stories from students who have been so positively influenced by the support of our donors. I know students will often tell me that it meant so much to them that someone believed in them, believed that they could stay in school and finish their degree and wanted to help them do that. I imagine you get to hear a lot of wonderful stories like that, too.

Heidi Woodbury: I'm so fortunate. I hear so many stories. One that I just learned of recently in U Health, people are donating iPads so that people who are hospitalized can stay in touch with loved ones, and it's just so touching. And all the gifts of PPE that people have made to help our frontline workers and donation of food. Food is rolling in for the frontline workers as well. It's just heartwarming to see the generosity on so many different levels and in so many different ways that are supporting the institution at this point in time.

And yeah, it's really a treat to watch that. And it's also an unbelievable treat to see what people do with their degrees once they leave this institution, I really have a wonderful job. People in the same field go off to do a variety of different things and it is really, really fun to see what people do.

President Watkins: I agree, it is a happy reminder that higher education works and that a college degree matters. I believe with you that we have the world's best donors, the most caring community. And it is a privilege to be a part of that. If any of our listeners want to once again hear where they would go to contribute to the student emergency fund or to aid in COVID relief, could you tell us one more time how they could find those resources?

Heidi Woodbury: Yes. They just go to and that will just take you to the homepage and it's right up on the homepage. There's a banner and you can just click right in. And if you're a student that might be in need of emergency funds, you can go to and there's an application you can create there.

President Watkins: Well, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Heidi Woodbury, what a privilege it is to have you with me today. You have indeed made it easy for people to support students and the U. Thank you for your great work.

Heidi Woodbury: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

President Watkins: Listeners, it's great to have you with me today, and I hope you'll join us again for the next edition of the U Rising podcast.