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A piano donated to Penn for the Making History Campaign resides in the Annenberg Center. Credit: Christina Prudencio , Christina Prudencio

A 78-year-old Steinway piano and a collection of nearly 300 manuscripts from Medieval and Renaissance times are among more than 900,000 gifts Penn has processed in its “Making History” fundraising campaign, which hit its goal of $3.5 billion last Friday.

Though the bulk of Making History’s support has come in the form of simple, monetary donations, a small number of gifts have been similarly unique.

Ranging from donations of personal property to pledges of real estate, these sorts of non-monetary gifts “are very rare and … constitute a small percentage of our overall donations,” said Lisa McClatchy, assistant vice president for development and campaign director for Making History. “Managing these gifts is a complex process in which we’re looking to match an individual donor’s intent with a specific University need.”

A personal touch

Over the years, that process has resulted in a handful of tangible influences across campus.

In April, for example, 1953 College graduate Larry Schoenberg and his wife, Barbara, donated a collection of hundreds of pre-17th-century documents to the University’s library system.

Tina Cowan, director of development for Penn Libraries, said such gifts through Making History “have afforded us opportunities to acquire original historical materials that would otherwise have been impossible to purchase.”

Carton Rogers, vice provost and director of Penn Libraries, agreed, adding that “donations like this can be transformative in both creating new knowledge at Penn and in driving new academic interests on campus.”

The manuscripts — which focus particularly on the history of science, technology and medicine — are currently housed in Penn’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where they can be accessed by all students and faculty.

Valued at more than $20 million, the Schoenberg collection represents the single largest donation from a living donor in the history of Penn Libraries.

About six months before the Schoenberg gift, the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts benefitted from another donation of personal property — this time in memory of a late Penn professor.

After her father, Robert Figlio — who taught criminology at Penn after earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University — died in 2008, Sarah Figlio, a 1987 College graduate, had an idea.

For years, she had watched her father spend time playing on a 1933 Steinway B piano.

In spring 2010, Sarah met with members of Annenberg’s development team at her parents’ house in Upper Pittsgrove, N.J., where she agreed to donate the piano as part of the Making History campaign.

The piano arrived at Annenberg in September 2010. Just one month later, it made its official debut at a performance by the Terence Blanchard Quintet.

Michael Rose, managing director for the Annenberg Center, said the piano is “the finest instrument we have at Annenberg today.”

Before donating their property to Penn, individuals must consult an accredited appraiser to determine the monetary value of their gift, Jane Kamp, director of development at the Annenberg Center, said.

Once donors work out the specifics of the campaign gift with Penn, the asset’s appraised value is added to the overall Making History goal.

In “extremely rare cases,” McClatchy added, Penn may have to decline a non-monetary gift because it would not serve a practical purpose for the University.

In the case of the Steinway piano, its appraised market value was $32,500 — all of which went to the Annenberg Center’s fundraising efforts for Making History, Kamp said.

“The unique gifts we’ve received have been such a powerful tool for us,” Kamp added. “They’ve definitely added a nice personal touch to this campaign.”

Preserving Penn’s future

Even before the piano arrived, Annenberg had been the beneficiary of a collection of other atypical gifts to its Making History campaign.

In 2006, 1974 Wharton graduates Richard and Merry Feintuch — who went to a Penn Glee Club performance at the Annenberg Center on their first date in 1971 and married each other three years later — made a pledge to subsidize the cost for student tickets to Annenberg performances.

The subsidies — which have totaled $500,000 over the years and will continue to run through 2015 — can reduce a $50 face-value ticket to around $10 or $15, Rose said.

“We fully understand that student budgets don’t often permit them to pay for professional performances,” Richard Feintuch said. “Our idea was to give those current and future students an opportunity to see the world-class art that takes place right on campus.”

The Making History campaign has also been on the receiving end of one more rare gift category: real estate.

In 2005, 1974 College graduate Robert Benz and his wife, Marie Uberti-Benz — who completed her medical residency at Penn in 1982 — decided to donate their first-ever house to the University.

Though the couple had moved from the 50-year-old, colonial-style home in Lower Merion, Pa., years ago, they had continued to rent it out while living elsewhere.

Soon after the transfer of ownership became official, Robert said the University was able to sell the house on the market for about $250,000.

The funds from the sale have been used to support an endowed scholarship for students in the Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences, along with a contribution to Penn’s wrestling program.

Like personal property donors such as the Schoenberg and Feintuch families, Robert and Marie also continue to contribute to Penn through separate, monetary donations.

“This was a lot different than just writing a check — emotionally, psychologically and symbolically,” Robert Benz said. “We’re looking out for the future generations of Penn students.”

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