Largest-Ever Gift to UCSF Honors Philanthropist Helen Diller

Helen Diller was renowned for her commitment to improving the world for future generations.

Helen Diller was renowned for her commitment to improving the world for future generations.

To honor and build on a lifetime of giving and charitable service by the late Helen Diller, the Helen Diller Foundation has granted $500 million to UC San Francisco, a university to which Helen was both generous and devoted.

The gift will be the largest single donation in UCSF’s history and one of the largest ever to a U.S. university.

Helen’s renowned compassion and lifelong commitment to improving the world for future generations as a philanthropist, advocate and mentor has had a singular impact on UCSF and other higher education and charitable institutions. The new gift is especially noteworthy for the unprecedented level of ongoing funding it will provide for the University’s world-class faculty and talented students.

This is the second time a grant in honor of Helen has made UCSF history. In 2003, the Helen Diller Foundation made a generous $35 million donation, a foundational investment in the University’s burgeoning presence at Mission Bay, to support what is now the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building and prostate cancer research. Though the gift resulted in a building bearing her name, for Helen, this recognition served only to inspire others to give.

Since 2003, the Helen Diller Foundation has made significant annual gifts and provided for a permanent endowment for the Cancer Center in Helen’s honor. Those gifts have totaled more than $150 million.

It’s never too late, too early, or too often to give back and make the world a better place.


“My mother was dedicated to UCSF, and to many other programs aimed at improving the lives and well-being of others through education, science and the arts. I know this latest gift would be enormously gratifying to her,” said Helen’s daughter, Jackie Safier, president of the Helen Diller Foundation and a member of the UCSF Foundation Board of Overseers.

Helen enthusiastically supported the research of Urology chair Peter Carroll, MD, MPH, who through the years became a close family friend.

“Helen would have been astounded by the progress in cancer research and care that we have made in her name,” says Carroll, a member of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. “She was an inspiring partner, and as a faculty member, I am deeply grateful to the Foundation for this magnificent new gift that will allow faculty and students to spend their time pursuing groundbreaking discovery to transform the care of our patients at UCSF and around the world.”

Investing in Brilliance

The majority of the new commitment, $400 million, will establish endowments in Helen Diller’s name to support UCSF faculty and students, a critical University goal. This new commitment increases UCSF’s endowment, which currently stands at $2.25 billion, by nearly 18 percent.

Where Will the Money Go?

The endowed funds will be used in the following ways:

A $200 million endowment will create a significant stream of faculty support in perpetuity.

Of this, $100 million will be used to retain outstanding current professors and recruit preeminent faculty to UCSF by funding Helen Diller Distinguished Professorships. They may be awarded to either established UCSF faculty rising into leadership positions, or to stellar senior faculty recruited from other institutions.

With the knowledge of dependable funding, Helen Diller Professors will have the opportunity to pursue research, initiate new lines of inquiry, teach and mentor students and younger colleagues, spend more quality time with patients, and take on the most difficult cases.

The additional $100 million of endowment will provide crucial start-up money for the Helen Diller Faculty Scholars program for early- and mid-career scientists. More and more, philanthropy plays a crucial role in helping young faculty launch their academic careers.

An additional $200 million of endowment will support students at UCSF’s four professional schools, all ranked among the top in the nation: the schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy. This commitment increases the amount of funding available for scholarships by more than 150 percent.

The financial support the Helen Diller Scholarship Program offers will allow many students, including first-generation college students, to graduate with a minimal amount of debt, giving them the freedom to pursue life-changing work in their communities.

The final $100 million will create an Innovation Fund, which can be drawn on, over time, at the discretion of UCSF’s current and future chancellors. Universities covet discretionary funds because most philanthropic gifts to academia are earmarked for specific purposes. In 2015-16, for example, UCSF raised nearly $747 million, but less than 0.5 percent of those funds were discretionary.

“Unrestricted funds give me the flexibility and agility to respond to the rapid changes in the health sciences,” says Hawgood. “These funds will seed areas that will redefine the future of healthcare and could support priorities ranging from genomic surgery to cell engineering, from immunotherapy to microbiome research, and from neuro-technology to next-generation diagnostics for infectious and inflammatory diseases.

“This gift, in her name, will promote all that Helen stood for – education, hope, healing – for generations to come,” says Hawgood. “On behalf of all of us in the UCSF family, we are humbled to help fulfill her legacy.”