Access and Opportunity
The University of Massachusetts recently announced it will receive a cash gift of $50 million from Robert and Donna Manning. The gift, the largest of any kind in the university’s history, is aimed at increasing access and opportunity across the five-campus university system.
The first distribution of the $50 million will be $15 million to endow the UMass Boston Nursing program, which will become the Robert and Donna Manning College of Nursing and Health Sciences. The funds will be focused on supporting student diversity and ensuring that the new cohort of nursing professionals are champions of equitable patient care.
Donna Manning’s 35-year career as an oncology nurse at Boston Medical Center inspired the decision to focus the gift on nursing at UMass Boston. Known for her dedication to patients, Manning donated her salary to the hospital each year.
“For the majority of my career in Boston, I was struck by the fact that most of the nurses looked like me, while most of the patients didn’t,” she said. “UMass Boston plays a critical role in supporting diversity in Boston, and I have seen firsthand how diversity in the nursing workforce can improve patient care and address health inequities. We look forward to actively working with the college on these important goals.”
The College of Nursing and Health Sciences is the fastest-growing college at UMass Boston and offers the only four-year public programs in nursing and exercise and health sciences in the Greater Boston area. The undergraduate and graduate population of approximately 2,100 students in the college is 19% black, 12% Latinx, and 11% Asian-American/Pacific islander.
“This transformational gift from Rob and Donna comes at the right time and the right place and for a beautiful cause: to foster a culture of healing and health equity in Boston and beyond. It will enable UMass Boston to take the education of the next generation of nurses nobly serving as caregivers to the next level of excellence and engagement,” UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco said. “Amidst a pandemic, rampant medical disinformation, nursing shortages, and the heroism of healthcare workers, we at UMass Boston are more committed than ever to cultivating extraordinary nursing talent. The Mannings’ historic gift will be put to use to nurture the next generation of health and wellness scientific expertise, but also the humane heart, the empathy and cultural awareness that define caregiving in its truest sense.”
In the coming months, the Mannings plan to announce distributions from the overall gift to improve access and opportunity on the other UMass campuses in Amherst, Dartmouth, Lowell, and Worcester.
“Donna and I are at a point in our lives where we want to make a real difference, and this was the best way to do that because we know what UMass does for students — it transforms lives,” said Robert Manning, who is chairman of MFS Investment Management and the long-time chair of the UMass board of trustees. “We firmly believe that UMass is the most important asset in the Commonwealth and that the greatest thing we can do to support the Commonwealth is to support the UMass campuses and UMass students.”
The $50 million gift from the Mannings is a transformational moment for the UMass system and would represent the largest-ever commitment received by the university even if it were not an upfront, cash gift.
“The significance of this gift cannot be overstated,” UMass President Marty Meehan said. “Rob and Donna are two of our own. As first-generation college graduates, they experienced the transformational impact UMass has on students’ lives. Rob and Donna have always led by example in their philanthropy, and this remarkable gift is a call to action to the philanthropic community. It says that UMass is a good investment and an opportunity to have direct and immediate impact on the future of the Commonwealth. On behalf of the five campuses, we thank the Mannings for their incredible generosity and commitment to students.”
The Mannings are Methuen natives and were high-school sweethearts. They both commuted to UMass Lowell, with Robert receiving a degree in information systems management from UMass Lowell in 1984 and Donna receiving a nursing degree in 1985 and an MBA from UMass Lowell in 1991. They each received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from UMass Lowell in 2011.
Immediately after graduating from UMass Lowell, Robert Manning began working at MFS Investment Management as a research analyst in its high-yield bond group, and credits his UMass education with giving him a competitive edge. Over his career at MFS, he rose to become president, CEO, and then chair. Under his leadership, MFS has grown to manage more than $670 billion in assets annually. He will retire this year. Donna Manning retired from Boston Medical Center in 2018. The couple plans to be heavily engaged in the UMass programs their gifts will support.
The Mannings were already among UMass’ greatest supporters, having committed more than $11 million to UMass Lowell, where the Manning School of Business bears their name. On the Lowell campus, they have endowed several faculty chairs, sponsored a nursing-simulation lab, and established the Robert and Donna Manning Endowed Scholarship Fund. The Manning Prize for Excellence in Teaching is awarded to faculty on all five UMass campuses for high-impact teaching.