The Minnesota-based Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has received a surprise $8 million donation from an Illinois family, the largest gift it has ever received in its 73-year history.
The nonprofit announced Monday that the estate of Max E. and Joyce S. Wildman of Lake Bluff, Ill., had bequeathed the money to Hazelden Betty Ford earlier this year to support its addiction treatment and mental health programs.
The gift comes as substance abuse and mental health concerns are rising nationwide. The number of inquiries for Hazelden Betty Ford's programs soared last year by 81% over 2020's figures, with more than 152,000 people seeking help.
In Minnesota, drug overdose deaths spiked by 22% in 2021, with an average of four state residents dying each day from drug overdoses.
"So many of us, whether it's ourselves or a family member or neighbor, know someone that's suffering now," said Moira McGinley, vice president and chief development officer for Hazelden Betty Ford. "We just feel a real calling that we have to answer the community's needs, and we're not going to be able to do it without philanthropy."
Hazelden, which started in 1949 and merged in 2014 with the California-based Betty Ford Center, is the largest nonprofit provider of addiction treatment and mental health services in the United States and among the largest nonprofits in Minnesota. The organization operates in eight states and is headquartered in Center City, about 40 miles northeast of Minneapolis, and serves more than 25,000 people a year.
Most of the nonprofit's annual revenue, which amounted to $204 million last year, comes from patient services. But with profit margins narrowing and demand for services rising, it's looking to boost donations so it can expand programs, research and advocacy efforts.
Hazelden Betty Ford quietly launched an eight-year $500 million campaign in 2020 and raised $15 million last year. The Wildman family's $8 million "unrestricted" gift — which means the foundation isn't required to use the money for a specific program — will help it reach this year's goal of $22 million.
"We're on the path of exponentially increasing fundraising," McGinley said.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Max Wildman was a well-known lawyer in the Chicago area who died in 2011. McGinley said the family wanted to show its appreciation for the work Hazelden Betty Ford does. A representative for the family couldn't be reached Monday.
"This was a gift that was a blessing," McGinley said. "As mental health and substance use rates increase dramatically, we're able to continue to serve more people when more people need us."