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More non-alumni gifts helping colleges


Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “Nobody would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.” There’s truth in that; Barron’s magazine noted recently that many of the great social changes of the last century were the direct result of the vision of a philanthropist.

Perhaps with that in mind, The Wall Street Journal launched a weekly column about private giving to higher education and other charitable concerns. In the inaugural edition, the “Gift of the Week” honored Michael Steinhardt, a former hedge fund manager in New York, who gave $12 million to Brandeis University. Neither Steinhardt nor anyone in his family has ever attended Brandeis. Instead, he had a specific interest in Jewish studies, and his gift will, in part, fund a project to assign a specific number to the Jewish population in the United States.

For those of us who follow trends in giving to higher education, Steinhardt’s gift came as no surprise. The final numbers for giving to higher education in America in 2004 showed the growing effect of non-alumni donations. Though alumni giving continued to lead the way at 28 percent of all donations, non-alumni giving came within striking distance for the first time at 21 percent.

These numbers underscore a shift in the behavior of the donor and the beneficiary in higher education. Twenty-five years ago, the development programs at most universities existed almost exclusively to cater to the interests of their alumni. Football weekends were full of activities to remind alums of the tremendous emotional pull of their collegiate experience and the pressing financial needs of the school.

Eventually, these institutions realized there was another population of donors who looked at personal giving in a far more strategic light. Universities began to look for opportunities where the interests of potential donors and their own strengths intersected — think Brandeis and Steinhardt.

At Iowa State University, these relationships have produced transformational gifts. Russ Gerdin, founder and CEO of Heartland Express Inc., and his wife, Ann, recognized the value of our undergraduate business programs and provided a gift that made possible the beautiful business building that bears their name. John and Mary Pappajohn, longtime investors in Iowa and entrepreneurial education, have made major commitments to each of the Regents universities to promote the future of entrepreneurship in the state.

These people’s generosity to Iowa State University — none of them attended the school — was a win-win proposition. It provided a tremendous benefit to both ISU and the state of Iowa, while also allowing them to place their philanthropic dollars in a way that was consistent with their core beliefs.

Though increased non-alumni giving appears to be a phenomenon with staying power, alumni should not fear that this will have a negative effect on their alma maters. Universities will always recognize that our graduates are our family and that their contributions and valuable tuition dollars do most of the heavy lifting on campus. These dollars flow in consistently and are much appreciated.

But the increases in private giving should be embraced by everyone who cares about higher education. As state budgets are devastated by escalating health-care costs, private giving will become the difference maker in creating and sustaining excellence.

There is no doubt that our country is a better place today because of the generosity of philanthropists. We are particularly lucky in Iowa to have men and women who recognize the value of philanthropy to our state and give so generously to a wide variety of causes. Please join me in thanking everyone who gives something back.

Brian Campbell is the senior director of development at the Iowa State University College of Business.

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