San Antonio Express-News (04/25/2004)
By Matt Flores
He came from a modest home in Lufkin, scraped his way through college, then struck it rich in the oil and gas industry.
In the years leading up to his death in 2003, Dallas businessman John Jackson wanted to give something back to higher education.
In a span of just 12 months, the estate of Jackson and his late wife, Katie, doled out nearly $245 million to the University of Texas at Austin and Texas Lutheran University.
" Both of them believed education was the key to everything, and John wanted his fortune to go to higher education," said James Langham, a longtime friend of the couple and executor of their estate.
" He could see that someone could start with very little, and that with the proper education and hard work, could be successful."
The Jacksons' gifts were a culmination of longtime relationships with both universities. Jackson attended UT, and his wife was on the board of trustees at TLU for two decades.
During their lives, they gave roughly $50 million to the two institutions. UT's geology school is named for the couple; an auditorium at TLU also bears their name.
It is precisely that kind of relationship that college development officers covet.
And although cultivating such a relationship could take decades, college officials say they are essential to the progress of an institution. Gifts such as the Jacksons' fuel endowments and produce a margin of excellence that a school might not otherwise attain.
Endowments generally are used to pay for such things as student scholarships, faculty chairmen and chairwomen, and program development.
With them, universities can attract top scholars and the brightest students.
" Fund raising is about relationship building," said Marc Raney, Trinity University's vice president for development and the school's chief fund-raiser. "And to the extent those relationships are built, fund raising will follow."
Institutions identify potential donors by their wealth and previous gifts. Once they become prospects — a term used for those who are likely to be donors to the school — a long-term relationship begins.
The university, typically through its development office, will communicate frequently with the prospective donor through such means as letters, college mailings, magazines, newsletters, phone calls and invitations to special events.
" If someone gives annually for five to seven years, there's a very high likelihood that they will be a major donor somewhere down the road," said Tom Galvin, St. Mary's University's vice president for advancement.
Bill Greehey, CEO of Valero Energy Corp. and a St. Mary's alumnus, could attest to that.
Greehey, a longtime philanthropist, said it isn't unusual for donors to give a substantial portion of their fortunes to further higher education causes.
In many cases, he said, it's a fulfilling way of extending opportunity to the less fortunate.
His story isn't unlike that of countless other major donors who came from humble beginnings, got their start because of a college education, then rose to wealthy heights.
He recalled his college days at St. Mary's, where Marianist brothers arranged for his financial aid, helped him with his studies, then carefully guided him through his first job search.
Over the years, Greehey has given millions to his alma mater, and a campus athletic arena now bears his name.
" This is a way of paying back for all the good things (St. Mary's) did for me," Greehey said. "And that's become a part of my philosophy at work. Here, there's never success unless you share success."
Trinity certainly has benefited greatly from private gifts.
Its $599 million endowment rivals those of many prominent East Coast universities and is a key ingredient to its perennial top ranking among peer colleges in publications such as the Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report.
The size of Trinity's endowment puts it in a class by itself relative to San Antonio's other undergraduate institutions.
By comparison, the market value of St. Mary's University's endowment is about $91.5 million; the University of the Incarnate Word's is $30 million; and Our Lady of the Lake University's is $23.8 million. The University of Texas at San Antonio's is $30.2 million.
Harvard University, which leads all of higher education, has a $19.3 billion endowment.
Although still relatively small, the endowments at St. Mary's and Incarnate Word have grown substantially over the past two decades, which could be attributed to aggressive efforts to offset state cutbacks.
St. Mary's endowment was $19.4 million in 1990, and UIW's was $2 million when President Lou Agnese took over in 1986.
And in an era of college competitiveness tempered with fiscal restraint, institutions increasingly are looking to major fund drives to enhance their operations and, by extension, raise their profiles.
Late last year, University of Texas Health Science Center President Francisco Cigarroa announced an ambitious campaign to raise $300 million to build a new research tower and provide an endowment to support it.
" Fund raising is incredibly important to hire and retain top faculty," Cigarroa said. "And it becomes even more important in tough times."
Private gifts to higher education institutions amounted to $23.9 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2003, according to an annual survey released by the RAND Corp. Council for Aid to Education.
Although gifts are important to all institutions, they clearly are more important for private schools.
Private gifts accounted for about 7.8 percent of expenditures at all colleges and universities in 2003, but made up 22.3 percent at private liberal arts institutions in 2003, the council noted.
Sometimes, major gifts come from donors who never attended the college to which they gave. But a connection existed, nonetheless.
" Philanthropists give gifts to reflect their values," Raney said. "And it always comes down to how your institution can perpetuate those values."
That occurred twice in February. First, Mexico City businessman Pedro Viyao and his wife, Alicia, bequeathed $7.8 million to St. Mary's, a college the couple didn't attend.
It was the university's largest single donation in its 152-year history.
Pedro Viyao had established a longtime relationship with the Marianist brothers who operated the university while he was a student at a boarding school on campus in the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1983, Viyao and his wife established a scholarship at the university to encourage Hispanics to attend St. Mary's.
Two years later, Pedro Viyao was awarded an honorary law degree from the university. He then served on its board of trustees from 1987 to 1992.
" That gift was set 20 years ago," said Galvin, the advancement vice president at St. Mary's. "That Marianist tradition stays with (donors) and helps us go back to them and ask for money."
Then later in February, San Marcos transplants Emmett and Miriam McCoy gave $20 million to Texas State University-San Marcos.
The McCoys made their fortune operating a string of building supply centers over 60 years, and, like the Viyaos, never attended the university to which they gave.
" San Marcos is pretty much our home, and it's been good to us," Emmett McCoy said. "We wanted to see if we could make a difference in the college, and we wouldn't have done this if we didn't think we could."
And that, Trinity's Raney said, is a key to why wealthy people give to higher education.
" It's said people give for two reasons: to change lives and to change the world — and I don't know of any exceptions," Raney said.