Written by Scott Taylor
The inspiration for this post came from author and podcaster Malcom Gladwell, and from a recent meeting I had regarding fundraising at my alma mater.
Money is important. How we spend it says something about who we are and what we care about. It is November and the church is talking about stewardship. More than that, the church is talking about discipleship, of which stewardship is but one marker. In the spirit of both stewardship and our larger call to discipleship, I ask you to consider the following stories in philanthropy.
In 2012, hedge fund billionaire John Paulson gave a $400-million-dollar endowment to Harvard University’s School of Engineering. At the time, Dr. Drew Faust, president of Harvard, said of this gift that it would “change Harvard and enhance our impact on the world beyond.”
In 1992, industrial engineer and business owner Hank Rowan gave what he termed “my little hundred million” to the local Glassboro State College in Stratford, New Jersey to create a school of engineering. It was, at the time, the largest philanthropic gift ever given to a public university.
So, which gift had the greater impact on the “world beyond”? When Paulson gave his 400 mil to Harvard, the university’s endowment was in the range of 35 billion dollars. One must ask the question, “What can 35.4 billion dollars do that 35 billion can’t?” Has Harvard’s enrollment increased? Has Harvard admitted more need-based students? No and not really. As Malcom Gladwell put it on Twitter and later in the New York Times, “It came down to helping the poor or giving the world’s richest university 400 million that it doesn’t need. Wise choice John!”
And what of Glassboro State College? Well, first, it is now called Rowan University. Rowan enrolls about 17,000 undergraduate students compared to Harvard’s 4,600. The average student is responsible for less than $10K a year in tuition and fees (a miracle in this time). 95% of students who graduate with an undergraduate degree in engineering are offered full-time competitive employment within a year of graduation (an even bigger miracle). For these reasons and others, Rowan currently ranks number 2 on the United States Social Mobility College Rankings Index.
Hank Rowan’s gift to Glassboro State College didn’t make the school rich. In fact, Rowan University’s current total endowment is just 200 million (compared with Harvard’s current endowment of 40 billion). But, that “little hundred million” empowered a little university that you’ve probably never heard of to change the lives of more young people looking for a way to be the first in their family to go to college and enter the middle class. Perhaps Dr. Faust would say of Hank Rowan that his gift “changed Glassboro State and enhanced the school’s impact on the world beyond.”
I’ve always thought that giving to the church was like giving to Harvard; an old institution whose existence will certainly continue whether I give or not. I think I was wrong. It’s an easy enough mistake to make. But this church is not that. We aren’t that different from Glassboro State College and you aren’t that different from Hank Rowan. Your gift, no matter how “little” you may think it is, has the power to impact this community and the world beyond.