It's All in the Family: Behind This Big Gift to the University of Miami

Stuart Miller, CEO of Lennar Corporation, and family, recently gave $55 million to the University of Miami. The school is in the midst of a $1.6 billion fundraising campaign called Momentum2, and the Miller family's gift has put the campaign over the top. Of the donated funds, $50 million will build a new state-of-the-art medical education building on the campus of the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. The rest of the money will support the Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music.

A few things stand out here. First, Miller, after receiving his bachelor's from Harvard, got his J.D. from University of Miami, so alumni loyalty is at play. These days, Miller has also been deeply involved in leadership at UMiami, and chairs UM’s board of trustees and the UM Miller School of Medicine Momentum2 campaign. I recently wrote about a $100 million gift to Rockefeller University, where that donor was a vice chair at the university, and the school was in the midst of a giant construction project.

Related: Yep, Another $100 Million Gift from Kravis: Behind That Windfall for Rockefeller University

Often, these big gifts by donor-trustees happen at the start of a capital campaign or construction project, likely to encourage others to follow suit, but in this case, the $55 million gift from the Millers not only allowed the Momentum2 campaign to reach its goal ahead of schedule, but also exceed it.

Another huge factor here is the deep philanthropic relationship that the Miller family has established with University of Miami and the South Florida community at large. To understand that relationship, we need to go back a generation, to when the late Leonard Miller and Susan Miller came to Miami as newlyweds in 1954. In Miami, Leonard Miller invested $10,000 into a small construction company that became Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s leading homebuilders and providers of residential financial services. Miller eventually passed the company over to his son, Stuart.

The late Leonard Miller was also deeply involved with University of Miami brass, and served on UMiami's board of trustees for two decades, including four years as chairman. The Miller family's gifts, too, have a long history: In 1998, the Millers donated $5 million to establish the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies. In 2004, the Miller family donated $100 million to the University of Miami School of Medicine, which named the school in honor of Leonard Miller. In the fall of last year, the Lennar Foundation, the charitable arm of Lennar Corporation, gave $50 million towards the Lennar Foundation Medical Center on the Coral Gables Campus.

Whew. Got all that?

The point of going through all of that is to illustrate that there's plenty of precedent here, a history which spans multiple generations, and money that has streamed from a number of different Miller-run outfits explicitly toward the University of Miami. In fact, the Miller family's latest $55 million gift ought to be seen as a continuation of the work that the Miller family started in 2004 with their $100 million gift to the school. We write about how a series of gifts by the same donor often refine or deepen a prior effort. As time goes by and a donor feels his or her money is being used effectively, he or she doubles down. This is a good lesson to remember here, too.

By the way, Stuart Miller was recently listed as one of the 25 wealthiest South Floridians, with a net worth of $900 million so the Millers should definitely be on the radar for those working in South Florida.