Continue the Dialogue: How a State School Landed a Big Gift

San Jose State University recently received a $15 million gift to create endowments for student success initiatives, scholarships, and student union activities. The gift comes from Lupe Diaz Compean. Compean and her late husband, who worked in construction, moved to the San Jose region years ago.

The big gift to San Jose State is act three of our story — the happy ending.

But here in our higher ed blog, we're not just interested in big and satisfying finales, but also in acts one and two — how fundraisers and donors come together over a period of time, well before these big gives ultimately happen. Extending the film analogy, here's another word to keep in mind: Dialogue. Compean's gift to SJSU is a great example of a donor and school keeping the lines of communication open over a long period of time and developing a relationship. This immense development legwork provided the plot points for the eventual gift.

First, let's start with Compean herself, who was born in the 1920s in Texas, the oldest of 10 children. She met the Mexican-born Ramiro Compean and the couple married in 1955. The Compeans moved to San Jose a year later and Ramiro found work in construction. Compean helped her husband in business and the couple purchased a home, as well as a number of other properties through the years. Compean, nearly 90, still actively manages these properties.

We write a lot in higher education giving about donors who move to a new region for business, and slowly become involved with the civic life of that region. By the mid-1990s, Compean first approached San Jose State after she and her husband heard about the university's Mexican-American Studies department. These conversations eventually resulted in the possibility that the family would include San Jose in their estate. When Ramiro Compean passed in 2002, Compean indicated that the school would be the beneficiary of half of her estate.

Case closed, right?

Well, not exactly.

A few years ago, Compean engaged San Jose State again, this time exploring the idea of how Compean might make an impact with the university while still alive. We've seen that kind of second thought by a donor before, in which a philanthropist pledges a bequest and then reconsiders sitting on the money during years when it could be making a difference. No doubt the folks at San Jose had some thoughts about why it would make sense to move things along. The conversations continued until the end of 2015, when Compean finalized her agreement with San Jose.

And there you have it: the power of dialogue. It's worth reflecting on that long timeline for a moment and appreciating the strenuous legwork required to keep certain donors engaged and interested through the years. Among other things, the gift from Compean establishes an $8 million Student Success Fund aimed at fostering student success and boosting retention and graduation rates. The newly renovated student union building will be named the Ramiro Compean and Lupe Diaz Compean Student Union in honor of the longtime couple.