Young Alum Chemistry: The Elements of a Major Campus Gift

Earlier this year, I covered a big gift at Texas A&M University to support an entrepreneurial training program for students interested in working in the oil and gas industry. Some ingredients behind this story weren't surprising, like the fact that a school in an energy center would be interested in cultivating future energy leaders. One thing that stood out, though, were the donors—entrepreneurs Anthony Bahr and Jay Graham, who graduated from Texas A&M in the early 1990s. 

The lesson? Don't ignore younger alums.

In fact, that's precisely what Texas A&M Foundation President Tyson Voelkel told me when I spoke to him. One piece of advice he gave for cultivating this particular subset of donors was patience, as these donors can have a lot on their plates. Embrace the idea of developing a relationship that lasts a decade or more. But stay the course: Relationships with these donors can reap big rewards.

RelatedHow Texas A&M Landed Big Grants In Music, Engineering, and Business

As another example, let's take a nice score at University of Florida in Gainsville. New York-based alumnus Joseph Hernandez recently gave $10 million to endow the university’s chemistry department, as well as support research, financial aid, and a new chemistry building that will be named in his honor. Hernandez clocks in at just 43 years old, the youngest donor in University of Florida's history to make a gift this large. 

The son of Cuban immigrants, Hernandez graduated with a bachelor's degree from University of Florida, before earning an M.S. and an MBA from the school. Armed with these degrees, Hernandez worked at Merck before co-founding several biotechnology and health-related companies including Microlin Bio.

Hernandez speaks to the strong influence UF has had on him, echoing a theme we hear all the time as we track alumni gifts: gratitude. “The University of Florida changed my life," he said. "I’m grateful for the knowledge I obtained there and for the great memories that have shaped my life... I’m forever indebted to this great institution and hope my minor gesture helps future students and the faculty who will change those students’ lives.”

Now, we wouldn't really call $10 million a "minor gesture," and Hernandez's large gift is a good reminder of the kind of wealth that younger alumni can be working with, which can be directed toward philanthropy. It's also worth noting the alignment of Hernandez's gift with his academic and professional work. He's a serial biotech entrepreneur whose gift now aims to cultivate future entrepreneurs in the sciences.

As Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences David Richardson puts it, "Joe's gift will seed innovation and accelerate the entrepreneurial spirit within the department of chemistry... Joe is a model for the application of broad scientific knowledge in business, and he is the kind of UF graduate students can emulate as they look to their futures."

The gift at Texas A&M had similar elements—donors with engineering and entrepreneurial backgrounds supporting a program to foster a new generation of innovators in that field.

This brings us back to another lesson that Texas A&M Foundation's president imparted: "Words like 'charity' and 'gift' may not be relevant to younger donors. A word like 'investment', on the other hand, might be more exciting." So consider Hernandez's commitment to his alma mater another investment by a younger alum on campus.