Law Plus Business Equals Big Money: Behind a $25 Million Campus Gift

Suburban Philadelphia native Charles Widger earned a B.A. in history from Gettyburg College, and a law degree from Villanova in 1973. Widger worked in the legal world for a while, practicing law in Pennsylvania and serving as an assistant attorney general for the Pennsylvania Department of Justice. Widger later enjoyed much success in another field—the world of finance—establishing Brinker Capital, a Berwyn-based investment firm in 1987. Widger also wrote the 2014 New York Times behavioral finance bestseller Personal Benchmark, and is chairman emeritus of the Money Management Institute. Lawyer turned finance star. Nice.

Over in our Campus Cash section, we've written about the relatively small community of law school donors. One member of this cadre whom I've written about before is prominent trial lawyer Thomas R. Kline, who gave a large, $50 million gift to Drexel Law in 2014, renaming the school in his honor. Kline made big money handling catastrophic personal injury cases, and his huge gifts speak to his remarkable success in the legal field.

Related: Think Locally: How This Law School Landed $50 Million from a Donor Who Didn't Go There

While grantseekers working in this space should definitely keep wealthy donors who've made it to the top of the legal field on their radars, guys like Widger, who parlayed his law background into enormous success in another field, are worth keeping an eye on, too.

Don't believe me?

Well, now comes recent news that Widger gave his alma mater Villanova University Law School $25 million. Widger's funds will support the growth of an endowment and also address various efforts including creating an endowed scholars program, an endowed university professorship, and a dean's innovation fund.

An important component for this donation appears to be Villanova Law's commitment to adding business courses and professional development programs. The school hopes that its new centers of excellence, law clinics, and externship program will be a boon. As Widger puts it: "We're going to be making changes to be current and thereby help kids get good jobs and do well... I think that graduating well-qualified lawyers who understand how the intersection of law and business works in this country is of great value."

It's worth noting that many law schools around the country are coping with declining enrollment. Villanova's law school enrolls 492 students, down from 725 in 2011, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. However, the school's applications for the Class of 2016 were up 16 percent this year, compared to a 4 percent decline nationwide, according to the Villanova School of Law dean. As law schools develop new ways to attract students and make sure that their education translates to real world success, it makes sense that donors, too, would play a role in this process. A guy like Widger seems like the right kind of donor for these times.

Widger's $25 million gift, by the way, will rename the school of law the Charles Widger School of Law.  Villanova has stayed on Widger's radar on some level through the years. He joined the law school's board of consultors around a decade ago, and chaired it from 2013 and 2015. Past philanthropy by Widger includes a $1 million gift to launch the school's center for entrepreneurship.

Related: Campus Cash: Law Schools