The month of June brought Williams one of the largest gifts in its long history, a generous $15.3 million set of life income gifts from Douglas and Colleen Rogers of New York City. According to a college press release, the money currently is allocated to support the general endowment, although the donors have the right to direct the grant to a specific purpose or program.
As if the sheer size of the gift were not enough, neither Douglas Rogers nor his wife an is alumnus of Williams. “I believe in the sustainable values of a liberal arts college: all that’s left after the facts have gone,” Rogers explained in a telephone interview. He stressed the College’s philosophy, small size and strong student body as major factors contributing to his choice of Williams as the recipient of the gift.
Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, said, “The gift is a great vote of confidence for Williams College. This is a guy who wholly believes in liberal arts education and believes Williams is a leader in liberal arts education.”
“One of the particularly nice things about this gift is that it is not from an alumnus,” said Bruce Begin, director of plan giving at the College. “It is a special thing. And it’s been a privilege and an honor to work with Doug and Colleen – they recognize the importance of a liberal arts education, and recognize that Williams excels in that education.”
A life income gift is invested by the institution receiving it and, as the name suggests, becomes a source of income for the donors. The money in such a gift transfers wholly to the institution upon the deaths of the donors.
While the Rogers gift is particularly impressive, and unique for Williams, it is also part of a larger trend, which a 1999 Boston College report calls the “dawning of a golden age of philanthropy.”
Titled “Millionaires and the Millennium,” the report predicts that over the next 55 years a spectacular amount of wealth will be directed toward philanthropic gifts and bequests. According to different economic factors, the figure could be anywhere from $41 trillion to $136 trillion, an estimate substantially higher than the previous sum of $10 trillion.
Although based on a set of economic and cultural assumptions, all of which could change very quickly, the study is based on several undeniable trends in the United States. The sheer amount of wealth in the country and its apparent stability both play important roles, but the study also suggests that charitable giving increase we’ve certainly had many of them.”
Two of those have come from the classes of 1950 and 1975. The 50th anniversary gift from the Class of 1950 is the largest class gift in Williams history, providing a total of $16.5 million for scholarships, renovations to Thompson Memorial Chapel and a pictorial history of the college.
Members of the class of 1950, led by class president Norman L. Olson of Kenilworth, Ill., also announced the establishment of the Nan and Howard Schow Science Library, the Schumann Visiting Professorship in Democratic Studies and the Schumann Fund for the Performing Arts.
This litany of campus institutions supported by alumni gifts continues under the 25th Reunion Gift, announced by Anton Bestebreurtje, chair of the class of 1975’s Reunion Gift Committee. The gift will support scholarships, summer internships and fellowships, as well as programming in Goodrich Hall.
Much of this explosive growth in gift-giving has happened under Begin’s watch. “I think what we are experiencing here at Williams is an effect from the new wealth creation; our country is actually the most charitable country in the world, and as the creation of wealth grows, people who are experiencing this new wealth are sharing it.”
But being on the receiving end of generosity also brings a burden heavier than a thick pocketbook.
As Begin says, “the capacity to give has grown, but now it is the responsibility of excellent colleges, universities and non-profits to continue to be high-quality organizations and to be worthy of charitable gifts.”
“We can never take things for granted,” he continued. “When you’re happy you don’t move ahead, and so we should look to be better. We can’t be satisfied with standing still.”
According to Rogers, Williams is taking on this burden of responsibility well. He noted that “students should feel very privileged to be there,” and said he admired Williams for bringing up students “with a broad view, not necessarily directed towards a career alone. Learning how to speak, write, collect your thoughts on your feet; that’s the only sustainable skill base.”
He also praised the loyalty among the alumni of the school, the source of his first interest in Williams. While many of his friends and colleagues are graduates of Williams, Rogers is still a relatively young member of the Williams community. “But it’s not bad to have an adopted school,” he said.
“I adopted Williams with clear eyes, and had the distance to appreciate the college on its own merits, not through the haze of personal history.”
Schapiro also stressed that the gift has an impact outside of Williams. “It’s a gift that transcends the Purple Valley. Williams is a leader in higher education, so what we come up with – advances in thinking, clever programs and new ideas for teaching – that not only helps the current generation of Williams students but all schools and all students.”
To honor the Rogers’ contribution to the school, Williams has planned to dedicate the classroom Hopkins 401 – with its panoramic view of the campus they have contributed to so generously – to Doug and Colleen Rogers on Friday. On a plaque outside the room the couple takes a moment to contemplate the meaning of their gift: “In support of those who teach and learn in this community with our sincere hope that your time here not be forgotten and these lessons never leave you.”