Campus

Return On Investment: For Mason’s “Founding Families,” an Ongoing Legacy

In a climate of decreased state support for higher education, how does a university like Mason keep pulling ahead of the pack? Philanthropy offers part of the solution. Recent landmark gifts add to a long list of donors and advocates closely associated with George Mason University throughout its history, many of whom have continued to further the university’s mission by supporting community outreach, faculty excellence, and student success.

“What we often think of as our ‘founding families’ at Mason didn′t just help set up our university and walk away,” observes Janet Bingham, who as vice president of advancement and alumni relations leads the charge for Faster Farther, Mason’s comprehensive $500 million fundraising effort. “They’ve stayed with us; they’ve watched our progress; and they’re excited about how Mason has become the center of higher education that our region needs, through their help.”

Review even a partial list of professorships, facilities, scholarships, and programs that philanthropy has helped to fund at Mason, and you’ll find a number of familiar names. The de Laski family, for whom the Performing Arts Building is named, helped to start the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being; the Hazel family name appears on professorships, scholarships, and the main law school building on the Arlington Campus, as well as the large conference room on the ground floor of Merten Hall on the Fairfax Campus; the Petersons have given generously to the arts as well as to the College of Health and Human Services; the Nguyens, for whom the Engineering Building is named, have been generous donors to science, law, and engineering.

That far-from-exhaustive list grows a little longer thanks to Dwight C. Schar, whose gift to the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs is only the latest example of a strong relationship expressed both through giving and through service, including many years on the George Mason University Foundation Board of Trustees. Schar’s combination of philanthropy and public service, twin engines of any dynamic university, has continued into a second generation with his daughter Tracy’s service on the Board of Visitors.

In a recent letter to the Faculty Senate, President Ángel Cabrera helped make the case for welcoming philanthropic support. “In fiscal year 2017,” he observed, “all forms of philanthropy will account for almost 5 percent of our $920 million budget. Four years ago, when I arrived at Mason, philanthropy provided 3 percent of our $730 million budget. [...] I will continue to work hard to raise more money to support our faculty and students.”

As tax-derived revenue continues to drop, philanthropy has a long way to go toward bridging the gap, but loyal long-time donors are leading the way. From the law school to the school of policy and government, major new investments in student success are sure to help grateful alumni become tomorrow's donors—establishing new traditions of giving back.

That may be the most powerful legacy of all.

May 5, 2016 / LH