It’s getting to the point where you wonder whether Gustavus Adolphus College would turn up its nose at a paltry $1 million gift.
“No! Never,” Gustavus President Rebecca Bergman said with a laugh.
Fact is, though, that Gustavus has been landing a lot of big-dollar donations recently. In the past seven years, a handful of major donors have pledged a total of $128 million to the liberal arts college in St. Peter, Minn.
“We’ve really broken through to a new level of seven- and eight-figure donations,” said Tom Young, the college’s vice president of advancement.
Said Bergman: “In a word, these [gifts] individually, and now collectively, are transformative.”
The most recent gift, announced this month, brought $10 million from Gustavus alumnus and trucking executive Bob Peterson and his wife, Cindy. The money is earmarked for an expansion of the school’s Nobel Hall of Science and scholarships for National Merit Scholar students.
In November, an anonymous alumni couple gave $25 million to create a new career development program. And last July, another anonymous alumni couple pledged $40 million for science education, scholarships and the college’s endowment.
What’s the secret to bringing in the big bucks? It’s rooted in alumni who believe in the college’s liberal arts mission, Young said.
“What we see is … they value that cross-disciplinary, problem-solving, big-picture thinking that they get at a place like Gustavus,” he said. “The success of many of the liberal arts colleges in Minnesota is, we’re preparing students for lives of leadership and service.
“And giving them the skills to be the kind of folks who can raise their hands and say, ‘We can get that done. We can help shape the communities and the companies for success.’ ”
Landing large gifts requires “an intentional and thoughtful effort,” Young said. “But the gifts are getting bigger for the schools that are positioning themselves to reach out and invite those gifts.”
Bergman said the college’s donors view liberal arts education as an essential tool “to solve the complex problems of the world today.” And they also harken back to their own college days, remembering the events that made a difference in their lives.
“They want that magic to happen for this next generation of students,” Bergman said. “And that’s part of the fun of this — finding the desire of people to make a difference and pay it forward.”