A look at MSU’s major gift giving history

In the midst of the recent $50 million endowment made to the MSU College of Engineering (COE), the trend of large gift giving has been on the forefront of MSU news. With the increasing number of students and donations alike, the Exponent decided to take a look back at the larger donations made to MSU in recent years and see what that money has been used for on campus.

It is first important to note that these donations come through the Montana State University Alumni Foundation which began as the MSU Alumni Association in 1903, and in 1946 the MSU Foundation was founded. In 2012 the two merged to become the Alumni Foundation. The organization acts as a support for MSU by raising private financial funds to strengthen the resources within the campus community. It also seeks to connect alumni with friends and students of the university and to help fund a diverse number of entities across the MSU campus, ranging from student clubs, to academics, to athletics.

MSU and the Alumni Foundation have seen significant increases in major gift giving in the past 10 years. The Alumni Foundation’s Chief Relations Officer, Jason Smith, noted that the foundation considers any “gift donated to MSU that is more than $25,000 is considered a major gift.” In the past 10 years, 187 donors have committed $100,000 or more to MSU programs, students and faculty through the Alumni Foundation. These gifts total nearly $84 million in private support received since 2004 (not including the recent commitment made to the COE).

To begin, this year’s most recent donation was from former MSU Engineering graduate Norm Asbjornson. The founder of NASDAQ traded company AAON, Asbjornson committed a  gift of $50 million in March. The largest private gift in the history of Montana, Asbjornson’s donation will help improve space within the COE by funding the building of a hands-on laboratory and classroom facility that will encourage the collaborative learning and leadership valued by MSU’s legacy and mission.

Along with the COE donation, in February, former MSU Alumni, Nancy Cameron committed a $3.5 million donation that will be spread over various parts of the university. Cameron who graduated from the College of Business in 1954, will designate the money to scholarships, adding a chair in range and animal sciences and a professorship in the College of Business.

Before Cameron’s donation was the 2011 commitment by Jake Jabs, owner of American Furniture Warehouse, that totaled $25 million and went to building Jabs Hall, a new home set to open this fall for the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship. However, this is not the only donation from MSU alumnus Jabs. In 2010, he donated $3 million to the College of Business.

Along with the 2010 Jabs donation, $1 million was donated anonymously in honor of Bobcat football great Sonny Holland to improve the Bobcat Stadium. Following this trend of gifts to athletics, in 2009, MSU alum Alexander Blewett gave $500,000 toward improving facilities for student-athletes. And in 2008, Bobcat supporters Bob and Pat Sletten gave $500,000 to help student-athletes. The Slettens, like Jabs, had a long history of giving at MSU, also donating $1 million for student scholarships in the COE in 2004. Back in 2006, another $1.3 million was donated to MSU Athletics by Gene and Jane Thayer of Great Falls.

These are just a few of the 187 large donations made to MSU in the past ten years. Traci Weller, the Senior Director of Development at the Alumni Foundation, said that she sees an increasing trend due to “President Cruzado’s leadership and her enthusiasm coupled with her strategic plan for the university. The Alumni Foundation sees [major gift giving] as increasing and growing.” She stated that the recent gifts given have created a “buzz on campus, not only for us and students, but for alumni as well. And it gets them excited about the future.”