Foundation celebrates 50 years of gift giving

When former university President David Rice and Vice President for Business Affairs Byron Wright were visiting Evansville Mayor Frank McDonald in his downtown office in the fall of 1968, McDonald suggested they establish a foundation in order to make the university a success.

McDonald, who was an avid supporter of the university, said during a meeting with Rice and Wright, “folks around here will not want to send their hard-earned money out of town,” according to Vol. 1 of the Foundation’s annual publication Faces of Philanthropy: Generous Friends of Vision.

He then pulled two $100 bills out of his wallet and said, “here is $100 from me and $100 from my wife to begin that foundation.”

That first $200 gift spawned the formation of the USI Foundation and the next 50 years of gift giving.

“I was hired to be the estate planning portion of our office,” Foundation President David Bower said. “I was the fourth employee.”

Bower, who has worked for the foundation for 24 years and as President since 2006, said the first goal of the newly-formed foundation was to get one hundred people to give $100.

“They called it the century club,” he said. “So then they started organizing a little more officially and in July of 1969, that’s when we received our legal (nonprofit) status.”

The foundation has collected nearly $133 million in assets over the past 50 years and over $178 million in charitable gifts.

“Now that we are in the 53rd year of the university, most of our gifts have come from friends and it needs to switch now to alumni as the university matures,” Bower said. “Our hope is that more and more students will learn about us, know about us, become involved in fund development and that will carry over to when they graduate.”

The university home was the first project funded by the foundation. In recent years, the foundation has helped fund building such as the Performance Center, Business and Engineering Center, Griffin Center and Fuquay Welcome Center.

The foundation has also sponsored speakers as a part of the Romain College of Business innovative Speaker Series, including former Chair of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, Uber co-founder Oscar Salazar and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who will speak at USI April 4.

It also funds the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon in the beginning of January.

The foundation aids students by raising money for scholarships, and since its inception, over $30 million has been awarded to students.

Last year the nonprofit introduced AwardSpring, an application that students can fill out to receive scholarships online at

Bower said the application window for AwardSpring is expected to be released soon.

During the U.S. economic recession in 2008 and other economic hardships, the foundation has maintained a strong relationship with donors.

“We were just beginning to plan for Campaign USI when (the 2008 recession hit), so it was a blow, but in our work, we have to stay pretty positive so it’s a matter of seeing more people and inviting more gifts,” Bower said.

He said the university stepped in at the time and covered $2 million to help fund scholarships over the course of two years.

Bower said people who were not affected by the recession gave extra donations over the course of the economic downturn.

Director of Development Andrea Gentry said because their work focuses on relationships, if someone doesn’t give for one year it doesn’t mean they are not going to make a gift again.

“Some alumni think ‘oh gosh I can’t make a $25,000 gift, a $5,000 gift,’” she said. “We have hundreds of alumni who make gifts of $25, $50, $100 and collectively, those have a huge impact on the university.”

Gentry, who began working at the foundation as a student worker, said where they make the most impact is for students who can’t afford to pay their tuition.

“I think sometimes where the most impact is made is when we have students who come to us who might have an outstanding bill of $1500 for their tuition and they have no other means to fund that,” Gentry said. “So that’s when the foundation can provide that funding so they can continue their education here.”

As part of their 50th anniversary, the foundation created the USI Foundation Student Advisory Board.

Chair of the Student Advisory Board Kelli Buechler said the goals of the board are to bring awareness to the Foundation and eventually initiate a student giving campaign.

“We will raise funds and distribute them to students who are at risk of dropping out of school or maybe missing a rent payment or something and trying to help out individual students,” she said. “I am a recipient of the presidential scholarship so the Foundation has really funded my education here and so it’s had such a positive impact on my life that I thought I should give back and help other students as the foundation has helped me.”

Buechler said she hopes as they get further along they will have more to benefit the university.

She said while she knew a little bit about what the foundation did, she had no idea how much they funded, including lab equipment, building and classrooms.

“I knew what they did but it was really eye-opening to see everything that they did,” she said.

The Foundation’s current building, located on the southside Clarke Lane, also has a story.

The building was built in 1984 for the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity, but when Sig Tau left campus in 1997, the university bought it from group and remodeled it.

The Foundation, which was formerly located in the Wright Administration Building, moved into the building in Oct. of 1999.

Bower said he hopes the foundation will move closer to campus in the future.

Next year the foundation will start planning the third capital campaign for USI.

Bower said they are also looking into hiring a gift officer for all four colleges on campus.

“This institution, I believe, is the greatest thing that has happened in the last 50 years to this community in Evansville,” Bower said. “We’ve been an integral part of that because the university could not have been as successful if the Foundation had not been successful and that’s due to the generosity and interest of thousands and thousands of people over the last 50 years.”