Indiana University Bloomington

IU donors have reasons for giving

  • Oct. 7, 2013

By Jon Blau

Plenty of Americans don’t want to talk about money, but Dan Smith, director of the Indiana University Foundation, the institution’s biggest fundraising arm, has the task of breaking through the taboo.

The former dean of the Kelley School of Business, he sells giving with a pen and paper and a sketch rooted in chaos theory. Smith writes “scholarship” at the head of a timeline. An arrow conjures up a hypothetical student who can now attend IU’s School of Education. That student graduates and becomes a math teacher in the inner city. Those kids graduate from high school -- maybe they go to college, maybe they, too, attain a slice of the American dream.

On paper, that scholarship builds a community.

The university’s foremost builders are members of the Presidents Circle. People can become members of the circle by giving $100,000 or more to the university in their lifetime. About 2,400 donors have entered the circle since it was established in 1992, including 183 who met the mark this year. Their donations account for more than $2.5 billion to IU.

There are members of the circle who don’t want the recognition. They don’t want to talk about the money behind the deed. But every dollar that makes its way to the university has a story, Smith says.

“It’s a story of hard work, it’s a story of overcoming challenges, it’s a story of trade-offs you have made,” he said. “When you decide that you are going to share some of those dollars with an institution, you’re literally sharing part of your life story. Literally. And if you can’t be moved by that ... it’s pretty amazing.”

‘Avenue of hope’

J. “Spike” Abernethy has always supported IU. An alumnus, he’s donated enough to the Varsity Club to pare down the number of rows between himself and the hardwood at Assembly Hall. He sits next to his brother, Tom, who played on the 1976 national title team.

Naturally, he helped his wife, Anne, a Notre Dame football fan, appreciate Hoosier basketball.

Abernethy believes in his university, enough so that when Anne was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer called “triple negative,” he did more than consult IU’s Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis. He put his money behind the brand.

The Abernethys’ donation to IU was substantial -- enough to make them Presidents Circle members. Of course, the circle was the furthest thing from the Abernethys’ minds when they made their gift. They didn’t want an honor, just a cure. Women age 60 or older have a life expectancy of eight years after diagnosis. Anne Abernethy spent the next few years with a picture of Dr. Milan Radovich and his team taped to the mirror above her dresser.

For the Abernethys, the gift created an avenue of hope -- if not a cure for Anne, someone else. They had the means, and they had a reason. And when those two circumstances converged, they had IU.

For IU, people like the Abernethys make the university what it is today.

Patience

A state university can keep the lights on with tax dollars. It may even be able to find a few teachers to staff the lecture halls, Smith said.

But Smith believes only a “good” college can rely on state funding. The “margins of excellence,” however, are filled with private donations.

“If you want a great honors program,” Smith said, “you don’t have that without Ed Hutton and his gift to the Hutton Honors College. If you want to see your school on TV every Saturday during basketball season, you don’t get that without private scholarships. If you want to say that you are doing research that changes the world, that’s private money.

“Private funding gets you from being good to great.”

The task of attaining greatness is in Smith’s hands. With tightening state budgets, the private dollar has become more important than ever. Smith doesn’t miss a football or basketball game, to shake hands, not pump fists. There are several gallons of espresso, he said, between his first talk with a prospective donor and the moment money is even mentioned.

He isn’t having dinner and asking for an endowment as soon as dessert arrives. He wants to be able to pass someone on the street, recognize their face and be able to ask them about their kids before he asks them for a dollar.

“We aren’t aggressive fundraisers. We are patient fundraisers,” Smith said. “People don’t give money to institutions or to people they don‘t know or trust.”

What benefits IU as a philanthropic destination compared with other charities, Smith said, is the broad spectrum of interests the university serves and the multiple touch points people have with higher education in their lives. If they care about students -- because they were one -- they can set up a scholarship. If they were inspired by a certain professor, they can create an endowed chair and place the next star lecturer in their discipline of choice.

“The best fundraising is really just listening and trying to understand that person’s life story,” Smith said. “If you just listen and ask questions, you will understand something about their life story ... and they lead you. The donor will lead you to what they would like to do.”

Quietly proud

There are many reasons to give, and Smith admits some people want their “name in lights.”

It’s not an exaggeration. There are people who will ask, “How much does it cost to get my name on that building? Three million? Ten million? And what will you do with the money?” Smith said.

There are big-money donors like David Jacobs and Vera Bradley and groups like the Lilly Foundation and Cook Group that give in seven-figure amounts.

But many donors evade the headlines, purposely, personified by Karl Krakovitz.

A quiet accountant from Indianapolis, Karl Krakovitz and his wife, Rosey, moved to Bloomington in 1973. Karl Krakovitz wasn’t a social animal, and Rosey Krakovitz said they hoped moving to a “smaller pond” would help.

They were successful in business, renting real estate to IU students. It helped that he was a Type-A personality, very organized, Rosey Krakovitz said, but she jokes that she was able to get him to an “A-minus” or a “B-plus” type. They became part of the Jewish community in Bloomington. They sent two children to IU.

About 10 years ago, when Karl Krakovitz died, Rosey wanted to do something to honor him. They weren’t grateful alumni, but they owed much of their success to IU.

That’s not a rare circumstance, according to the IU Foundation. More than half of Presidents Circle members did not graduate from IU; they are “friends of the university,” spouses, parents, or just big fans of IU.

Rosey Krakovitz, who owed her livelihood to IU, decided to set up a scholarship in the Jewish Studies Program in their name.

“I feel kind of passionate that, if you make a living off of IU and its students, you might want to say thank you,” she said.

She had to ponder the question for a moment -- “What would Karl think of having his name on something?” -- but Krakovitz eventually found the answer. “He probably would have been -- quietly -- very proud,” she said.

‘Go Hoosiers’

Don Winget has ridden the roller coaster of Hoosier fandom. After more than 40 years of following IU athletics, he doesn’t mind talking about the ride.

Mike Davis was a man who was in the right place at the right time, but Winget said he told former Athletic Director Rick Greenspan that he wasn’t the one to replace Bobby Knight.

The next coach, Kelvin Sampson? “That man had a golden opportunity,” Winget said, “and that guy was an idiot.”

Winget just likes to be involved. A resident of Richmond, he is on the board of a development corporation and the board of the local airport.

But his favorite seat is in Assembly Hall, two rows in front of musician John Mellencamp. Winget is a name-dropper, but he does it to show how he’s part of a whole. He talks up Kevin Van Rooy, the assistant athletic director for major gifts. He talks about bumping into Kelly Bomba of the varsity club at games. That comes after he had dinner with her dad, Bob Van Pelt, a Richmond native and team captain of the 1966 IU football team.

Every conversation ends the same way: “Go Hoosiers.”

His gifts started as a way to get closer to the floor at Assembly Hall. But now, he can watch a basketball game and feel like the product is partially his. Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo go to the NBA, and he’s part of the reason IU can go out and sign a top recruit. He’s also the reason a walk-on might get a scholarship after years of paying his own way. “You don’t mind contributing to things you love and enjoy and having success,” Winget said. “We could be 6-28 and that doesn’t faze me at all.”

Now, he’s a member of the Presidents Circle, a donor until the day he dies, win or lose.

Carrying forward

During the six and a half years of Anne Abernethy’s battle with cancer, she borrowed a line from former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who has Alzheimer’s disease: “It is what it is, and it is what I make of it.”

Spike and Anne Abernethy took advantage of their time together. Her maiden name was O’Brien, so they took a trip to Ireland. He’s Scottish, so they went to Scotland. In between chemotherapy treatments, they also traveled to the Greek islands, Turkey, Italy and more.

They spent just as much time with their three daughters, all married, and their five grandchildren. With homes in Florida and Michigan, she often preferred getting treatment down south.

“If I’m sick, I’d rather be sick in 80 degree temperatures,” Spike remembers her saying. Clearing the weeds from under her flowers was “therapy.” When they were in Michigan, they would sit by the lake and watch the sun set.

Anne Abernethy was a “quiet warrior,” Spike says, but she would often comment about the younger women who came in to the cancer treatment center. She saw herself as lucky to have lived such a full life.

In June, Anne Abernethy lost her battle with breast cancer, just before doctors at IU Simon Cancer Center were able to come to Spike Abernethy and say they had two drugs almost ready for clinical trials. The cure wasn’t hers, but her legacy continues through IU. Spike Abernethy still sits on the cancer center’s board, receiving updates a few times a year.

“I want them to carry forward, to press on, keep working,” Abernethy said. “Those were Anne’s instructions.”

This is the story of a gift that keeps on giving. This is the kind of story that Dan Smith and the IU Foundation want to keep telling.

“In this country, we don’t talk about money a lot,” Smith said, “but if you think about it, every dollar in your pocket has a story.”

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.