Terry Snow’s recent donation of $8 million to Canberra Grammar was one of the largest single gifts ever made to an Australian school. Sam Gibbs discovers it was born in a meeting of minds.

Entrepreneur Terry Snow believes that if you want to make something happen, you just go and do it. The grandson of Canberra’s first general store owner, Snow’s ‘just do it’ attitude saw him purchase the Canberra Airport in 1998 for $65 million and overhaul it into a diverse business incorporating the Brindabella Business Park, Fairbairn commercial precinct, and Majura Park shopping district. This year Snow is the sole Canberran on the BRW Rich List, where his wealth is estimated at $680 million.

Snow’s philanthropic philosophy has proven equally proactive. In 1991, he and brother George established The Snow Foundation to benefit the disadvantaged community in Canberra and the surrounding region. Since then, the foundation has donated over $5.5 million to more than 200 charities and individuals in the Canberra area. Snow’s daughter Georgina Byron is the foundation’s chief executive officer, and all of Snow’s children and their partners are involved in its work. 

In May of this year, Snow’s philanthropic flight took him back to familiar turf, with a gift of $8 million to his alma mater, Canberra Grammar School. The gift will fund the building of a 12-room, state-of-the-art education facility – The Snow Centre for Education in the Asian Century – for the teaching of Asian languages, geography, history, economics and culture. And it all began with a garden chat.

Asking for advice

When Dr Justin Garrick accepted his first headship at Canberra Grammar in 2011 he knew that he wanted to improve the school’s facilities, but sought inspiration. Canberrans told him to go to the airport. “I thought they were nuts until I went there,” he says. “It really is stunning – beautifully designed, with a real aesthetic and environmental sense.

“Terry Snow was a Canberra Grammar Old Boy and former member of the school board. He has a long connection with the school and he had done something very impressive with a big facility. I wanted to ask him, ‘how did you do that? What was your thinking process?’ I just wanted his advice.”

During that first meeting Garrick walked Snow around the shrub-lined pathways of the school grounds and talked about a vision for the school. Garrick painted a picture of his vision, telling Snow of his desire to increase its international orientation and help its students to see themselves as global citizens.

“Terry runs an airport. He’s passionate about building Canberra into a flourishing, vibrant city that’s connected with the rest of the world, and Asia in particular,” explains Garrick. “He quickly saw a connection between our visions, and the idea of a gift grew over a number of follow-up conversations. The donation was by no means the product of a structured campaign. It genuinely grew from his advice on the gardening.”

Ensuring public impact

“One of the things that Terry and I were both clear about in early discussions was that the centre must benefit the public,” Garrick says. “This is vital to its premise. Australian schools have been slow to respond to the challenges of the Asian Century, mainly because we as teachers don’t have that expertise. Together with the University of Canberra, the Australian National University and the National Gallery, we want to share our own learning in this area with others. In addition to its school use, the centre will be used for public lectures, summer schools and as a facility for teacher training and research.”

The school will also inaugurate the Terry Snow Prize for Asian Languages and the Terry Snow Scholarship for Global Studies for a student wishing to take the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program in years 11 and 12.

Foundation takes off

Prior to 2013, Canberra Grammar School’s fundraising efforts were relatively unstructured, Garrick says, and Snow’s $8 million gift has kick-started the establishment of a new CGS Foundation. “The school had lots of good intentions in this area, but was still very much feeling its way towards working out how best to raise funds. We haven’t had an active foundation for a very long time, and Terry’s gift had the ‘oomph’ to get one going.

“One of our issues in the past had been that fundraising was the responsibility of the person in charge of marketing, as well as admissions, as well as events. Many of the schools I’ve canvassed agree that if you allow your fundraising people to be swamped by the day-to-day demands of events and publicity and so on, they never get to the bigger picture of long-term foundation building. So we’re about to start recruiting a new foundation staffer to focus on our campaign and development efforts.”

Enjoying added value

Scheduled for construction in September, the Snow Centre will also benefit from Terry Snow’s considerable construction expertise.

“One of the things I said to Terry is that we know how to run a school, but not necessarily how to efficiently build a beautiful new building. It has been wonderful to be able to work closely with his team to make the most of the gift. We’ve worked with their architect and their construction people, and in this way we’re getting a huge degree of value out of the gift.”

Sam Gibbs
Sam Gibbs is the founding editor of Generosity Magazine (GenerosityMag.com.au). A sister publication of F&P, Generosity is a unique Australian philanthropy resource providing news, best practice examples, how-to articles, donor profiles and updates on the latest big donations.

 

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