Graham and Louise Tuckwell’s $50 million donation to Australian National University was transformative for both the organisation and Australian philanthropy. Greg Johnson goes behind the scenes to reveal the inside story on how the gift came about.

It’s not uncommon for Graham Tuckwell to be associated with the word ‘pioneer’. Born and raised in Canberra, Tuckwell presides over the billion dollar business he built – ETF Securities – based on a revolutionary way of trading commodities on the stock exchange. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the normally private businessman and his wife, Louise, have been ground-breaking in their philanthropic journey.

Earlier this year the couple announced they would donate $50 million from the Graham & Louise Tuckwell Foundation to fund 25 annual scholarships of $100,000 each at Australian National University (ANU), the largest gift ever made by an Australian individual to a local university.

Reconnecting with ANU

As a result of their relatively new wealth, the Tuckwells’ involvement in giving is at an early stage. The $50 million donation, which will be paid in perpetuity through annual instalments from the foundation, is in fact the Tuckwells’ very first gift to the university where Graham completed his Bachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Laws.

“The university’s philanthropic team first had contact with Graham back in 2003, but there hadn’t been an ongoing conversation with him,” ex-plains director of alumni relations and philanthropy Dr Colin Taylor. “We were going through that initial planning phase of trying to meet with Graham and at the same time he was – as he describes it – beginning his giving journey with Louise.”

Graham and Louise were looking at both ANU and another university as potential institutions for realising their vision at the time. A meeting with the Tuckwells was arranged by ANU council member Dr Vince FitzGerald at the university’s Melbourne office in August last year. The university’s chancellor, Professor Gareth Evans, vice-chancellor (president) Professor Ian Young, Dr Taylor and FitzGerald were present at the meeting, where Graham and Louise discussed their commitment to education and what they hoped to achieve through their philanthropy.

“Our very next communication was a proposal with options of what we thought a national scholarship program would look like and the substantial commitment that ANU was prepared to make to such a program,” explains Taylor. “That’s when the dialogue became very intensive, as the ANU proposal touched on many of the points that the Tuckwells had been thinking about for a number of years. The time from our first conversation with the Tuckwells about a gift to the announcement in February was pretty much spot-on six months.

“Most gifts of similar magnitude take much longer to come to fruition, but in this case the Tuckwells had a clear idea of what they wanted to do and we could each see the synergies,” he adds.

Promoting leadership through the gift

Discussion between ANU and the Tuckwells may have commenced around a seven figure gift, but as the Tuckwells’ vision to create a scholarship program grew, so too did the size of the donation.

“As we kept talking, the vision really grew,” says Taylor. “There were a couple of exemplars of transformative scholarship schemes, such as the Rhodes Scholarships. You start talking in the millions and then when you marry up the real vision – the core of what the Tuckwells want to achieve with this gift – you start talking in the tens and then things move on from there.”

Their desire to be a part of and promote leadership isn’t only evident in how their gift unfolded, but also in their approach to the national scholarship program. A commencement dinner will be held annually as part of the scholarship program, which aims to ensure that the program’s recipients know from the outset that there’s an expectation for them to also give back in later years according to their ability to do so, with their time or money.

The Tuckwells have committed to attending the dinner every year, where they will be joined by both incoming and current recipients of the scholarship, while alumni of the scholarship program will also be included in later years.

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