A long association with Queensland University of Technology was the backdrop for Peter and Heather Howes’ recent $1 million scholarship donation. Dr William Hatherell explains how a personal thank you led to the major gift.

Alumni, former staff and successful business people are perhaps the three most important stakeholder groups in university fundraising. The case of a recently announced gift of $1 million from Peter and Heather Howes to fund scholarships for disadvantaged students at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane exemplifies how shared interests and engagement can be nurtured in donors who fall into all three of these categories.

Shared history between the Howes and QUT

Peter and Heather have a long and deep engagement with QUT. They met as business students at Queensland Institute of Technology, QUT’s immediate predecessor institution, in the early 1970s. Peter went on to become a lecturer in QIT’s Department of Management, while Heather lectured part-time in accounting.

In 1982, they jointly founded a successful human resources consultancy business, specialising in workforce analytics and workforce planning, which they sold to US business software giant SuccessFactors in 2010.

Their daughter Julia completed a double degree with first-class honours in law and international business at QUT in 2000. For ten years, Peter was a member of QUT’s School of Management Advisory Board, and he was awarded the Faculty of Business Outstanding Alumni Award in 2003.

It was the sale of their business in 2010 that gave Peter and Heather the capacity to give significantly, but their philanthropic involvement with QUT began with a relatively small gift as part of QUT’s annual alumni appeal in 2009.

The annual appeal is a direct mail and email campaign aimed at alumni, staff and other stakeholders. It focuses on specific university priorities as well as the university endowment fund. In recent years, the main priority featured in the appeal has been the Learning Potential Fund (LPF), an endowment fund to support bursaries and scholarships for QUT students in financial need. The Howes’ first gifts were directed to the LPF in the 2009 appeal and again in the 2010 appeal.

A thank you leads to new opportunities

One of the things that motivated the Howes to become more engaged philanthropically with QUT was the personal phone calls they received from LPF fundraising staff to thank them for these gifts. They say that this was the first time that they had received such personalised thanks from an organisation they had supported financially.

The Howes began discussions with staff of QUT’s Alumni and Development Office about a larger gift for student support in May 2010, when they were in the middle of negotiations that led to the sale of their business on July 1. Details of the gift were finalised at a meeting in September, which also involved QUT’s equity director Mary Kelly, who has overall responsibility for support for disadvantaged students at the university.

The agreed model entails the Howes’ Family Gift of $1 million being added to the larger LPF endowment, but used to fund a number of discrete Howes Family Learning Potential Scholarships. At an initial value of $5,000 annually, these named scholarships are significantly more valuable than the standard LPF scholarships and bursaries. QUT’s equity staff select applicants for LPF scholarships through a rigorous process that identifies those most in need, with the most valuable awards, such as the Howes scholarships, awarded to the very neediest among the selected group.

Peter and Heather have placed no restrictions on the courses of study where their scholarships are offered, despite their own close association with the QUT business program. Their advice to students receiving the scholarships is the same as that they give to their own children: do what you love and avoid any assessment of career opportunities as life is too long to spend time on things you don’t love.

Nurturing the relationship

The gift of $1 million will be made in four instalments from 2010 to 2013, with the expectation that it will fund four annual scholarships from 2013. The first two recipients received their scholarships earlier this year. The Howes have indicated that over time they may consider offering additional scholarships, including some in specific disciplines. Peter is also giving back by serving on the LPF Committee, which oversees fundraising for the fund.

The Howes’ motivation in helping disadvantaged students stems in part from their own experiences as public high school students who had the opportunity to complete tertiary education and go on to successful professional careers. They point out that they were in a small minority as state school students during their own undergraduate days.

The generous gift of Peter and Heather Howes is the culmination of an engagement with QUT that stretches back for decades, and which has helped to shape both the Howes’ business success and their philosophy of giving. Working with Peter and Heather continues to be a rewarding experience for QUT’s fundraising, alumni and equity staff.

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