The College Donor Digest

Q&A with Stefanie Tapper, Director of Development at Penn State Hillel

August 05, 2019

This spring, Penn State Hillel released the official name for its new space—the Nancy and Bernard Gutterman Center for Jewish Life. In 2021, Penn State Hillel will move from their current location to space downtown within a new mixed-use facility, expanding their footprint from 1,400 to 15,300 square feet.

When finalizing this gift, Stefanie Tapper, director of development for Penn State Hillel, reached out to the Fund for Academic Renewal (FAR) for their help with a model gift agreement. FAR spoke with Stefanie about the transformative gift from the Gutterman family, and what advice she would share with other organizations stewarding major gifts.

Q: How did this remarkable gift evolve?

The Guttermans had committed a million-dollar gift to a different iteration of our capital campaign. From the start, the Guttermans said, “Of course we want to be a part of this.” They are both alumni of our institution.

We originally had a plan for a freestanding building, but over time that idea evolved into a multi-faith, multi-use space. When this idea of a multi-use space emerged, we spoke with Guttermans again and told them the project had changed and that we would love to talk with them about changing their impact, and they said yes. They had already paid off their original pledge, and they were happy to do more.

The Guttermans are committed to the Jewish community and to Penn State. This new, multi-use space was a great way to marry those interests. They were very generous in upgrading their gift, and now it is the largest single gift in our organization’s history.

Q: Why did you feel like it was important to keep the donors informed and work with them throughout this whole process?

On a very basic level, it shows how highly we value stewardship. It’s always important for us to keep our donors in the loop about everything that we do. But on a deeper level, we are an organization that is striving hard to be transparent. Metrics matter to donors, and we are working hard to stand out with full transparency and openness with our donor base.

Q: How is this new space going to serve PSU Hillel’s community, and what unmet need will it fill?

There are approximately 5,000 Jewish students on Penn State’s campus, so 1,400 square feet was not enough space to accommodate their diverse interests. In the Jewish community, place is especially important. We are known to be nomads, so having a place that we can have ownership of is important. We are excited to have something that can model for the next generation of students how to integrate Jewish life into their experience at Penn State.

Q: What role did philanthropy play in making all this possible?

Penn State Hillel has its own 501(c)(3) designation, and we are affiliated with the university. We consider Penn State our friend, and we work together as much as possible, but we have our own fundraising operations, budget, and database as a stand-alone organization.

We are very volunteer driven. Students run all of our on-campus programming. And it’s the same way on the philanthropic side. We are totally driven by our philanthropy. The project that we are now part of, the multi-use facility, was dreamed up by one of our donors and volunteers.

Q: Why did you reach out to the Fund for Academic Renewal (FAR), and what help did they provide?

It was important to me to employ best practices. This was my first rodeo, so to speak, in stewarding a gift at this level. I reached out to a former colleague for advice, and he recommended I reach out to FAR to help me through the process and ensure I did everything right the first time. I wanted to be sure our donors were prepared and happy, and that I could answer every question that they might have throughout the course of executing the gift. I wanted them to be the happiest donors on earth!

Q: What advice would you share with other organizations that are working with donors at this level?

I would say to call FAR and to cover all your bases. I think it’s important to be thorough. If your donors are at the point where they are trusting you enough to say yes to a gift, they are trusting you to steward the entire process well. You want to be sure that everything is clear both in writing and in your conversations, and that your donors feel like they have a voice. It’s all about intent. PSU Hillel is a donor-centered organization. I want to make sure that every donor feels that they have a true opportunity to invest in something that not only helps others, but makes them feel connected to and strengthened by this organization.

Q: It sounds like the organization had a trusting relationship with the Gutterman family. Why is it important to have a written gift agreement in addition to this relationship? Why not do all this over a handshake?

I think it’s important for everything to be in writing, and that there are best practices in place so donors trust how we are using their money. When a donor is giving at this level, there are lots of people involved. It’s important to spell everything out so that all parties feel comfortable. I can appreciate the old-school mentality of just shaking hands and everything will be great, but it’s very important to take it to the next level and show them that we are responsible; that we are respectful; that they can trust us as much as we trust them.

Q: What advice would you give to donors like the Guttermans, to ensure that their intent is honored and that their giving achieves the impact that they desire?

Ask questions. No question is inappropriate. No question is stupid. Ask everything. If you have concerns, or if the organization can’t answer your questions, then push a little harder. It’s about what you’ve worked for and the future of your community.

If the organization can answer the questions the way you need them to and can share all the data that you’re asking for, then you can sleep well at night knowing what you’re supporting and who you’re investing in. And it makes us on the fundraising side of the fence feel good to know that our donors are fully knowledgeable and fully invested.

To learn more about Penn State Hillel, please visit https://pennstatehillel.org/

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The Fund for Academic Renewal is a program of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization as defined by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. All contributions to FAR are fully tax-deductible to the maximum extent provided by law.