Yale University will celebrate the largest class gift in its history this week when it recognizes $110 million from the class of 1954, the New York Times reports.
The bulk of the gift, $90 million, is the result of a fundraising plan put in place twenty-five years ago by members of the class of '54. "Savvy money management is taken for granted by most graduates of universities today, but it is a relatively new phenomenon," said Richard Gilder, a member of the class of '54 and one of Wall Street's most famous money managers. "Yale does a great job of managing the endowment now, but back then its investment performance was pretty lousy."
To address the situation, members of Gilder's class embraced a suggestion he made at their twenty-fifth reunion to pool their donations into a single fund and entrust it to a professional money manager, with the goal of turning the principal and interest over to Yale at their fiftieth reunion. Two years after the reunion, the nonprofit 54/50 Fund was born and seeded by forty class members to the tune of $75,000. Five years after that, an additional thirty-one members added about $300,000 to the fund, which subsequently grew at a compounded annual rate of 37 percent. One member of the class of '54 who contributed $5,000 to the fund was recently thanked by Yale for his contribution of $2.56 million; another who put in $15,000 was credited for a gift of $3.5 million.
Five years ago, concerned that the university was falling behind in the sciences and engineering, Yale president Richard Levin asked whether the class would release some of the money in the fund ahead of schedule. It agreed to, and as a result Yale's new $25 million Environmental Science Center bears the class of '54 name, as will a $25 million chemistry building now under construction.