Helping to Change the Lives . . . of Students
By Brett Sampson ’88
Latter-day Saints are generally familiar with the good accomplished through tithes and offerings. Less commonly understood, however, is how lives are changed through additional philanthropic gifts. These contributions—beyond what local ecclesiastical leaders oversee—bless individuals throughout the world… including students in Rexburg, Idaho. At Brigham Young University–Idaho, contributed funds provide scholarships, special programs, and enhancements to facilities. Each directly blesses the lives of those who attend and ultimately affects generations through those who graduate having had the unique experience.
Is it bold to state that lives are changed at BYU–Idaho by those who simply give $177 (as has been the request over the last year) or any other amount? Certainly. Is it true? Indisputably!
Earlier this year President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed a group of contributors to BYU–Idaho. Speaking of the “generous gifts” given, he said,
I want to say that it is as bread cast upon the water which will come back to you again and again and again, as you come to realize the powerful impact that you have in the lives of young people who might not otherwise have been able to attend school.¹
It is impossible to fully assess just how different some lives would be if they hadn’t received financial assistance enabling them to attend BYU–Idaho. Any number of alumni, however, will personally testify of the life-changing effect on them.
How LDS Philanthropies Helps
All the philanthropic help provided to students is facilitated through LDS Philanthropies under the direction of the Presiding Bishopric of the Church.
The First Presidency recently changed the department name from LDS Foundation to better signify its function. The Presiding Bishopric sent a letter to all ecclesiastical leaders on September 8, 2005, officially introducing the name change and reiterating its purpose.
LDS Philanthropies specifically handles donations to Church charitable causes (or “philanthropies”) such as Humanitarian Services, Perpetual Education Fund, and the Church’s educational institutions. Speaking to students at BYU–Idaho, managing director of LDS Philanthropies, M. McClain Bybee, said,
We tend to work quietly in the background. However, as the mission of the Church expands throughout the world, you will probably hear more of us as we strive to accelerate the work of the kingdom by assisting members and friends of the Church as they provide additional financial resources. In any case, if you have ever received a scholarship, accessed library materials on campus, or attended an activity at Badger Creek, you have probably been blessed by the generous gifts of donors assisted by the LDS Foundation [now Philanthropies].2
For years the Church quietly provided worldwide aid through millions of humanitarian dollars, along with other forms of charitable assistance. It has only been in the last decade that these acts have been generally publicized. Now more people around the world are aware of the opportunities to participate with the Church in worthy causes.
Leaders of the Church have carefully selected activities to which philanthropic donations are accepted. While these specific areas are all worthy of support from tithing dollars, generous contributions from Latter-day Saints and friends of other faiths are welcomed as they accelerate the accomplishment of the mission of the Church.
In 1973 the First Presidency determined that there was ample ability and a great interest among Church members in remembering “in all things the poor and the needy” (D&C 52:40). At that time they more formally organized what has become LDS Philanthropies. A basic model of philanthropic foundations (or organizations) was followed to provide a means through which Latter-day Saints and others could donate to Church-related charities such as the educational institutions.
Referring all donations (other than tithes and fast offerings) to LDS Philanthropies fulfills the desire of the First Presidency “…to have correlation of these other fund-raising efforts.”3
Changing Lives at BYU-Idaho
Those with particular interests in Brigham Young University–Idaho support it as one of the Church’s charitable institutions. Through LDS Philanthropies, some make arrangements in their estate planning to give a “deferred gift” often through wills or through a charitable trust. Others give “outright gifts” of sometimes thousands of dollars to help students more immediately. Many contribute what they can by consistently giving in smaller amounts.
Regardless of the type of gift, anyone who truly has the desire to make a difference in the life of a student can do so.
LDS Philanthropies employs several individuals who are available to assist with certain gifts. They have sometimes been referred to as “agents of change” because of their roles and unique vantage point as they witness the change that occurs in the hearts of the giver and receiver.
Bradley Petersen is currently working with a humble, older couple from Wyoming. Since 1941 they farmed their 60 acres and lived on no more than $12,000 a year.
A short time ago they came to the difficult but necessary conclusion that they would need to retire and sell their property. There was trepidation on their part for how they would even survive. They soon learned, however, that their land was valued at more than $50,000 an acre.
“They were actually scared to death,” Bradley says. “When they approached us, they had no idea what they would do with that much money, and the last thing they wanted was for anyone to think they were wealthy. Their genuine desire was to share it.”
As their donor liaison, Bradley is working closely with them and their financial advisors to determine the best plan for them. Through the type of gift they are arranging, they will now not only live out their lives comfortably but will do more than they ever thought possible for the young people at BYU–Idaho.
Instead of aching, their hearts are full to overflowing at the literal legacy they will now leave when they have passed on.
David Facer manages gifts from corporations and foundations. Not long after he came to work at the BYU–Idaho campus, he had an experience that he says may seem small but that he will never forget.
“We were hosting representatives of a foundation that has donated to the Department of Academic Learning for many years. Students who had been directly helped by the tutoring centers were invited to a luncheon to tell of their personal experiences there.
“One student talked about her learning disability and how she came to campus with very low confidence established by poor academic performance in high school. But because of the reading center, she was able to work with her challenges to the point that she was able to do well academically. Her confidence shot through the roof and helped to make her BYU–Idaho experience a springboard for doing things and reaching a potential she never imagined.”
David goes on to say that she became “significantly emotional” as she thanked them for helping make her life so much better. “It was a very personal moment between her and our guests…and me,” he concludes.
Alton Hansen manages the BYU–Idaho Fund. Through this fund the largest number of gifts are given. He sees and hears thousands of responses to the letters the university president sends and student phone calls from the Telefund Center.
Alton says, “It really is inspiring to look at the response to these requests. It’s just remarkable to see how many people care about helping to accelerate what we are doing for students at BYU–Idaho.” Typically three letters are sent each year and a follow-up phone call is made.
This fall, President Kim B. Clark sent his first letter to alumni and friends. As with past presidents, his viewpoint is clear and gratitude profound:
How wonderful to work with alumni and friends who sustain the mission of this university through their generosity.
These contributions also enable us to do things we cannot even anticipate at this point in time. I hope you trust that we will continue to use what you give us wisely and always through inspired direction.
You play a crucial role in accelerating our steady, upward course—one charted for us in the heavens.4
Under the direction of the BYU–Idaho Board of Trustees, the president works regularly with the LDS Philanthropies office in approving the priorities and processes of philanthropic gifts to the university. He oversees all aspects of sacred funds provided to BYU–Idaho—that which is appropriated by the Church and everything offered by individuals.
Many Expressions of Gratitude
The degree to which students are affected by contributions is extensive; nearly every student is touched in some way. Letters expressing gratitude fill binders in the BYU–Idaho offices of LDS Philanthropies. Following are just two examples of letters from those who have been helped.
Despite his dyslexia and having to make up for dropping out of high school, Adam Stamper now carries a 3.56 GPA into his senior year. This has come while working long hours so his wife could be home with their children. Still he is considering a master’s degree program in livestock reproductive technology.
“Our plan looked good on paper,” Adam says, “but we had no idea how to get the money we would need to actually follow through. Our student loans [were] stacking up, and no one [would] lend us money because of how little we earn. In frustration we set our plan aside…and then a letter came. I cannot express how amazed and humbled I felt. Just when we needed it most, a way was provided for us to continue with my education. I wonder at how my family is so taken care of. It is only through generous people like you and a loving and understanding family that I survive. I cannot fully express my gratitude!”
The first line in Cori Robinson’s letter is, “I am a 21-year-old student mother.” Born and raised in Sacramento, California, she was third of six children. She describes her siblings as being “best friends” and her parents as “wonderful.” Cori says, “I believe that family is and should be the most important thing in life.”
Cori discovered how “eventful” life can be after finally coming to BYU–Idaho, marrying her husband Craig, and having a baby of her own. “Trading off the baby between our classes, doing my homework during nap time, and trying to make ends meet have taught me a new meaning of stress,” says Cori. Then she continues, “Sometimes I feel like there are angels all around helping us. That’s what you are to me. It may be a small thing to you, but to a new little family, your donation has meant the world. You were an answer to our prayers. So whoever you are, I thank you, and know that to us, you are an angel.”
The stories continue. There are hundreds of them. Every semester letters arrive from those who have received much-needed and unexpected scholarships. Some are more detailed and compelling than others; but in reality, each one uniquely relates the life of a good young man or woman and gratitude for the loving help—the philanthropy—they have been shown.
Students benefit in various ways from the philanthropic support of many. Some, like Adam and Cori, are direct recipients of scholarships. Many more are blessed by the facilities and programs that enrich the BYU–Idaho experience.
All contributions simply supplement and enhance what the Church does to maintain a substantial university. Regarding the supplemental nature of philanthropic gifts, President Hinckley recently said,
The Church has given so very generously to BYU–Idaho and it needs your supplemental help. Now on behalf of the Board of Trustees, I wish to thank everyone who has made a contribution…at BYU–Idaho.
Thank you so very, very much my dear Brothers and Sisters, for your very generous gifts…. And I hope that you will continue because the institution will grow, and we will need more and more of this kind of help.1
The BYU–Idaho Board of Trustees, which President Hinckley chairs, is more than mindful of all that is given to the university. They work directly with President Clark and the LDS Philanthropies staff at BYU–Idaho to oversee all that is done on behalf of students.
In December 2002 the Board issued the following:
…the Church Boards of Trustees endorse the continuing commitment to their four institutions of higher education which assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life. We express appreciation to those who have contributed so generously in the past to this vital part of the Restoration. We invite those who value the unique contribution of Church education to join in sustaining the important influence these schools render to the world and to the work of the Church.
LDS Philanthropies, in its service to BYU–Idaho, continues quietly and confidentially facilitating the thousands of philanthropic gifts that promote the influence of Brigham Young University–Idaho students throughout the world.
Anyone who gives in one way or another truly has an impact on students and is deeply appreciated. The students thank you. And we thank you. SM
More information about LDS Philanthropies—the history, purpose, specific areas at BYU–Idaho supported, and their outcomes—is available at the Web site or phone numbers below.
Brigham Young University- Idaho
220 Kimball Building
Rexburg, ID 83460-1657
208-496-1128 or 800-227-4257
If you have comments about this article, please e-mail
1 Brigham Young University–Idaho President’s Club
banquet, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 17, 2005.
2 “Tzedakah,” Brigham Young University–Idaho
devotional, Rexburg, Idaho, February 19, 2002.
3 First Presidency Letter, February 20, 1973.
4 Letter to alumni and friends from President Kim
B. Clark; Fall 2005.