Need a good investment? Consider Emory's endowment

Coca-Cola executives Robert W. Woodruff (top photo) and his brother George (bottom photo) were among Emory’s greatest supporters. In 1979 they made Emory’s most famous endowed gift, which transformed the university.

Endowed gifts have such great power. Because they’re invested and the principal is protected, they last forever. Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler knew this. One of the nation’s most successful businessmen, Candler created a $500,000 endowment in 1914 for Candler School of Theology, the first school to open at the brand new Emory University. He devoted another $500,000 and 75 acres of land to provide the university with a good start.

Until then, Emory had been a small college in Oxford, Georgia. Today it is a major research, liberal arts, and health care institution in a leading international city, which is quite a return on Candler’s initial investment. Over time, gifts from many other donors built an endowment that helped expand the Emory campus, strengthen academic programs, fund research, and recruit talented faculty and students. By 1926 the endowment was valued at $2.9 million; by 1965 it had grown to $96.6 million. Today it stands at more than $5 billion.

“Endowed gifts provide support for today and far into the future,” says Susan Cruse, Emory’s senior vice president for Development and Alumni Relations. “Emory’s endowment supports education and research, financial aid, facilities, and many other priorities.”

Emory’s most famous endowed gift came in the late 1970s from two brothers, George and Robert Woodruff. Both men were leaders of The Coca-Cola Company—George served as a director for forty-nine years and Robert as president for thirty-two. In 1979 the brothers transferred to Emory $105 million in Coca-Cola stock from the Emily and Ernest Woodruff Fund. At the time it was the largest single gift to an educational institution in history.

The Woodruff gift sparked an unprecedented period of growth. Research funding increased dramatically. Emory sought the most eminent faculty to fill twenty Woodruff Professorships. In 1980 the first Woodruff Scholars and Woodruff Fellows—twelve Emory College freshmen and twenty-four students in the graduate and professional schools—arrived on campus. The gift fueled graduate education and improved campus life, funding a new physical education center and student center.

Through the generosity of alumni, friends, and foundations like those of the Woodruff and Candler families, Emory’s endowment now comprises more than 1,500 funds, which are invested. Interest income from these funds is used to support the purposes requested by the donors or, in the case of unrestricted endowment gifts, to meet strategic needs determined by university leaders. Emory’s endowment is permanent, serving ongoing generations of students, faculty, and programs.

Although Emory’s overall endowment is strong, the strength of each individual school’s endowment depends on support from alumni and friends over time. The endowments of some Emory schools are significantly smaller than those of peer schools at other universities. Diverting income from other funds in Emory’s overall endowment to build up school endowments is not possible because donors have designated those funds for specific purposes.

Endowments for all of the university’s schools and units are more important than ever, and Emory leaders are educating alumni and friends about the critical need for endowment gifts. As Emory’s schools and units expand and as faculty and students continue to excel in scholarship and research, the university’s capital and operating budgets must meet the costs of innovation. Income from endowment gifts makes that possible. Endowment gifts provide the university with a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining the best students and faculty, and they help maintain the quality of the Emory experience.

When alumni and friends make endowed gifts—by creating or supporting endowments for student scholarships, for instance—their gifts become part of Emory’s overall endowment, which is a diversified, risk-controlled portfolio of long-term investments. The Emory Investment Management Office (EIM) manages this portfolio with approval from the Board of Trustees. A third-party custodian holds the funds, while the EIM pools assets and uses investment best practices to reduce volatility and optimize growth.

“As an investment, Emory has great value,” Cruse says. “Private gifts fuel efforts to create positive change through education, research, patient care, and community service at home and abroad. As an institution, Emory has great integrity, and our donors trust that Emory will manage their investments well.”

For information on making an endowment gift, visit—Michelle Valigursky