Behind the scenes with GT Foundation president

Photo by Dani Sisson Student Publications

Many have heard of the Georgia Tech Foundation, yet few know about the organization and what it does behind the scenes to support our campus and
community.

Established nearly a century ago in 1932, the Foundation was started in order to provide a separate entity for the Institute to receive funds, often in the form of gifts and donations. 

With its initial start of only $406, the Foundation has grown not only in numbers, but in significance as well. In order to learn more about its history and its vision, the Technique sat down with the Foundation’s current president Al Trujillo. 

Trujillo began the discussion by explaining the mission of the Foundation. 

“When distilled down to the essence our main mission comes down to three things: to efficiently receive, to prudently invest and to accurately distribute the funds consistent with donor wishes,” said Trujillo. 

In order to achieve the three tenets of the Foundation’s mission, the organization must invest the funds it receives, which is mostly given in the form of endowments. The Foundation invests these funds with the hopes of earning the highest possible return on their investment. 

“So essentially we invest the gifts given from various alumni and others in order to gain returns which can then be spent,” Trujillo explained. “Our goal is to be prudent investors so that we lower the risk of investing these funds and gather the highest returns.”

Trujillo also described some of the history of the Foundation, a history which dates back to 1920 with an idea for a class reunion gift leading to the beginnings of monthly meetings and
monthly review. 

Some of these early  meetings were even held off campus in the Coca-Cola building. It was not until the Foundation’s first big campaign — which is now known as the Centennial Campaign — that the organization grew in prominence. 

This campaign, which lasted from 1983 to 1988, created the first big push to raise funds for the Institute.

Although the modern realm of finance now includes complex institutions like investment banks and hedge funds, the early work of the Foundation stood as an anomaly to the more traditional form of money management that was practiced for the majority of the 20th century. 

“Throughout the 1940s and 50s, the whole idea of professional fundraising was not a very well known practice, particularly in the South,” said Trujillo. 

“Some of the old Ivy League schools had this concept of private gift-giving but elsewhere it was sort of a more unknown concept.”

Since its revolutionary beginnings, the Foundation has been involved in countless projects throughout the city. 

Its assistance in bringing the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta serves as one such example, as the Foundation funded the creation of a promotional video to highlight features of the city. 

Its part in adding Tech Square to the expanding campus is a more recent example. “The area [Tech Square] was in decline and was closed off from campus,” explained Trujillo. 

“And right at the turn of the millennium, the Georgia Tech Foundation had the vision to buy the land filled with empty lots and razor wire and create what is now an incredibly energetic, popular and attractive place.” 

Trujillo further emphasized the significant role of developing real estate for the overall economic development of the Institute. 

“We help Georgia Tech achieve its purpose through real estate. You need a place and we have aided in acquiring land for the Institute, not solely our doing of course but we still have played a significant role in giving Georgia Tech a place for the people.”

In keeping with the fostering of Tech as a “place for the people,” the Foundation also works to contribute to need-based scholarships. 

Trujillo discussed the significance of these contributions, as he highlighted the Tech Promise Program and the Val-Bud Peterson Scholarship Fund.

“We as a Foundation have had a strong commitment to scholarships, especially need based scholarships,” Trujillo said. 

“Many of our trustees came from modest backgrounds, but were then provided with the tools, the confidence and experience to be successful in the workforce because of our time here at Tech.”

Because of this we aim to use what we have gained from our time at Georgia Tech to give back to Georgia Tech. We hope that we can raise even more funds for the need-based scholarships so we could give out even more.”

The work of the Georgia Tech Foundation — from its economic promotion to scholarship contributions — could not occur with its  board of 45 elected trustees. But who are these trustees, and how do you become a member of the Foundation?

Although there are no explicit conditions for membership — other than an alum status to guarantee alliance to and understanding of the Institute, Trujillo shared what the Foundation looks for in its aspiring candidates or, as Trujillo stated, in its aspiring “models for support for Georgia Tech. 

“We ask them to be generous with their work and take active roles in their positions, share their wisdom and be as generous as they can be with their philanthropy,” said Trujillo. 

“One of our greatest strengths is a model of good governance which is important to the Foundation and the Institute. And because of that I think we have attracted a very good professional staff to carry out our business and be a role model in the community of higher education.”

Although current students cannot join the Foundation, Trujillo explained how important it is that the upcoming generations model the behavior of giving back whether it is through volunteering or taking on a leadership role. He also shared his vision of current scholarship recipients one day becoming future scholarship donors. 

“It is your turn to work hard so later on you can give back and sort of, pass the baton onto another student in an upcoming generation so they can have the same opportunities or even more than you yourself had,” said Trujillo. 

In order to gather some final insight, the Technique asked Mr. Trujillo about the Foundation’s hopes for the future. Trujillo expressed his desire for the Foundation to better reflect the increasing diversity that is present on campus. He also shared his promising vision of Tech’s future. 

“What we are most excited about when looking towards the future is our hope for the next generation’s success,” said Trujillo. Your generation is quicker, you have more technology and I think that is why the future is going to be so terrific overall. 

“We are at an amazing place filled with amazing students. Companies want to be located here, research exceeded a billion dollars this past year and we are in a city that is just terrific. Georgia Tech is a tremendous place with a tremendous future and I am confident that the GT Foundation will, in its own quiet little way, continue to support the Institute in the years to come.”