Jerry Dudek is vice president for development at Western Golf Association-Evans Scholars Foundation, located in Golf, Ill. Unique in its mission, the Western Golf Association each year awards over 230 highly competitive college scholarships to high school seniors who have at least two years of caddying experience. Here Mr. Dudek shares with Give & Take the long history of the Evans Scholars program and the steps he has taken to establish a strong planned giving program to help ensure its future.
Give & Take: Can you share some of the history of the Western Golf Association and the Evans Scholars Foundation?
Dudek: The Western Golf Association (WGA) was founded in 1899 in Chicago to promote the game of golf in what was then considered the western United States. This group of avid golfers soon held its first open and amateur championships. The popularity and prestige of these events have grown through the years, and today the WGA is privileged to host the longest running championship on the PGA Tour. The WGA also hosts two well-loved amateur championships, the Western Amateur and the Western Junior.
Renowned golfer Chick Evans decided to use part of his earnings to provide an opportunity for hard-working and qualified caddies to pursue higher education. The WGA agreed to sponsor the Evans Scholarships in 1930, when two young men from the Chicago area attended Northwestern University as the first Evans Scholars. Since 1930, more than 10,000 young people have been awarded Evans Scholarships.
High school seniors can qualify for the scholarship based on four criteria: caddying experience, scholarship, character and financial need. We award about 230 full tuition and housing scholarships each year. Today, nearly 850 Evans Scholars are enrolled at 19 universities. One unique aspect of our program is that we provide special housing for scholarship recipients on 14 campuses. Evans Scholars at these universities live together in Evans Scholarship Houses, gaining experience through leadership roles within the house and forging lifelong bonds with other scholarship recipients.
Give & Take: How did you become associated with the Evans Scholars program?
Dudek: I grew up about 25 miles from Chicago and was a caddie during high school. Caddying seemed like a great job: you’re home by dark, you’re learning the game of golf and you’re outside. Where else can a young person 14 or 15 years old spend four hours a day with a successful businessperson?
I attended the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, on an Evans Scholarship and afterward worked as an insurance broker for about 20 years. About nine years ago I came to work at Western Golf, and I’m currently serving as vice president for development.
While in the insurance industry, I spent a lot of time helping clients consider their estate plans. I see a tremendous correlation between my previous work and my current role.
Give & Take: I understand your planned giving program is relatively new.
Dudek: After the initial funds donated by Chick Evans were depleted in the 1940s, the WGA raised most of the funds needed to support the Evans Scholarships through our annual fund. Both country club members and alumni were very supportive. However, as tuition costs skyrocketed over the last 20 years, we decided to expand our development efforts, principally through a planned giving program. We are hoping that donors will recognize that we need to raise more and more revenue as tuition costs continue to increase.
Give & Take: Can you talk more about how you started your planned giving program?
Dudek: I asked people who are knowledgeable in the field of planned giving for advice, and they pointed me toward the Sharpe Group.
We appreciate everything that Sharpe has done for us. The Evans Scholars Foundation has a great mission and an 80-year history, but we also rely on the expertise of Sharpe consultant Barlow Mann and the rest of the Sharpe team. We’ve had some good initial success, and we are well on our way to building a strong planned giving program. We understand it’s going to be a long-term effort, but we are confident that our partnership with Sharpe is helping us get where we need to be.
About four years ago, we established the Chick Evans Society to recognize donors who have made a planned gift to the Evans Scholars Foundation. We communicate with them via newsletters, email and person-to-person contact, and over the past few years we’ve seen a tremendous growth in our society. We began with 40 or 50 members, and now the society has about 360 members.
Some of our Chick Evans Society members are willing to share their decision to give with others. Whenever possible, we like to feature these donors in our Chick Evans Society newsletter to help spread the word about the benefits of planned gifts.
We do our best to maintain contact and establish a relationship with prospective donors over a certain age. Sharpe has helped us develop a planned giving newsletter and website to provide useful information and help us stay in touch with our donors on a regular basis. Our hope is that when donors are making estate and financial planning decisions, the Evans Scholars Foundation will be top of mind.
Give & Take: Are your donors chiefly former scholars or golfers?
Dudek: We have donors among both groups, and we use different approaches with each. WGA is affiliated with nearly 400 member country clubs and golf organizations. When talking with members of these organizations, we focus on the value of the scholarship and celebrate those who have been long-term donors and supporters. With our alumni, we take a “pay-it-forward” path.
Give & Take: What advice do you have for those who are new to development?
Dudek: Learn as much as you can. There is a wealth of information available. Second, reach out to other people in the field. I think you’ll find that most are willing to help. And third, improve your skill set. Really understand the different giving options that are available. Then you’ll be able to find the right fit for your donors. Always put donors’ needs first, especially in planned giving.
Give & Take: What is your favorite part of your job?
Dudek: Working with donors, figuring out their needs and desires and helping to make their wishes become a reality.