Changing Countless Lives with Gifts of a Lifetime
"It was important to us to see the effects of our giving now."
When Jeff Franklin '68SEAS was accepted to Columbia with a full-tuition scholarship, the economical choice would have been to commute from his childhood home in Brooklyn. Instead, he worked year round and took out loans so he could live on campus.
"To me Columbia represented more than four years of education, it was four years of life experience," Jeff says. "I was determined to make the most of it not only while I was there, but also after I graduated."
And he has done both. In fact, as a young graduate Jeff joined other alumni twice a year to call classmates for donations. "Whoever raised the most money for Columbia would win a commemorative Hitchcock chair," he recalls. His strategy—sort the call sheets by time zones, call the East Coast first, then smuggle the remaining sheets home and make calls into the night—won him three such chairs.
After a few years the prize options expanded to include a nice dinner for two. By then, Jeff had begun dating Linda, who was working for a small law firm in Manhattan. "Linda and I ate at Windows on the World six times as a result," Jeff said. "One of those times is when I officially proposed."
"We didn't need any more chairs," adds Linda.
The importance of seeing results
Jeff worked as a chemical engineer out of college before being invited by a fellow Columbia alumnus to join an internal management group in the City of New York Welfare and Medicaid Department. Staffed with engineers, MBAs, and others, the group helped the department run more efficiently—reducing costs and making sure that those who qualified got those services.
"This was my first taste of something not specifically engineering related," says Jeff, "yet it required the same problem-solving skills and implementation. It was real life, get it done, see the results."
When Jeff became a financial planner years later, it was again this opportunity to see results that made the work more of a calling than a job. "Working one-on-one with clients, I got that instant feedback from them, to see that light bulb turn on when they understood how a plan would help them reach their goals."
Meanwhile, Linda had worked her way into senior management at her firm—which eventually became one of the ten largest in the world. When they realized they would not be having children, Jeff and Linda adjusted their lives accordingly, trusting that there was a master plan they were not aware of.
The multiplier effect
The Franklins did well for themselves and decided to use part of their wealth to honor the scholarships Jeff received at Columbia. The original idea was to leave a lump sum to Columbia through their will, but Linda felt they could do even better.
"I told Jeff it's too bad we'll never get to meet the recipients," she says. "He thought about it, then said there might be a way we could start giving now—and that got the ball rolling."
Jeff learned that donors can create a named scholarship with an outright gift, then fully endow it later through a bequest. "I realized we could start a scholarship now by making a five-year pledge," Jeff says. "After that, we could start another, then another, and fully endow them all later through our will."
The couple established the Jeffrey and Linda Franklin Scholarship Fund with the goal of creating up to eight full scholarships.
"I deeply appreciate the Franklins," says scholarship recipient QiYue Peng '20SEAS, who had a chance to meet the couple in 2017. Born and raised in Fujian, China, QiYue moved to Brooklyn at the age of 12. She is working towards a major in biomedical engineering and a minor in East Asian Studies.
"The cost of college discourages many young people from dreaming big," says QiYue, "but Jeff and Linda's generosity has made it possible for me. The fact that they also recognize the effort I put in to get here and believe in my potential means a lot to me."
This is exactly what the Franklins wanted: to see their gift at work in real time. "We wanted to be able to meet the students we are helping, to see how Columbia is affecting their lives, and to know that we are making a difference," says Linda.
The rest of the master plan may be well beyond what Jeff and Linda alone make possible. As Jeff puts it, "Eight scholarships would be roughly two new students a year attending Columbia, in perpetuity. If even a fraction of them feel the same way we do and go on to endow a scholarship, the opportunity will keep building for future generations.
"Like I said, I've always felt that attending Columbia was a privilege, and I am still intent on making the very most of it."
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