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WVSU alumni share planned giving experience

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During a planned giving seminar at West Virginia State University Oct. 5, two WVSU alumni shared what spurred their personal decisions to give back through planned giving.

Although the road to a college education was fraught with personal trials and challenges, both alumni acknowledged a desire to give back because of the opportunities afforded them at WVSU.

Planned giving is the process by which the donor, the donor's financial advisors and the nonprofit's development officers work together to determine the most effective method of making a gift to a nonprofit organization.

A 1992 graduate

Sheila Bias, a 1992 graduate, said WVSU offered opportunities she would not have had otherwise. That's what spurred her decision to give.

"My degree from here opened doors that I can honestly say would have been firmly closed and locked," she said. "It presented me with opportunities that were priceless."

Bias said earning a degree from WVSU did not come without personal struggles and challenges. 

When Bias was very young, her parents divorced. Since she was the youngest child by 13 years and the only one at home, she said it affected her the most. 

"Although (divorce) is a common occurrence today, in the mid-1960s, it was not," she said. "It was lengthy, ugly and very bitter. 

"It left my father without visitation rights and it left my mother broken, mentally and financially."

In order to fulfill her mother's constant mantra of "Get a good education," Bias said she became an overachiever, making the best grades and taking the hardest classes at Nitro High School.

"I was going to be prepared," Bias said. "But things didn't work out."

When it came time for Bias's father to put her through college, as he was obligated to through the divorce decree, he told Bias she wasn't going to college. Bias had a partial scholarship, but not enough to get her through school.

"I was crushed," she said. "My friends were dumbfounded that out of all the kids at school, I was the one not going to college and my teachers were sickened by the idea."

In May of her senior year of high school, a public accountant in Charleston called Bias and wanted to know if she would like to interview for a position as bookkeeper. Bias said she was a little surprised by the call because she hadn't applied for the position, but later learned the call came after a recommendation from a previous teacher.

Bias went to the interview, started the first day after high school and stayed for several years.

With the support of her husband, Bias eventually fulfilled her goal of obtaining a college degree and achieving some of the goals she had initially set for herself.

"I was scared to death," she said. "I had been out of school for so long. I hadn't taken a test. I hadn't written an essay. 

"You forget a lot when you hadn't been there for a while."

Showing up for the admission testing, Bias recalls being surrounded by numerous high school students.

"They were so full of spunk," Bias said. "They were so confident, and I was scared to death. I looked around and I thought, ‘goodness, I'm a dinosaur.' 

"These children are so young. I'm married. I have responsibilities. I have a home. I have a full-time job I have to do. I have aging parents to take care of. I remember thinking, ‘oh God, please just get me through this day.'"

While waiting to take the admissions essay, Bias said she was thinking how it had been at least 10 years since she had undertaken that particular task. 

"I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I saw the topic," she said. 

"The topic was: ‘The Effect on Children of Divorce.' My problem was not being able to write the essay, it was not writing a book."

From that point forward, Bias said she didn't look back but hit the ground running, attacked classes with the best possible attitude she could and graduated with highest honors.

In order to help others avoid the struggles she went through, Bias said she wanted to do something. 

After Internet searching and looking at university websites, Bias said she was surprised, and a little leery, of how easy planned giving appeared to be.

After calling the foundations at WVSU and Marshall University, where Bias gave her planned gift, she said it really was as easy as it appeared to be. After receiving literature on how to set up the criteria for a scholarship endowment, Bias said that was what her and her husband decided to do.

"We know when we're gone, we're going to live on by giving and helping others achieve what I thought was going to be an impossible task for me," she said. "That gift will go on and on, not just for one, but for many. It's a wonderful feeling to know that."

‘Buddy's' story

Edward Dickerson IV, known as "Buddy" and six generations deep at WVSU, came to the school on a presidential scholarship in 1984.

A graduate of 1988, Buddy said he still refers to WVSU as State College because that's all he knew.

In Buddy's junior year of being "Big Man on Campus" and captain of ROTC,  he said he envisioned his family's name being on one of the buildings some day.

"I looked around and said to myself, I remember it like it was yesterday, my family's name, not my name, but my family's name, will be on one of these buildings," he said. "I don't know how I'm going to get it done but we're going to get this done."

At that point, Buddy said it was not a priority, but an eventuality.

With the help of others, Buddy said he was given opportunity at WVSU.

"If I did not achieve and become successful it was my fault," he said. "Those fathers, those mothers, ensured that I was going to be successful. 

"My fathers used to walk this place. If I did not achieve and become successful, it was my fault."

After sitting down with his family and receiving their input years later, Buddy decided on the gift of a scholarship to a deserving student in the 304 area code.

He also encouraged others to give once the time is right and the resources are available.

"Whatever you decide is valuable and it meets up to a time when you have resources and it is now a priority, pull the trigger." Buddy said. "Pull the trigger because I'm going to tell you something. I know when I leave here and over the next couple weeks, we're going to send a bunch to school. We're going to send them to school until they burn this place down."

In addition to the scholarship, Buddy's family name will be etched onto the stadium, fulfilling his college ambition.

Promoting planned giving

Patricia Schumann, vice president for university advancement and president of WVSU Foundation Inc., said although there aren't as many WVSU alumni giving back, the number more than doubled last year.

"We're really just developing a program here at State," she said. "We've always had loyal alumni who've given."

Important in getting the word out about planned giving is education and information awareness, she said.

Nick Oxley of A&F Financial Advisors LLC in Charleston said the planning aspect allows the donor flexibility and allows him or her to choose the asset that best meets his or her needs. Through planning, the donor is able to use the gift that best accomplishes his or her overall estate planning goals and allows the donor to give at the best time.

Why don't people take advantage of it?

"No one asks," Oxley said. "Seventy percent of donors that made a planned gift did so simply because they were asked. Talking about it and learning about it is the first step."

Or they get distracted.

"There are alumni who may not be very active during their lifetime," Schumann said. "They get busy with families and careers and they don't stay connected, but there's always this kernel of gratitude that can be expressed in a planned gift. But we have to invite them and it has to cross their mind."