As a person who studies and sometimes writes about philanthropy, I have occasionally been asked the difference between “giving back” and “paying forward.” Both are frequently cited by donors as their motivation for giving. Moreover, both are generally considered to be expressions of gratitude. Oftentimes, that sense of gratitude on the part of the donor is directed toward her or his alma mater, which helps to account for the billions of dollars given annually to U.S. colleges and universities by their alumni. This is an excellent example of “giving back.”
One of my favorite illustrations of the concept of “paying forward” is provided by the Rogers Educational Trust, which provides scholarship and loan funds to Kentucky students attending Centre College, Lindsey Wilson College and the University of Pikeville.
When he was a young man, Lon Rogers had wanted to attend Centre College but was unable to do so due to a lack of funds. Instead, he went to work and eventually became a very successful coal operator and businessman—but he never forgot how he had longed to attend college in his youth.
As a result, Lon Rogers’ will directed that a large portion of his estate create a trust that would provide scholarships for “worthy young men and boys who are residents of the state of Kentucky.” That was in 1946. Lon Rogers’ widow, Jessie Reynolds Rogers, shared in the administration of the trust’s funds until her death in 1966. Her estate established a similar trust for the benefit of college-going young women.
In 1989, the two trusts were combined to form the Lon Rogers and Jessie Reynolds Rogers Educational Trust. Since 1966, the Rogers Educational Trust has provided $11,161,496 in financial aid funds that have assisted some 726 students in attending Centre.
While Lon Rogers did not “pay back” Centre College, he did “pay forward” so that other young Kentuckians would not be denied the opportunity he had dreamed of when he was their age. Clearly, he was not a man who allowed himself to be embittered by the circumstances of his birth. Instead, he chose to create for others the opportunity that he had been denied.
Although he did not coin the phrase “Paying it Forward,” Ralph Waldo Emerson is often credited with the concept because of the following statement from his essay Compensation: “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”
submitted by Richard Trollinger, Vice President for College Relations
December 14, 2015
Trollinger is co-author, with John R. Thelin, of Philanthropy and American Higher Education, 2014.
Photo: Rogers Plaza, in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Lon Rogers, on the campus of Centre College