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The Man with a Plan

Ad Man Allen Hawley, Class of 1916, rewrote the rules of fundraising when he created the Pomona Plan.

In 1949, when Allen Hawley, Class of 1916, was a fundraising administrator at Pomona College, he answered a local group’s request for biographical information on himself. In a letter, Hawley highlighted the pertinent details of his youth and his career.

“It’s not much of a life story,” he summarized, “but it’s a thrilling life to me.”

Not much of a life story? Consider: The man grew up on a turn-of-the-century California ranch, was expelled at least once from high school, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Pomona, then attended the Harvard Graduate School of Business until dropping out to volunteer as an ambulance driver in France serving the wounded during World War I. After the war he worked in Hollywood as an assistant director at the Fox movie studio.

And we haven’t even covered the best part. Hawley returned to his alma mater in 1938, and his contributions over the next 24 years played a key role in the College’s rise. Launching what would later come to be known as the Pomona Plan, Hawley pioneered a game-changing vehicle in the world of educational fundraising. At the heart of what he hatched was this: a new kind of charitable-giving program in which the College, in essence, manages a donor’s money in return for a financial gift released to Pomona after the donor dies; the contributor earns a tax break and regular payments for the rest of his or her life.

So years later, when it came time to put Pomona’s new fundraising plan out into the world, Hawley knew from experience the best way to spread the message—especially to those outside the Pomona family. (He had been instructed by the College not to solicit alumni or parents for such financial gifts for fear of simply diverting away more traditional annual donations.)

How Hawley marketed the fundraising plan is another unique part of his legacy. He turned to newspaper advertising—something viewed at the time as almost sacrilegious in academia.

Consider Hawley’s life story in this context: When he toiled in Tinseltown, working on Western serials, he helped craft fictional vehicles—but the Pomona College story is a real one, and Hawley is a central figure in its telling.

Scholarly and Stylish

Those who knew Allen Hawley described him as a quiet and modest man. He had a distinguished manner and enjoyed col- lecting first-edition books. He also liked to look good. The fundraising whiz wore a natty suit and tie to work, and donned a hat—indeed, a Borsalino, the stylish Italian brand.

However, Hawley, who died in 1978 at the age of 85, didn’t fit a predictable profile. The dignified, scholarly man had a weakness for tobacco and a salty sense of humor. He was shy and intensely private (almost nothing is known of his personal relationships beyond the fact that he married a woman in 1922 and the union apparently ended in divorce), yet he thrived on cold calls to potential donors and reached out so attentively to members of the Pomona community that a good friend referred to him as the “Mother Hen” to students and alumni.

“As with many unusual men, different people could see different sides to him,” the late Pomona Philosophy Professor Fred Sontag once said of Hawley, whose last 10 years at Pomona (1952 to 1962) coincided with Sontag’s first 10.

A Pioneer’s Roots

The Pomona Plan pioneer grew up on a ranch in rural El Cajon near San Diego. He graduated from San Diego High School, but “not without an expulsion or two,” as he later recalled (though he never gave a reason for such disciplinary actions). After high school came an education of another kind: Hawley’s father required him to work on the family ranch, performing grueling tasks at the discretion of the ranch foreman. The experience provided great motivation, Hawley wrote nearly 40 years later:

“After a year of this fate I decided anything would be better than ranching, and certainly the offer of going away to college was inviting.”

So the young man enrolled at Pomona. (“Fortunately, the entrance requirements were not very high in those days.”) Though shy, Hawley was a leader, elected as Pomona’s student body president his senior year. After his war service and three-year stint in Hollywood, he went into the newspaper business, joining the advertising staff of William Randolph Hearst’s Los Angeles Examiner. The career move would prove critical to his later success at Pomona.

The Ad Man Flourishes

Hawley’s life story was chronicled by William B. Dunseth, who came to Pomona in 1959 to work for the fundraising maven. When Hawley retired in 1962, Dunseth became director of the Annuity and Life Income Program. For his 1994 book on his former boss, Dunseth interviewed many people who knew and worked with Hawley, including a former colleague at the Los Angeles Examiner. The man said Hawley had a real talent for the newspaper ad work, describing him as “a dynamic salesman” who wrote clever ads and had a knack for selling advertising space and nabbing new clients.

So years later, when it came time to put Pomona’s new fundraising plan out into the world, Hawley knew from experience the best way to spread the message—especially to those outside the Pomona family. (He had been instructed by the College not to solicit alumni or parents for such financial gifts for fear of simply diverting away more traditional annual donations.)

“I couldn’t resist using some of the [same] principles of advertising here as I did in the newspaper world,” Hawley said, according to Dunseth’s book.

It wouldn’t be easy, though. The idea of higher learning institutions advertising for financial contributions was viewed as unseemly. Thus, Hawley’s marketing method raised the hackles of the academic community, especially East Coast universities. (Dunseth wrote that a former fundraiser for just such a school told him, “It is uncouth for this little college out West to advertise for money.”)

Even Pomona’s “academicians resisted heartily” when Hawley initiated the newspaper concept, he recalled. Yet when the strategy proved lucrative, those objections suddenly didn’t seem so important.

“They melted when we started getting results,” Hawley said.

The Pomona Plan Emerges

Hawley came to Pomona in 1938 as the school’s new public relations director. In the mid-’40s, uncertain about student enrollment in the war’s aftermath, Pomona intensified fundraising efforts to cover potential deficits in the next few years. Hawley became its go-to guy.

For years, friends and neighbors had been asking Hawley investment questions. “Allen was well known in the little town of Claremont not only as a man of great financial acumen but of great financial integrity,” says Kent Warner ’66, former director of Pomona’s Annuity and Trust Office (now called Trusts and Estates). Warner worked for many years with Howard C. Metzler, who preceded Warner as director of Annuities and Trusts. Warner says Metzler passed on many affectionate stories about Hawley, including one recounting a time Hawley was walking down the streets of Claremont and two widows approached him. Turns out they wanted him to manage the inheritances their late husbands had left them.

With the new fundraising plan Hawley conceived in the mid-’40s, the College would in effect provide free money management for individuals in exchange for their philanthropic contribution. The beneficiaries received income for the rest of their lives, and then upon their deaths the financial gift was re- leased to the College. This kind of agreement provides donors with sizable tax deductions while allowing them to feel good about contributing money toward the future of young people.

These elements represented the core concept of the much-imitated Pomona Plan. (Dunseth points out that Hawley actually developed the program with three other men who worked at or with Pomona, including prominent Los Angeles attorney William B. Himrod, Class of 1908; however, Hawley was the day-to-day driving force behind the plan’s emergence.) In 1946, the College received approval of its financing concept from the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS ruled the plan was acceptable—and Hawley was off and running, free now to start offering the “Life Income Plan” to prospective donors.

Frank Minton, a national expert on charitable giving, says Pomona was the first college to develop this kind of plan, where the school acts as a trustee and the donor gains tax benefits and life income.

“They were the first out the door,” says Minton, who established the planned-giving program at the University of Washington and co-authored what is widely regarded as the bible in his field, Charitable Gift Annuities: The Complete Resource Manual.

Advertising in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, Hawley played up the tax benefits, knowing that would be a key appeal to the Journal’s financially-savvy readers. Drawing these people into the plan expanded the College’s donor base. As the Chronicle of Philanthropy put it in 1989: “Throughout its life, the so-called Pomona Plan has followed a highly unusual marketing strategy: trying, through newspaper advertisements, to turn wealthy strangers into friends of the college. The logic has been that Pomona can offer older people the chance to support a good cause and to get paid for doing so.”

The promotional campaign, as Professor Sontag noted, “reached people this little college in the orange belt of the California desert would otherwise never have touched.”

(By the early ’50s, Pomona was hearing from colleges requesting brochures and tips, and a 1953 Time Magazine article on the topic mentioned the College.)

Hawley felt very strongly about the writing of the ads. He wouldn’t let anyone else pen them and was meticulous about all manner of details, including grammar and punctuation, according to Dunseth’s book. His exacting standards could make him an intimidating colleague, added the author—apparently drawing on firsthand experience.

“A visit to his office to explain an action of which he didn’t approve or to be handed a letter for re-writing was not to be anticipated with enthusiasm. He was exceptionally polite and seldom displayed anger, but his ‘righteous coolness’ on those occasions didn’t make the experience a happy one.”

Pomona’s Prosperity

Ultimately, Hawley’s efforts led to many millions of dollars coming Pomona’s way over the years, money that helped erect campus buildings and pay for world-class teachers, among other benefits to the College.

The Pomona Plan became a model for deferred-giving programs, which are now the norm at most institutions of higher education. Not only colleges benefitted: Many different charitable organizations use a form of what Hawley started.

“In the 1980s, many other charities adopted Allen Hawley’s outline, and now every charity you hear advertising or soliciting is benefitting from his inspiration,” says Robin Trozpek, the current director of the Pomona Plan.

Adds Minton: “Pomona had a lot of influence beyond its campus.”

 Just how much has the Pomona Plan meant to Pomona? Financial figures tell part of the story. Since the fundraising plan was kicked off in the ’40s, Pomona has amassed a whopping $216 million in life-income agreements, and more than $172 million of those deferred funds have been released to the College, according to statistics from the Trusts and Estates Office. There’s another factor in the equation as well: the amount Pomona currently manages on behalf of beneficiaries.It’s about $140 million, which is significantly higher than the sum of $216 million minus $172 million; the number reflects how the assets on hand have appreciated.

Of course, the Pomona Plan has grown more sophisticated and elaborate since Hawley’s time. A Forbes magazine article this summer touted Pomona’s offerings: “Its payouts are so generous that half of the annuities it sells are to non-alumni.” The plan now has a number of different variations, and Howard Metzler, longtime director who died in 2012, is credited with playing a big role in its progress.

Still, Hawley’s lessons and methods carried on with his successors. At the top of the list: “The personal visit was the heart and soul of Hawley’s marketing program,” according to Kent Warner.

Hawley, who was Pomona’s vice president of development his last eight years working at the school, knew the best way to reach a potential donor was through conversation, in person. One reason is that it played to his strong suit—Hawley was a very persuasive salesman, say those who knew him. But selling Pomona was never about pitching product for him. He genuinely loved the school. In fact, Hawley maintained the primary goal of his ads was getting readers to visit the Pomona campus because he knew the school would sell itself.

After his death—in a nursing home in Hemet, Calif.—Allen Hawley was buried in Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont. The only marker at the gravesite, according to Dunseth, is a simple, flat bronze plate. It reads: “Allen F. Hawley, 1893-1978.” The bare-bones wording is in stark contrast to the streams of praise uttered about Hawley over the years. His influence on the enduring success of Pomona is profound.

Leave it to Fred Sontag, the longest-serving faculty member in Pomona’s history, to put Hawley’s achievements in the proper philosophical perspective. After Hawley died, Sontag paid tribute to his former colleague at a meeting of the Pomona faculty.

“As a teacher, I am bound to affirm that good colleges are made of teachers and talented students,” said Sontag, who taught in Pomona’s Philosophy Department from 1952 to 2009. “As a human being, I know in fact that all great colleges are built on the quantities of money needed to support what is exceptional.

“In that sense, Allen Hawley had as much or more to do with what Pomona is today as any faculty member. It is hard to exaggerate what he did to secure the college we currently enjoy.”