Published on December 2, 2010 by Philip Poole  

Take one motivated donor. Add an astute accountant and a willing university. That equation equals a transformational gift to Samford University.

The donor: former Samford student-athlete and current trustee Pete Hanna. Hanna had made a multimillion-dollar pledge to the university several years ago that would be paid in full as part of his estate plan.

The situation: Last spring, his personal accountant suggested that Hanna might benefit from paying part of the pledge early. A conversation with W. Randall Pittman, Samford’s vice president for advancement, confirmed that the university would be grateful for the early payment and would readily adjust the terms of the pledge in conjunction with the accountant.

The result: The largest single cash gift by a living donor in Samford history. Hanna’s unexpected early pledge payment in June helped Samford to end the 2009–10 fiscal year with a positive cash flow. Additional pledge payments are scheduled in the future.

“The pledge was worrying me,” Hanna said recently. “I saw it as a debt that I owed, but I knew that I would never see it paid off the way the pledge and my estate plan were set up.”

Hanna knew that the payment would, in his words, “solve a lot of problems for me and for Samford. It was a no-brainer decision. Now, I get to enjoy the fact that I was able to see personal tax benefits, but, most important, help the university at a difficult time with its cash flow.”

Pittman confirmed Hanna’s assessment.

“The overall economic climate has been tough for everyone, not just Samford,” Pittman said. “We are committed to being good stewards of the resources we receive, but Pete’s gift allowed us to end the year without having to rely on endowment to ensure a balanced budget.”

Pittman also noted the historical significance of Hanna’s gift and the opportunity for the university to celebrate with the donor.

“Because Pete decided to give now rather than through his estate, he can enjoy the fruits of his generosity, and we can celebrate with him,” Pittman said. “It has been rare in Samford history for us to receive multimillion-dollar gifts that were not related to estates.”

Hanna’s gift continues a pattern of strong commitment to Samford that dates to his high school days. The son of a Birmingham industrialist and military officer, Hanna was admitted to Samford because of the friendship between his father and their neighbor, Howard College President Harwell G. Davis.

“Major Davis helped me to get into college,” Hanna said. “I got to play football, which I wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else. I also got to live at home, where my mama would do my laundry.”

Hanna remembers that the old East Lake campus “was in bad shape.” Plans already were underway to relocate the college to the present campus Homewood, which he describes as “a very good thing.” Hanna was a student when the campus moved, and he was on the first football team to play in what is now Seibert Stadium.

Hanna cited professors like William Pratt Dale in history and Lizette Van Gelder in English for having a “major imprint on my maturity from a child to an adult. They took an interest in us as individuals and always were ready to help us.”

He supports Samford today because he sees it as a university “that has stayed true to its moral compass” and its Christian mission.

“The students at Samford are at least a notch above others,” he said. “At Samford, we’re educating persons who will be an asset to society and have a chance to contribute to society.”

That’s what he would tell others who might be interested in supporting Samford.

“People can’t do any better with their money than to support Samford. And, giving to Samford certainly won’t get you in trouble with the Lord!” he added. “People will be blessed by supporting Samford, and Samford is blessed because of the people who support it.”

Editor's note: This story first appeared in the recent special edition of Seasons magazine featuring the 2010 President's Report. 



Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.