Out of the Blue: Quiet Man’s $4M Donation Makes Good Nonprofit Lesson

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September 5, 2016, Time

Librarian Robert Morin spent nearly 50 years helping students at the University of New Hampshire’s Dimond Library find the right books. Day after day since graduating from the school in 1963, Morin worked as a cataloguer at the library. He lived alone. He drove a 1992 Plymouth, ate Fritos at work for breakfast and frozen dinners at home, and spent (from the look of his clothes) nothing on himself. He died last year at age 77. He left the school his life savings: $4 million.

Morin thought that the money he earned and then invested through the years would one day do the students of UNH more good than it would himself. The gift is unrestricted except for $100,000 to be dedicated to scholarships for the library’s work-study students and the renovation of one of the library’s multimedia rooms. That size gift could have probably gotten a building on the UNH campus named after him. The gift was given quietly, posthumously. The school, unbidden, engraved his name on a stone bench.

UNH President Mark Huddleston said in a statement that, “As an alumnus, Bob would be pleased to know that a majority of his estate, $2.5 million, will help to launch an expanded and centrally located career center for our students and alumni.” Another $1 million of his gift will provide the school with a new video scoreboard for the university’s new football stadium. Moran spent most of his time watching televised football games at an assisted living center where he spent the final 15 months of his life.

When Moran put his mind to something, he was resolute. From 1979 to 1997, he reportedly watched more than 22,000 video movies. He then set out to read every book published in the U.S. from 1930 to 1940. “At the time of his death, he had reached 1,938, the year of his birth.”

Morin likely never worried about his legacy. But the selflessness of his bequest captured the attention of Time, CBS, Boston Magazine and the Boston Globe, to name a few of the major news outlets.

Love inspired this gift. We are told that Morin was recognizable on campus for his pipe smoking, slight height, hunched back, and having to walk with an elevated shoe. We learn that that library staff watched after him, and when he fell ill, they drove him wherever he needed to go. “He loved talking with students, especially the students who worked at the library.”

We seldom learn of such gifts, so they are news when they happen. Here is an NPQ story about a volunteer who bequeathed a surprising seven-figure gift to the Detroit Institute of the Arts. This donor had been an art teacher in Detroit public schools her entire career.

This NPQ newswire could be received as a story about planned giving. This story could be regarded as a reminder to those of us who do major gift fundraising to treat everyone with sincere respect. This story could be read simply as a welcome break from the cynicism that can creep into our news feeds and work. If Morin were alive, he would probably be embarrassed by the attention and hope that we would simply take from this story the joy in having and imparting a generosity of spirit.—James Schaffer

  • Mrovira

    A generous alum, devoted to the library, gives a huge gift and the university spends 1/4 of it on a video scoreboard for the football stadium. Is anyone else appalled by this?

    • ruth

      not really, since apparently he also spent a good deal of time watching football in the place where he ended his days.

      • jpenry

        I agree. He left the gift mostly unrestricted. I’m guessing he loved the school and not just the library.

    • Scott Dixon

      No I am not appalled by it. Universities’ sports programs provide scholarships for other worthy students, very few of whom will have the opportunity to play on Sundays when their collegiate career is over. It’s great exposure for the university and he was a huge football fan! What’s appalling?

    • Sharon Charters

      given that there seems to be no shortage of donors for sports related programs it does seem to be a little strange that the money wasn’t used to support the library or literacy initiatives at the university