Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Q&A: The art of giving through the eyes of Foundation donors Chris and Tom Neilsen

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The PCC Foundation has reason to be excited.

A $280,000 gift from Tom and Chris Neilsen will provide hundreds of students with scholarships over the next 20 years. The gift, the first of its kind for PCC, will be invested as a limited term endowment to maximize the impact of the gift and provide between $10,000-$20,000 per year for PCC student scholarships.

Longtime PCC Foundation supporters, the couple owned Neilsen Manufacturing Inc., a Salem-based family business serving the high-tech industry. After retiring to Portland in 2007, Chris served on the PCC Foundation Board for five years and was appointed president for one of her terms. Today, she remains active with the philanthropic arm of the college and is a member of PCC Foundation’s new Emeritus Board.

The Portland couple sought a way to significantly increase the returns from their philanthropic investment. As opposed to a traditional endowment that provides an average four percent return forever, the Tom and Chris Neilsen Impact Fund will divest in 20 years, allowing the couple to see the benefit of larger awards over a shorter span of time.

“The Neilsen’s gift of education will change the lives of our students and their families for generations to come,” said Ann Prater, executive director of the PCC Foundation. “The impact will be enormous.”

The Neilsens count PCC among their top priorities and are strong proponents of the PCC Foundation’s Future Connect Program, which provides scholarships, in-depth advising and college success coaching to low-income and first-generation students.

The Neilsens count PCC among their top priorities and are strong proponents of the PCC Foundation’s Future Connect Program.

The Neilsens count PCC among their top priorities and are strong proponents of the PCC Foundation’s Future Connect Program, which provides scholarships, in-depth advising and college success coaching to low-income and first-generation students. Scholars are guided through college, all the way to completion of a certificate or degree.

We had an opportunity to sit down and chat with the couple to explore the reasons for their generosity, to inspire others to give and encourage students to apply for scholarships.

Why did you give this donation?

Neilsens: A very practical reason for making this gift at this time is that we have both reached the age at which you must take a required minimum distribution from your IRA. We have been supporters of the Future Connect and scholarship programs at PCC, and we decided that because that work is very important to us and to our community, we wanted to support it more deeply. We decided to make a longer term plan for use of our IRA distributions over the next several years to support PCC students.

Why is this generous donation so important to you?

Neilsens: We have been on the other side of the table and benefitted in our manufacturing business by being able to hire skilled employees. We know that local manufacturers continue to have more need than the workforce supplies in such areas as welding and advanced manufacturing. It’s good work that pays well. It’s a win for the student and a win for the business.

What makes you proud about donating to PCC Foundation?

Neilsens: Every student story is an inspiration. Both of us are humbled by the persistence and desire by PCC students to make their lives better. We are proud to support them in accomplishing their dreams. And we know that as they do that, they impact their own families and the community positively.

Why is Future Connect so important to invest in?

Neilsens: The Future Connect Program has obviously caught the attention of many because it provides a model for connecting with area high schools, providing support and encouragement to plan for college enrollment, and a bridge to accomplish that. Once enrolled, students have ongoing supportive relationships with Future Connect staff. Investing in Future Connect makes sense in providing opportunities to students who might not have those opportunities in four-year college settings, but beyond that, it ensures that a highly successful approach continues and grows.

How long have you given to the foundation?
A $280,000 gift from Tom and Chris Neilsen will provide hundreds of students with scholarships over the next twenty years.

A $280,000 gift from Tom and Chris Neilsen will provide hundreds of students with scholarships over the next 20 years.

Neilsens: To provide the greatest impact to the organizations closest to our heart, we focus our giving on supporting a very small number of organizations, and PCC is at the top of that short list.

For many years we have been donors to the community college in the area where we’ve lived — first in Salem, and now in Portland, because we believe community colleges are the absolute best investment. We believe Portland Community College is top-notch. Its mission of serving students who aim to transfer to four-year institutions and those looking to join the workforce, as well as partnering with area employers, is so compelling.

In this time of concern about student debt loads, being able to provide opportunities at a cost half that of the four-year institutions — and a fraction of the private institutions — makes attendance at a community college the best decision a student can make and scholarship support a great decision for a donor.

From a donor’s perspective, what would you tell young students about the benefit of receiving a scholarship?

Neilsens: Graduating with as little debt as possible allows you to make more choices about your future. Scholarships help you do that. In addition, a scholarship means someone believes in your possibilities and wants you to work hard to achieve them.

In this new political climate, how crucial is it for donors to give to foundations?

Neilsens: It is always crucial because funding priorities of the state are always under pressure. There is never a time when you can breathe easy about the future level of funding. So, Portland Community College joins the ranks of four-year universities and other community colleges in needing private philanthropy to help students.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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Comments

There are 9 comment for this article. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x by Sylvia Gray 1 week ago

Thank you for this inspiring and amazing support for our wonderful students!!!

x by Val Rudolph 1 week ago

This is wonderful, wonderful news! I agree: a community college is “Where-It’s-At”. I did a good bit of coursework at a big urban university in the past. Since my return to college at the age of 50, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the level of quality of instruction I’ve received here at Portland Community College. If I talk to anyone who’s considering the skilled trades, especially welding, I will refer them to PCC’ programs.
Thank you!

x by Quang 1 week ago

Thanks for your kindness.

x by Lauren Peoples 1 week ago

Thank you for your generous and much needed support for PCC and PCC low income students. With tuition rising and the unforeseen future of our education system, your donation is heart felt and will serve so many future students. You’re generosity is an awesome legacy to PCC, and making sure education continues.

You Rock!

x by Yan 1 week ago

Thank you for helping us to success.

x by Jun 1 week ago

Although I might not be the beneficiaries,
Thank you very much!

x by Pam Blumenthal 1 week ago

Thank you Chris and Tom for being wonderful champions for students and PCC!

x by Desiree Jones 1 week ago

God Bless you and your husband, going to PCC Cascade has been a great experience and it is fowlkes like you are awesome thank you once again.

x by Chloe Sellers 1 week ago

Thank you, Neilsons! Your ongoing support offers people something that would otherwise be unattainable, and we are all so very grateful.

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