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At 33 years old, Jay Collier isn’t the kind of person who comes to mind when you think of a philanthropist with the vision or means to help build the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art or create a named need-based fund for promising students at the VCU School of Business. Only nine years have passed since Collier earned his undergraduate degree at VCU in Finance. Yet when opportunities arose to make meaningful investments in his hometown community of Richmond, through his alma mater, he jumped at the opportunity.

Collier will be the first to admit that he became a noteworthy VCU donor the same way he became a successful Richmond real estate developer. He looked to the example of regional leaders and he hustled.

Leveraging the power of corporate matching gift programs

At the time of his initial gifts to VCU, Collier was employed by not one – but two – companies with corporate matching gift programs. One company even offered a two-for-one match. These circumstances powerfully multiplied Collier’s initial $5,000 gift. Though he now works for himself, additional planned investments over the next three years will swell his “Commonwealth Opportunity Fund” to $25,000, bringing his total VCU contributions to nearly $40,000. His most recent gift will support students at the VCU School of Business.

A fund to help promising business students play in the big leagues

“As a student, I had an interest in very specific areas of Finance – investment banking, private equity, hedge funds, sales and trading,” Collier says. “The purpose of this fund is to give a powerful boost to finance students who have global aspirations and want to pursue these high-performance careers.

“The concept for this fund is two-fold: First, we’re developing curriculum – a survey course – for people who want to work in the highest levels of finance to truly understand how to navigate their options. The second part is to provide guidance and funding for exceptional students who lack the connections and resources to secure the internships that are essential to achieve top finance jobs on Wall Street and other global financial centers. The fund could fly them to New York or Chicago to interview or help them pay rent during a summer internship. It’s intended to give the brightest VCU business students the financial backing needed to play in the big leagues.”

Philanthropic business vision inspired by the arts

Interestingly, it was Collier’s association with the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art that reinforced his vision for what a fund such as his might accomplish. After learning about the ICA in the newspaper in 2013, he immediately contacted VCU to offer his support. “I’m in real estate. I like to invest and grow and build things. I don’t consider myself artistic, but I saw instantly that the ICA was the best thing we had going on in the city. If it brings Richmond up a level, that’s good for everyone.”

 Following his initial gift to the ICA, Collier became directly involved in ICA fundraising. Those efforts resulted in him mingling with VCUarts MFA graduate Tara Donovan at an ICA fundraising event in New York City’s famed Pace Gallery.

“Tara Donovan is a blue-chip artist – a true VCU success story. I was standing next to her in Pace Gallery, a space full of the finest art in the world, including work that she had created, and I was thinking how VCU’s top-ranked art school had been an incubator for her talent.

“Here was someone who had taken the resources of VCU and made the most of them to play at the art world’s highest level. If you take that logic and you ‘copy and paste’ it into the School of Business, I would hope that someday, in maybe 15 years, I’m sitting at dinner with somebody who was the recipient of the funds I’ve put up for deserving students who are ‘the best of the best.’ Maybe that seed money helped them get that pivotal internship and they ultimately got a really great job and they are doing well for themselves and are in a position to do good for others, including giving back to the VCU School of Business. That’s the vision I have. And when that moment occurs, and I believe that it will, it will be quite rewarding.”

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