Bethel University Foundation Celebrates 50 Years of Impact

For years, the Bethel Foundation has worked, often behind the scenes, to enhance the university’s ability to provide transformational Christ-centered education. In the year of its 50th anniversary, we reflect on its impact and imagine its future.

By Cherie Suonvieri '15, GS'21, content specialist

January 21, 2022 | 9 a.m.

Bethel University campus

The Bethel University Foundation was created to enhance the financial strength of the university.

“The foundation is really Bethel’s best kept secret,” says Angella Hjelle, executive director and corporate counsel for the Bethel Foundation. Since its creation, the foundation has contributed over $36,000,000 to the university to fund scholarships, construction projects, innovative initiatives, and more. It’s not meant to be a secret, though—and in its 50th year, we’re reflecting on the impact the foundation has made at Bethel. 

As an independent nonprofit, the Bethel Foundation receives, manages, and distributes funds donated through a variety of means, including gifts of cash, real estate, and securities. The foundation was created with the purpose of enhancing the financial strength of the university, and it currently manages more than $155,000,000 in trust assets, annuity funds, endowments, foundation-owned assets, the university’s defined benefit plan, and a donor advised fund. These funds have led to years of impact in the Bethel community in a variety of ways. 

Growing Strategically

One place the Bethel Foundation’s impact is evident is through its Strategic Growth Awards, a grant program created in 2017 focused on increasing Bethel’s enrollment and enhancing affordability. Since its inception, the program has awarded more than $900,000 for new university projects that may not have been realized without the foundation’s support. 

Thanks to the Strategic Growth Awards, the undergraduate admissions team has enhanced the campus visit experience through the addition of golf carts and personalized parking signs for admissions guests. They also expanded the BU Bucks reimbursement program to offer travel reimbursement for prospective students visiting from out of state. 

The Strategic Growth Award program also helped launch The 25, a new four-year cohort program to empower female Bethel students; it funded the purchase and installation of two digital monument signs on Bethel’s campus to help with wayfinding and branding; and it funded an initiative to eliminate textbook costs for certain academic programs. A full list of projects that have been made possible through the Strategic Growth Awards can be found on the foundation’s website

Applications for the 2022 Strategic Growth Awards are open now through March 1, 2022. This year, the foundation has approved $250,000 for Strategic Growth Awards, and up to $150,000 will be part of the open application process. Once those grants are awarded, the Bethel Foundation will have disbursed over $1,000,000 through the Strategic Growth Award program. 

Loading Gallery...

Giving Back

The Bethel Foundation is directed by its Board of Governors, a team of 18 individuals with a diverse array of skill sets. There are attorneys, real estate professionals, entrepreneurs, CPAs, actuaries—and all give their talents to assist with the Bethel Foundation’s activities. Under the leadership of the Board of Governors, Bethel's investments have consistently outperformed the market in recent years. 

Of the $36,000,000 given to Bethel through the foundation, $20,000,000 came from gifts made directly to the foundation, and $16,000,000 came from matured trust payouts. Those dollars have gone, in part, to support the Strategic Growth Awards, as well as supporting building funds to enhance Bethel’s campus, scholarship funds to boost the affordability of a Bethel education, and the Bethel Fund to support the university’s ability to provide transformative educational experiences.

In addition to donating their time and talents to oversee the foundation’s financial investments, many members of the Board of Governors also feel called to support the university through financial giving as well. In fact, the construction of Benson Great Hall was made possible in part by the first $1,000,000 donation received by the Bethel Foundation, which was gifted by a member of the Board of Governors. Two other board members contributed $500,000 to launch the Graduate School’s M.S. in Physician Assistant program. And from 2017 to 2020, the foundation saw more than $1,000,000 in gifts from the Board of Governors. 

Sustaining the Future

The impact of the Bethel University Foundation wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of donors who believe in Bethel’s mission. “Relationships are at the core of everything we do at the foundation,” Hjelle says. And a significant piece of those relationships is providing donors with personalized services to assist with the management and distribution of their assets. “We provide all the services that a trust department of a bank would, and we don't charge fees.”  

One donor the Bethel Foundation developed an impactful relationship with was alumnus and biochemist Ralph Holman ’37, who was known for his groundbreaking research on the omega-3 fatty acid. Holman and his wife Karla did their estate planning through the Bethel Foundation, arranging for the donation of trust funds, some of which went on to create the Ralph and Karla Holman Endowed Scholarship for chemistry and biochemistry students.  

The Holmans are just one example of donors who have taken advantage of Bethel’s estate planning services. “The foundation really is Bethel’s best kept secret, but it shouldn’t be,” Hjelle says. “I want more of our community and more of our constituents to take advantage of the phenomenal services that we offer.” 

While Hjelle believes there’s value in reflecting on the impact the Bethel Foundation has had over the years, she says they are continually focusing their vision on the future, with hopes to provide increased opportunity for donor activity and to continue to grow the assets of the foundation.   

“Over the past 50 years, the foundation has made a great impact,” Hjelle says. “Looking ahead to the future, we hope to see its impact multiply for all of its constituents—students, donors, staff, and faculty alike.”

Leave a lasting legacy.

The Bethel Foundation's fee-free estate planning services can help support your financial and charitable goals. Visit the foundation’s website to find out how our officers can assist with the management of trusts, non-cash gifts, charitable gifts, endowments, and more.

Learn more