It may not seem like a 6-foot-2-inch CEO and avid sports fan from Phoenix would have a whole lot in common with a Tucson philanthropist who stands just above 5 feet tall and loves attending dance performances (or Science lectures).
Yet Jeff Stevens and Sarah Smallhouse have a lot more in common than meets the eye – most notably a passion for promoting and advancing the University of Arizona through generous time and financial commitments.
Because of their dedication, Stevens and Smallhouse were asked to serve as co-chairs for the UA's Arizona Now fundraising campaign. The campaign, which aims to raise $1.5 billion in gifts and commitments, is the largest fundraising campaign in the University's history.
Arizona Now has three main areas of giving, which are enhancing the student experience, supporting innovative thinkers like faculty and researchers, and expanding the UA's reach, including improving the UA experience for community members in Arizona and around the world. Funds will go toward supporting the UA's Never Settle strategic plan initiatives, which aim to advance UA research, boost the state's economy and provide real-world experiences to all students. The UA has already raised $859 million through donations that came in before the campaign's public phase. (Read more about the Arizona Now campaign in this UANews article and see highlights from the launch in this video.)
In the days leading up to the April 11 launch of the Arizona Now campaign, Stevens and Smallhouse bonded over their belief that the UA has much to offer on a local, state and global scale.
"We are polar opposites in so many ways," Stevens said. "But I think that's what makes Sarah and I such a great team. I'm very excited about the role of co-chair. I feel like our goals are very achievable. It's going to take a lot of work, but I think we've got the right people in the right places to make it successful."
As co-chairs, Stevens and Smallhouse will serve as spokespeople for the UA during the course of the campaign and serve as the face of the campaign alongside UA President Ann Weaver Hart.
"We wanted co-chairs who could lead by example and be credible," said James H. Moore Jr., president and chief executive officer of the UA Foundation, a comprehensive development program that generated more than $151 million in private gift and grant support for the University last fiscal year.
Stevens is president and CEO of Western Refining and Western Refining Logistics, based in El Paso, Texas. In 2009, Stevens and his wife, Sharon, gifted $10 million to Arizona Athletics, which was the single largest gift in the history of UA athletics.
Stevens said he's motivated to give back to the UA to make a difference for future generations of Wildcats. The Arizona Now campaign is the perfect opportunity to highlight some of the outstanding people and programs that make the UA so unique, he said.
"My time and my wife's time at the UA was very special to us," Stevens said. "I think it's important for us to give back because we received so much when we were there." Stevens met his wife at the UA in the 1980s while he was pursuing his bachelor's degree in communication.
Moore said he feels Stevens was a perfect choice to help lead a campaign that will take the UA to another level of excellence.
"He's a hands-on guy, he loves to win and he wants to be successful," Moore said. "He is willing to go out and be an active champion to try to get others to follow. That is going to be important for us in this campaign, having somebody who is willing to really get in the trenches with us."
Smallhouse is no stranger to the philanthropic trenches, either. She is the daughter of Thomas Brown, who launched and sold the technology company Burr-Brown Corp. and established the family's commitment to philanthropy.
In addition to serving as the Arizona Now campaign co-chair, Smallhouse is also chair of the UA Foundation's board of trustees and is on the Thomas R. Brown Foundation's board of trustees. The Brown Foundation has supported multiple UA colleges and departments through endowments in areas including engineering, business and science, and in support of various aspects of campus life including scholarships, research, faculty and the new engineering innovation building.
"Sarah is extremely well-connected in this community," Moore said. "She also has a tremendous rapport with a number of deans and faculty members on campus. She, her sister Mary and several of her Brown Foundation board members have been actively involved with a variety of campus programs and colleges for years."
To be an innovation company at the very leading edge of technology is not an easy thing, and a lot of the engineers that worked in the company came out of the UA, Smallhouse said.
"The way I look at being co-chair of the campaign, this is all icing on the cake," Smallhouse said. "This is the really fun stuff. It's about digging into what's happening on campus, making new friends, learning about research and getting to explore with potential donors about where their interests might align. I'm a people person, and the whole proposition is exciting to me."