Success Through the Kindness of Others


Robert S. Nelsen, who became Sacramento State's eighth permanent president on July 1, 2015, grew up poor on the Montana cattle ranch that his father bought after saving enough money while working three jobs. His family had horses but could afford only one saddle, so young Robert worked cattle bareback—until a kind family friend showed up with the gift of Calamity Jane's saddle.

That saddle is now the centerpiece of Nelsen's office at Sacramento State—and a symbol of his commitment to students.

"I keep it here for three reasons," Nelsen says. "It breaks the ice when someone comes into the president's office, and I don't want to be (perceived as) as a stodgy president. More importantly, it reminds me of the students and the struggles they have. It's a reminder that we succeed because of the kindness of others, and we have the responsibility to give back."

Nelsen made his first visit to Sacramento State in spring 2015. He and his wife, Jody, fell in love with the campus, and he knew this is where he wanted to be.

"You could say it was because of the trees, but it really wasn't. It was seeing the students and the possibilities, seeing the diversity. This is the seventh-most diverse university in the West. Seeing so many Latino students warmed my heart, because I'm coming from a place that's 89 percent Hispanic," says Nelsen, who is fluent in Spanish (and reads French).

"Seeing the Asian American students. Seeing the African American students. Seeing the Caucasian students. Seeing them mingle together—and knowing what that diversity could do. Diversity makes us stronger, and I see the chance here to create true leaders."

At Sacramento State, Nelsen will work to improve graduation and retention rates, and reduce students' time to degree. "And," he says, "I love our mission statement, which is: 'As California's capital university, we transform lives by preparing students for leadership, service, and success.'"

He and his wife, Jody, are also leading by example and helping to transform lives by designating Sacramento State as a beneficiary of their life insurance plan. "We are proud to be part of Sacramento State's Legacy Circle and hope to establish support for students similar to what we did at UTPA."

UTPA had a high percentage of low-income students, so Nelsen pushed for the creation of a food bank for the students, and he and his wife created an emergency fund in the name of their son, Seth, who took his life.

"We set up an endowment for emergencies—maybe for a car breaking down, not having money for rent, maybe just for food, and I hope we can establish something like that at Sacramento State in my son's name," he says. "Creating an endowment is important so that student support will be there well into the future."

Aiming to 'Transform Lives' as Sac State President

At Sacramento State, Nelsen plans to lead an effort to raise private funds for both a new science building and an events center, as well as raise money to renovate older buildings. The Nelsens plan to host small dinner parties for donors at their home and large fundraisers at the University's Julia Morgan House. They have also committed their own funds through their estate plan to support the students.

"As a university president, you really can transform lives," Nelsen says. "Everything you do makes a difference. I get to help the faculty transform lives. I make it easier for them to do their job, and they do a great job. And every time I look out there and see a student walk by, I know the reason I come to work every day."

He is committed to ensuring that Sacramento State's students graduate with less debt and have jobs waiting when they finish school. He wants them to become lifelong learners and critical thinkers. And he has big dreams for Sacramento State itself:

"This is a great University, but a lot of people don't know that. I think that Made at Sac State is a brilliant campaign, and now we've got to do a lot more branding for the University. That's one of my highest priorities," he says. "It's about making Sacramento State even better than it is."

Make Sac State Better for Future Students

You can make a gift in your estate plan to support Sac State students. Contact Lora L. Hollingsworth at (916) 278-6115 or to learn more.


This article contains excerpts from article written by Dixie Reid. To read the full introduction to President Robert Nelsen and Jody Nelsen please click here.

eBrochure Request Form

Please provide the following information to view the brochure.

First name is required
Last Name is required
Please include an '@' in the email address

A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to Sacramento State a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan

"I give to Sacramento State, a nonprofit corporation currently located at 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819-6030, or its successor thereto, ______________ [written amount or percentage of the estate or description of property] for its unrestricted use and purpose."

able to be changed or cancelled

A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.

cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation

the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid

a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will

the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will

A donor advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to the University Foundation or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.

An endowed gift can create a new endowment or add to an existing endowment. The principal of the endowment is invested and a portion of the principal’s earnings are used each year to support our mission.

Tax on the growth in value of an asset—such as real estate or stock—since its original purchase.

Securities, real estate or any other property having a fair market value greater than its original purchase price.

Real estate can be a personal residence, vacation home, timeshare property, farm, commercial property or undeveloped land.

You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the potential tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.

You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to the University Foundation as a lump sum.

You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to the University Foundation as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

A charitable gift annuity involves a simple contract between you and the University Foundation where you agree to make a gift to the University Foundation and we, in return, agree to pay you (and someone else, if you choose) a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.

Personal Estate Planning Kit Request Form

Please provide the following information to view the materials for planning your estate.

First name is required
Last Name is required
Please include an '@' in the email address