Nov 18 2016

Largest Single Gift in UM History Supports Conservation, Global Leadership

On Nov. 18, the Montana University System Board of Regents approved the naming of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation and the Franke Global Leadership Initiative in honor of Bill and Carolyn Franke and their family’s transformative $24 million gift to the University of Montana.

Directed toward UM’s nationally recognized College of Forestry and Conservation and the Global Leadership Initiative, this is the largest single donation the University has ever received.

“We are both humbled and affirmed by the Frankes’ thoughtful investment in UM,” said UM President Royce Engstrom. “The ongoing work of the College of Forestry and Conservation and Global Leadership Initiative will have a profound impact on our future.”

The Franke family members are not UM alumni but have a deep appreciation for Montana. They believe strongly in the power of education, the importance of conservation and instilling a global perspective in today’s students. Over the course of the past decade, the family has developed a strong relationship with UM.

Bill Franke is the managing partner and founder of Indigo Partners, a private equity firm focused on worldwide investments in air transportation, and former CEO of several public companies, including America West Airlines. During his early career in the timber industry, Bill drove the Hi-Line and fell in love with the Big Sky Country. He and his wife, Carolyn, divide time between Texas and Arizona but have owned a home near Bigfork, Montana, since the 1990s, maintaining their connection to the beautiful forests, rivers and lakes of western Montana.

For the past eight summers, a UM faculty member or alum has been invited to speak to a group of the Frankes’ business partners during their annual Indigo Partners company retreat in Montana.

“As we became familiar with the educational opportunities, research and special programs at the University of Montana, it was clear to us the University is a hidden gem,” Bill Franke said.

“It is our expectation that the College of Forestry and Conservation’s work will help keep Montana the beautiful place that it is. And we are believers that the Global Leadership Initiative will train students to look beyond their own experiences and home geography to recognize that we live in a global economy.”

The decision to invest in UM was a family endeavor involving Bill and Carolyn’s five children: Dave, who oversees the family office, Franke and Company; Brian, a principal at Indigo Partners; Paige and Catherine, who are both educators; and Rebecca.

“Our family has been very fortunate in life,” said Dave, noting that his father’s education was a catalyst for the family’s achievements. “To create that same opportunity for a student – to fuel a desire to create their own success – that’s our ambition.”

The Frankes’ gift is focused on students and programs that emphasize environmental research and hands-on learning experiences. Eighteen million dollars of the gift will fuel education and research in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, providing competitive fellowship awards to faculty and graduate students, funding for undergraduates to learn about conservation through study abroad and service learning projects, and scholarships for both graduate and undergraduate students. It will also fund two faculty positions in forest conservation and watershed hydrology and support students doing internships related to their majors.

Six million dollars will fund scholarships for Franke Global Leadership Initiative students pursuing educational experiences outside of the classroom including internships, service learning, study abroad, research and field experiences. Additionally, the gift will support critical staffing and operations to continue building the program. UM’s Global Leadership Initiative is a four-year, 12-credit certificate program that provides undergraduate students opportunities to explore society’s most pressing questions by combining local and global practical experiences with classroom education.

“We have been very impressed by the UM students we have met,” Carolyn said. “I am confident that there are students and faculty at this University who will help improve lives.”

The family has a strong history of philanthropy and has been longtime supporters of the Sojourner Center, a shelter for abused women and children in Phoenix; the United Way; education initiatives in India; and many other charities. The Frankes have also made donations to the law and business programs at Stanford, where Bill received his bachelor’s and law degree, and to Northern Arizona University to establish the W.A. Franke College of Business.

Their gift to UM is in the form of an endowment, which will be fully funded in up to seven years, to ensure a continued impact on students and research in perpetuity.

To watch a live stream of the associated press conference, visit