Rob and Donna Manning’s $10 Million Gift Will ‘Permanently Help’ Their Alma Mater

Rob and Donna Manning

By Bryce T. Hoffman

The lockdown affected everybody. But not equally.

Rob and Donna Manning will be the first to tell you it made them much richer. With federal policies enacted to support the economy, Rob Manning did what smart traders do. He bought low and sold high, to the tune of millions of dollars in profit, sometimes in a single day. 

After all, Manning knew how to do this. He had already made his fortune across a nearly four-decade career with MFS Investment Management. He will retire in the spring as executive chairman, having built MFS into one of the largest money managers in the world. 

Stuck at home like everyone else, the Mannings watched the news grow bleaker. Overflowing hospitals. Surging unemployment. A growing death toll. They knew families all over the Commonwealth and the world were falling behind and breaking apart. 

“We felt totally guilty that we had this massive windfall when all these other people were hurting,” Rob Manning said in a recent meeting of the Manning School of Business Advisory Board. “We both looked at each other and said, ‘We’re giving this money away.’”

Before the Delta variant had even begun to relax its grip, the Mannings had delivered their biggest gift yet to education: $50 million, paid all at once, and targeted to specific initiatives across the entire UMass system. 

Lowell’s $10 million share, combined with a $5 million institutional match, will establish five endowed professorships in their namesake Manning School of Business. It also makes the Mannings the largest cash contributors in the university’s history at more than $20 million in lifetime giving. In honor of this gift, the university will name the Health and Social Sciences Building for Donna Manning.

“It’s one thing to put your name on an institution, but you want to make it better and better and better,” says UMass President Martin T. Meehan. “It’s something that is going to permanently help us. Rob and Donna wouldn’t do it if they didn’t believe in the university.”

Rob Manning ’84, ’11 (H) and Donna Manning ’85, ’91, ’11 (H) have expressed their belief in UMass Lowell many times over the years in speeches, interviews, small groups and one-on-one with other alumni and friends of the university. Part of what motivates them, they have said, is a desire to coax other potential donors to do more.

"This Is Home to Us”

David Ameen ’84 has known the Mannings for their entire adult lives. He met Rob fresh out of high school when they both had jobs in Methuen, Massachusetts, pumping gasoline at a Shell station. The friendship blossomed across their time at UMass Lowell and as professional peers. They consider each other family.

Ameen, who has had his own successful career in financial services and is a past member of the Manning School of Business advisory board, says the Mannings have never forgotten where they came from.  

“We’re all cut from the same cloth, growing up with nothing,” he says. “They do what is the right thing to do. As much as they share their treasure, they also share of themselves. Their legacy, beyond the money, is the commitment to the university.”

Three different governors have appointed Rob Manning to the UMass Board of Trustees, and he has served twice as its chair. Donna Manning advises the Solomont School of Nursing, and both have been familiar figures on campus for years.

Rob Manning is the grandson of immigrant mill workers. Donna, who retired in 2018 after a 35-year career as an oncology nurse at Boston Medical Center, grew up on a farm. Both were first-generation students when they attended UMass Lowell and have said they view their educations as key to their success in life. 

“Rob’s parents and my parents made a lot of sacrifices to send us to school,” says Donna. “We appreciate that and try to pass it on to help those who need it.”       

Rob Manning says the decision to endow professorships with this latest gift represents a new level of confidence in the Manning School. It’s not the kind of gift that makes sense until a business school is ready to compete worldwide for the very best faculty, he says.

“We don’t consider this a gift,” Donna Manning adds. “We consider it an investment.”

Sandra Richtermeyer, dean of the Manning School, says she is still looking at how that investment can be put to best use, but she is confident the impact will be significant.

“These endowed professorships are really going to take us to that next level,” she says. “They are going to help us continue on the path we’re on and really build.”

Some business schools function as an island on their campus, Richtermeyer says, and have little interaction with other fields of study. “We want to be just the opposite. We want to be a business school that is collaborative, interdisciplinary and experiential. We want to extend our reach.” 

The Mannings have already signaled their intention to do still more for the UMass system and their alma mater. They describe it as a matter of putting their money where it can do the most good, creating more success stories for more students and solving the world’s difficult problems.

“This is the greatest thing in our lives,” Rob Manning says. “I worked at MFS for 38 years and became CEO and chairman and all this stuff. I traveled the world. That’s meaningless to me compared to what is happening with this gift.

“No matter what happens to us in our lives, this is home to us. This is where our heart and our love is. We feel grateful we can impact the next generation of students.”