Kristen Kirkley Cantu (left)
with her sister, Tiffani Schuh
"The impact  that
The University of Texas System has on Austin, on Texas, and abroad is amazing."




The Kirkley Sisters: Leading by Example

Because you’re never too young to start giving

Alone, each is a force to be reckoned with. Together, they are real-life super-heroes, leading the way in educating a new generation—notably those notorious millennials—about philanthropy.

"We saw this need to start teaching younger people about what it means to give," says Tiffani Schuh. She and her sister, Kristen Kirkley Cantu, believe that youth should not deter those in their 20s and 30s from establishing philanthropic goals, goals that may not include sizeable financial contributions.

There is a misleading assumption "that the only time to make a gift is when you have reached a point in your life when donating a large, lump sum at one time is doable—which is usually when one is older," Tiffani explains. "We point out that that’s not the only way nonprofits receive money. Even small donations can help."

Volunteering time is also valuable, Kristen adds. "It’s important for young people to get involved with organizations they care about and grow with them over time." Connecting individual passions to nonprofits that promote those causes "opens minds," she says. People then consider "how the decisions they make on a daily basis can help improve the community around them."

It’s a convincing argument, made even more so by the fact that these two sisters are of the generation they target. They also lead by example. They established the Kirkley Sisters Chancellor’s Excellence Endowment this year and are excited about The University of Texas System’s initiatives which, they believe, will change the world.

“The impact that the UT System has on Austin, on Texas, and abroad is amazing,” says Tiffani, adding that "people will take notice" once the UT System’s vision for health care is realized.

A Quantum Leap Hits
Close to Home

When Chancellor William H.  McRaven unveiled his plans for The University of Texas System Administration last November, at least one of the eight Quantum Leaps he outlined spoke directly to Tiffani Schuh and the entire Kirkley family.

A few years ago, Tiffani was stricken with seizures. She went in for some tests which revealed an enlarged tumor in her brain. A month later, she was scheduled for surgery at the Mischer Neuroscience Institute, a joint operation of Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Acclaimed Harvard researcher and neurosurgeon Dong H. Kim, M.D., was Tiffani’s doctor.

“Of course given my health history, Chancellor McRaven’s brain health initiative is of deep interest to me,” Tiffani says. “We were just amazed by the level of health care and support shown to us,” Kristen adds.

The experience helped affirm to Kristen that, while she and Tiffani are not alums, “we are touched by the UT System, How could you not be?”

Kristen agrees. All of those initiatives—those Quantum Leaps that are outlined in Chancellor William H. McRaven’s vision statement (see sidebar)—"will have a global impact," she says, and she invites her peers to become "part of this experience."

If the Kirkley sisters seem to have the wisdom of their elders, they earned that insight through painful struggle. Tiffani was in her early 20s and her senior year at Concordia University when her fiancé was killed in a motorcycle accident. The Kirkley family decided to establish an endowment in her fiancé’s honor. The experience taught the sisters how to transform hardships into blessings. "To see what that kind of gift can do for other people has been life-changing for me and my family," Tiffani says.

"We were determined to turn the experience around and make it into something positive," Kristen adds. "Now, any time we experience a tragic event, we think about how we can transform it."

Their mindset and intentional generosity has helped define their professional, as well as their personal, lives. They both have finance careers that have an altruistic bent: Kristen works in marketing, community outreach and business development for Thrivent Financial, a not-for-profit financial services company. Tiffani currently serves as Vice President of CFH Investment Partners, a private real estate investment company, and was previously a wealth manager with a focus on philanthropic and legacy strategies.

The next step in the dynamic duo’s journey is to launch The Everyday Philanthropist, a foundation dedicated to educating both nonprofits and millennials about the power of their potential partnerships.

"The risk is that when older donors 'leave us,' non-profits will be left without adequate staff and support," Tiffani explains, stating that if the children of nonprofit leaders and donors “aren’t educated about how to give,” the community could suffer "enormous loss."

"It’s fun to take our friends on this journey with us," Kristen adds. "Even if some of our friends can’t afford to give monetarily, we can invite them to engage and test the waters with us." The ultimate goal is to "identify what an organization wants or needs and connect them with a person who can address those needs"—even, and especially when, that person is a millennial.