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Robert E. Nelson Papers

Identifier: MSS093

Scope and Contents

The collection consists mostly of the papers of Robert E. Nelson from the period of 1950-2008, which are organized into seven series: Correspondence, Speeches and Reports, Pith Helmet Society, Have A Heart Foundation, Financial Agreements, Washington University in St. Louis, and University Agreement Letters.

The bulk of the Correspondence series is letters to business associates from Nelson’s time as a university development officer and as a consultant to multiple universities both at the Robert Johnson Corporation and at Robert E. Nelson Associates. The letters cover business agreements, travel arrangements, and personal matters. There are also some invoices for consulting services during and after 1969. This series is arranged alphabetically in 1950 and 1954, during Nelson’s years at Northwestern, and then chronologically by month from 1955 to 1998. Correspondence from the months of August, September, and December 1975 are missing from this series.

The Speeches and Reports series primarily contains speeches given by Robert E. Nelson at various universities, board of trustee meetings, and conferences. Most of the speeches cover university development and fund raising. There are also several reports and annual reports for both universities where he was employed and universities where he consulted.

The Pith Helmet Society series contains correspondence, meeting date and location arrangements, surveys among Pith Helmet Society members, membership listings, and proposals for new members.

The Have A Heart Foundation series consists of correspondence, administrative files, bylaws, financial information, board minutes, newsletters, foundation booklets, and donor letters from Robert Nelson’s time as a trustee of the foundation.

The Financial Agreements series consists of chronological files of the Robert E. Nelson Associates Corporate Minute Book. Of particular interest are the Robert E. Nelson Associates bylaws and certificate of incorporation.

The University Agreement Letters series mostly contains letters setting up and ending consulting relationships between Robert E. Nelson Associates and their university clients. This series is arranged alphabetically by university.

The Washington University in St. Louis series contains correspondence and paperwork concerning Robert E. Nelson Associates relationship with Washington University in St. Louis from 1992 to 2005. This series includes correspondence and paperwork regarding projects to analyze Washington University in St. Louis compared to its competitors, surveys of peer institutions, reports and correspondence regarding projects to raise funds for the future of the school in the 21st century, and materials from the Washington University in St. Louis Sesquicentennial Meeting in 2003.


  • 1950 - 2008


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is mostly open to the public, with the exception of one folder of financial information that is restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Biographical Note

Robert Eddinger Nelson was born March 2, 1928 in Rochester, Indiana. After graduating from Northwestern in 1949 with a B.A. in Economics, he worked at Northwestern as a Field Secretary in their Centennial Campaign. In this role, he had his first experiences with fund raising for institutions of higher education. After three years in the U.S. Army’s SHAPE program (1951-1953), he returned to Northwestern as the Assistant Director of Alumni Relations. Nelson went on to hold vice president and vice chancellor of development positions at Iowa Wesleyan, The University of Kansas City, and the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). While he was working at IIT, Nelson also acted as a development consultant to a few other colleges and universities. This led him to leave higher education employment to become a fulltime consultant for The Robert Johnson Corporation. In 1969, he founded Robert E. Nelson Associates, Inc. as a consulting business that advised institutions of higher education on fund raising, institutional planning, and the design and operation of Boards of Trustees, alumni programs, and public relations programs. Robert E. Nelson Associates advised in excess of 70 colleges and universities over 35 years, helping them to raise an estimated $6 million to $1.5 billion through public campaigns. Over the course of his career, Robert Nelson published several articles and spoke frequently at conferences and universities on the topics of higher education and development.

In 1962 Nelson was a founding member of the Pith Helmet Society—a national group comprised of development officers from colleges and universities that met to discuss techniques and share ideas on furthering the profession of higher education fund raising and development. He was also a trustee of the Have A Heart Foundation in the early 2000s. The Have A Heart Foundation was an organization that supported heart failure and heart transplant patients and their families and caregivers and encouraged organ donation. Nelson was also a member of the American College Public Relations Association (now called the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE), where he held many offices within the organization.

Nelson married Carol J. Nelson (her maiden name was the same as her married name), a pianist, soprano, and fellow Northwestern graduate from Woodstock, Illinois, on November 24, 1951. They had two children, Janet Kathryn (January 15, 1954) and Eric Paul (June 22, 1959). Robert and Carol were avid collectors of Steuben glass and owned one of the largest collections of Steuben Glass animals in the world.


18 Cubic Feet (18 record cartons)


Robert Eddinger Nelson, a pioneer in the field of higher education fund raising and development, was born in Rochester, Indiana on March 2, 1928. In 1969 he founded Robert E. Nelson Associates, Inc. as a consulting firm to advise colleges and universities in development and fund raising. He remained active in the field as a consultant, a speaker, a board member, and as a member of several university development associations until his retirement. Robert Nelson died in 2012.

The Robert E. Nelson Papers consist mainly of Robert Nelson’s correspondence and speech files. The collection also includes administrative files from Robert E. Nelson Associates and correspondence and administrative files from the Pith Helmet Society and the Have A Heart Foundation.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Presented by Carol J. Nelson, April 24, 2015. A2014/15-055


Bates, Mark. Interview by Meg Brown. Telephone call. May 31, 2017.


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Robert E. Nelson Papers, 1950-2008
Meg Brown
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Repository Details

Part of the Philanthropic Studies Archives Repository

IUPUI University Library
755 W. Michigan St.
Room 0133
Indianapolis IN 46202 USA