Our Giving Story: Douglas and Ellen Lowey

A gift uniting big data and nonprofits

Douglas ’88 and Ellen Lowey’s gift combines three things that are close to their hearts—Duke University, nonprofit groups and “big data.”

As members of several nonprofit organizations’ board of directors, the Loweys have learned the importance of using data to assess and refine the efforts of charitable groups trying to attract donations. To that end, their commitment to Duke will endow an assistant professorship at Trinity College of Arts & Sciences with a preference for research driven by “big data”—collections of information characterized by massive size, tremendous variety and rapid change—to analyze the effectiveness of public interest and non-governmental organizations. 

“Most nonprofits spend an inordinate amount of money and time on ineffectual fundraising initiatives,” says Douglas Lowey, who received an A.B. in political science from Duke. “If raising funds and awareness can be accomplished more expeditiously using behavioral and other vital statistical information, then more charitable resources can focus on their stated goals and objectives.”

The Lowey gift complements Duke’s Information Initiative, an interdisciplinary program designed to find and implement solutions to global problems using “big data.”

Lowey is a founding principal and CEO of Brownstone Investment Group, LLC, a New York-based fixed-income investment firm. He is on Trinity’s Board of Visitors and recently served as co-chair of his 25th reunion committee.

What inspired you to make your gift?

I made Duke my giving priority many years ago for one simple reason: Duke makes a difference in the world. I don’t view my charitable giving to Duke as gifts, but more as investments in society. 

“Big data” is an overwhelming field to even begin to digest, but those who are able to efficiently and effectively understand and process mass amounts of targeted information will make an enormous difference in how our society functions. 

One of our hopes in endowing the professorship is that Duke will solve some of the challenges and inefficiencies that many nonprofit organizations face today, making them stronger and more influential tomorrow.

What’s your favorite place at Duke?

Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Every time I enter Cameron I feel the same energy, excitement, and pride as if it were my first visit. As Duke Basketball Legacy Fund partners, Ellen and I are fortunate to be surrounded by excellence and leadership, attributes that define Duke Basketball and all Duke athletic programs. Duke Athletics demands accountability and hard work, and has only achieved success because of the joint contributions of everyone associated with the programs.

Any advice for undergrads?

You should experience as much as possible during your undergraduate years. Find your passion and follow it. Steer your own fate.

Is there one theme or priority of the Duke Forward campaign that particularly resonates with you?

Athletics and academic priorities are inextricably intertwined in the Duke Forward campaign, continuing a tradition that makes Duke stand out among other institutions.

The Duke Forward campaign will make Duke undeniably stronger in its tireless pursuit of excellence.

TAGS: Giving and Impact Stories

About the author

Audra Ang


Audra joined the development communications team in August 2012. Her work focuses on publicity for gifts via press releases, giving stories, newsletters and social media. She also develops multimedia content for the Giving to Duke website. Before Duke, Ang spent 15 years as an editor and correspondent for The Associated Press in Seattle, New York and Beijing. She graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in psychology and creative writing, and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and a visiting scholar at University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of “To the People, Food is Heaven,” a memoir about reporting and eating in China. Audra, who grew up in Singapore, often consumes unseemly amounts of food at one sitting.