The Jack Harbin Top Hand Award is supposed to be a surprise; that’s a major part of its allure. Shrouded in secrecy, the accolade signifies excellence in service of the Texas Exes and the University of Texas and is presented to winners at an event that—unbeknownst to them—is actually an award presentation in their honor. Knowing all this, and obviously cognizant of his impressive record of service for more than 16 years, Jeff Duchin, BBA ’98, Life Member, was still blindsided when he realized it was his turn to win.
“I was speechless,” Duchin says. “And I was kind of mad.”
Duchin laughs. He’d been duped into thinking he was speaking about the chapter’s fundraising progress, and had spent time preparing meticulous notes. When then-Texas Exes president Charles Matthews told him the real reason for the gathering, Duchin was stunned.
“I was truly humbled and honored,” he says. “I know how it’s selected and about the past winners, the group who has won it before me. Words can’t explain it. I’m very lucky.”
Joining luminaries like Jack Blanton, Frank Denius, and the most recent winner, the late Jack Harbin, who passed away last month and for whom the Top Hand Award is named, Duchin may be younger than many of the previous winners, but his accomplishments speak for themselves. Most notably, Duchin took a floundering event, the Dallas Chapter Scholarship Dinner, and transformed it into a fundraising powerhouse for the Forty Acres Scholars Program.
Before Duchin, the dinner regularly generated around $10,000 in donations. That isn’t exactly pennies, but Duchin, a Dallas chapter leader and volunteer on the Chapters Advisory Board, wanted to take things to the next level. Two years ago, he decided to do something about it.
“It boiled down to this,” Duchin says. “It was boring. It was stagnant, and it wasn’t getting a lot of attendance. It didn’t have a purpose.”
Now the purpose, he says, is to direct all the funds to the Forty Acres Scholarship Program and to make the dinner an event that draws established, distinguished alumni to local events instead of only national ones. To do that, Duchin spearheaded a complete overhaul of the dinner’s format, including involving the named honoree of the endowed scholarship and inviting high-profile Association members, like UT president Bill Powers and Texas Exes president Kay Bailey Hutchison, who attended the most recent dinner in 2013. That event netted $300,000, more than two-thirds of the way to a fully funded Forty Acres Scholarship.
“Now it has a purpose,” Duchin says. “Now it has legs and strong supporters. It’s probably the biggest thing I am proud of.”
And it’s only snowballed from there under the new format. In 2012, the dinner raised $70,000. Last year, the chapter tripled that number. The Dallas Chapter had set a goal to fund one scholarship in five years, a goal that has since been shattered.
“We funded one Forty Acres Scholarship in three years,” Duchin says of the previous dinners under the old format. “And now we’re halfway home to a second after our second year. I think that’s huge.”
Now a senior vice president with Southwest Securities, Duchin jumped in immediately as a volunteer with the Dallas Chapter in 1998 after graduating as a finance major from UT. He became involved as a social events chair, helping with events like Thirsty Thursday, Texas Independence Day celebrations, and the annual Get Teed Off at OU golf tournament, now the largest Longhorn golf event in the world. He also helped land Miller Lite as an annual sponsor.
“The one reason why I think that Dallas has been successful and has also been in the spotlight, with all these events we do, is because of all the volunteers,” Duchin says. “It’s not three or four people, it’s a strong community. Everybody feels like they have some type of responsibility, and they are excited to be a part of it.”
To make the Dallas Chapter’s sponsorship program so strong took a lot of hard work and ingenuity—and, perhaps most importantly, the bevy of ardent volunteers who are willing to do what it takes to make the chapter better.
So what can other, smaller chapters learn from the highly successful Dallas Chapter?
“I think the first thing has to be the passion,” Duchin says. “It is a thankless job. You have to find the person who has the desire to really want to commit to changing the way things are done, and once you find that person who has that passion, give them the ability to spread their wings and do what they think will be successful.”
And it’s not just at the chapter or Association level—Duchin has seen an influx of support on the university level, which has made recent fundraising efforts so successful.
“It’s been helpful to have strong supporters at the university and have big donors get involved with our local chapter,” Duchin says, “especially now since the chapter has such a specific cause.”
Photo by Anna Donlan.
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