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$15 million gift to university from Dough Witcher
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$15 million gift to university from Dough Witcher

A month after receiving a multimillion donation from David Congdon, High Point University has announced another $15 million gift from a local businessman.

Smart Choice CEO Dough Witcher, an alumnus of the university, has been a longtime supporter of High Point and its surrounding community.

When he just started out in business, long before he made it big in the insurance industry, Witcher picked up leadership tips by listening to University President Qubein’s leadership training materials. Witcher now picks up life tips by listening to Qubein in person.

Witcher initially committed almost $5 million to HPU. He has created a scholarship for students in need, supported the construction of an athletic center that bears his family’s name and created an endowment to help maintain it.

Witcher is one of the university’s few donors to create what can be seen as a philanthropic trifecta – a major gift and two endowments, one for a student scholarship and the other to maintain the Witcher Athletic Center.

He gives because High Point University is his alma mater. He’s from the Class of 1977, an alumnus with a degree in education, and his time at then-High Point College transformed him into a leader.

But he also gave because of Jack and Marsha Slane.

Long ago, when Witcher thought about stepping out and supporting HPU, the Slanes talked to him about the power of philanthropy. They had supported HPU for years, and they told Witcher what they believe: You give, and your faith gives back.

“You’ll never outgive the Lord,” Jack told him once.

Witcher has taken that to heart thanks to his old high school guidance counselor.

Witcher knew Chris Greene from his days as a teenager growing up and going to school in Jamestown, his hometown.

She was his guidance counselor at Ragsdale High, a school 10 minutes from HPU. After retiring from Ragsdale, she helped the United Way of Greater High Point raise money for local organizations.

That’s when she called Witcher decades years ago. He still remembers their conversation.

“I’ve been following your career for years, Doug, and I’ve found that you’ve never given to the United Way,” she said.

“Honestly, I’ve dodged it,” he told her. “I needed every cent to run my business and take care of my family.”

“Doug, do me a favor,” she told him. “If you have a free afternoon next week, let me give you an address. I want you to come over and meet with me. I want to introduce you to a couple of people.”

The next week, Witcher went to the United Way office and listened. For the first time, he heard about the need of his community from the very people in need. No more than three people spoke, and their story hit Witcher hard.

Afterward, Green approached him with a request.

“There are two doors here,” she told him. “You go out this side door, and I’ll never call you again. But if you go out the front door, I want you to fill out a donation form. Then, I’ll give you a hug.”

Witcher wrote a check on the spot for $10,000.

“It felt so good,” he says today. “I let go, and I did something, and it was such a freeing feeling.”

That’s how it began.

For Witcher, it wasn’t about dollars and cents. He felt led.

“It was a God moment,” he says. “But I’ve had a lot of God moments in my life.”

Witcher is the founder and CEO of Smart Choice, a company that provides independent insurance agents access to better markets and the opportunity to establish relationships with top insurance carriers nationwide.

Smart Choice grew out of Witcher’s own business, Douglas S. Witcher Insurance. He started it in 1979, two years after graduating from High Point College, and built it into one of North Carolina’s largest independent insurance agencies.

As he did, he constantly saw the challenges of being an independent insurance agent and getting access to large insurance companies. So, in 1994, he started Smart Choice as a way for independent agents like himself to band together and break into new insurance markets.

Today, Smart Choice is one of the country’s largest insurance network with thousands of insurance agents.

It’s quite the accomplishment for the youngest son of a landscaper father and school secretary mother. Witcher never took a business course at High Point College, but he always believed in himself, and he always dreamed big.

“I’ve always had this idea that if you tell yourself you can do it,” Witcher says, “you can achieve it.”

His two grown sons, Spencer and Christian, work on the marketing side of Smart Choice. Witcher, though, has stepped away from the day-to-day operations of Smart Choice to focus on the company’s philanthropy.

Smart Choice sets aside 30 percent of the company’s profits for philanthropic efforts.

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