The Colgate Scene
July 2007

Making an impact together
Colgate alumnae develop new strategy for engagement and philanthropy

Founder Peg Flanagan '80 speaks to the group at a meeting of the Alumnae Leadership Council. [Photo by Rob Bennett]

It is a bright early spring morning when 24 women — among them an illustrator from Minnesota, a professional volunteer from Virginia, a marketing instructor from Michigan, a director of a New York financial firm, and an attorney from New Jersey — gather around a conference table at the University Club in Manhattan. They listen attentively to President Rebecca S. Chopp as she describes Colgate today, make notes while Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson discusses student life, and ask current undergraduates about their experiences. They debate admissions procedures, tuition pricing at private colleges, the meaning of diversity in higher education today, leadership in the 21st century, and how to move the university forward in the years to come.

This group may have widely different family, professional, or volunteer commitments as well as varying perspectives and opinions on the issues at hand, but they hold this in common: they all are among the 33 charter members of the university's new Alumnae Leadership Council — a group of women graduates that in less than two years has committed $3 million to an Alumnae Leadership Fund. For now, their goal is to support two key university priorities: the vision for residential education and student financial aid.

Peg Flanagan '80, vice chair of the university's Board of Trustees, is the visionary behind the Alumnae Leadership Council. Its structure arose through her work with other alumnae and research about where and how women direct their philanthropic interests — which often is predicated on a strong relationship with the organizations they support. Flanagan, a lawyer who left work to devote time to her family and community, saw the opportunity to create an organization for Colgate alumnae who have both the means and the passion to support the university in a participatory way.

According to its charter, the leadership initiative draws upon the "expertise, energy, knowledge, wisdom, and resources of Colgate's diverse and successful alumnae community to encourage new collaboration and creativity." It also offers avenues for alumnae to work with each other, and with Colgate staff, faculty, and current students on joint projects that will strengthen the university through the 21st century. In the coming year, the council will also host a series of luncheons for alumnae in various regions.

"It's amazing," said Flanagan. "Here you have all these very successful, intelligent, driven women with plenty of other activities and commitments, and they chose to focus on Colgate."

Flanagan's surprise is justified because such engagement on the part of female graduates is a relatively new phenomenon for Colgate. After all, it has only been about 35 years since the first women were admitted. But as the ranks of alumnae swelled in the subsequent decades, more women than ever before are both interested and able to contribute their time, energy, and financial support to their alma mater. They are setting a powerful example for males and females alike.

An evolution
While many of today's alumnae pull together for Colgate's benefit, it hasn't always been that way. Not surprisingly, said RuthAnn Loveless MA'72, vice president for alumni affairs, many of Colgate's first female students reveled in being pioneers, but others had a more difficult time at the then-mostly male university. "We have a number of alumnae from the 1970s who are proud of the fact that they graduated from Colgate, but, frankly, it was a challenge for them — they simply didn't have mentors or a lot of other women to talk to about their experiences," she explained. "Because of this, they probably weren't as involved as recent alumnae are." But now, she said, a lot of these same women are rediscovering their alma mater. "Many of those early graduates are really proud of what Colgate helped them become, and they want to give back, if they can," she said.

A quick look at some numbers is telling. Since that first class of pioneers, more than 10,000 women have graduated, 28 percent of whom volunteer in the areas of admissions, fundraising, career services, and alumni affairs. As well, every year since 2003, larger percentages of women than men in the classes of 1974 to 2006 have donated to the university. "They seem to really feel that Colgate was the school for them, and they are clearly showing their support," said Loveless.

Not a 'one-size-fits-all approach'
The willingness of alumnae to do their part for Colgate is something that Joanne Spigner '76 has noted through her own growing involvement. She is a charter member of the Alumnae Leadership Council, and has served eight years on the Alumni Corporation Board of Directors (two as its president). She first became involved with alumnae initiatives in 1995, when she joined the Women's Advisory Council (WAC), a group that was formed in the early 1990s to promote connections between women graduates, the university, and each other. She later served as its chair.

WAC, which sponsors the popular book club events around the country, focuses on four areas: cultural and social, career networking and mentoring, fundraising and development, and Colgate awareness. In addition to the book tour, WAC has sponsored lectures by professors, an entrepreneurs group, mentoring programs, community service activities, and even a babysitter's network.

Another popular alumnae program in recent years has been the annual Women's Summit, held on campus. Organized by women's studies and alumni affairs, the gathering brings together Colgate women to meet and share their wisdom with current female students. Discussions have touched on everything from professional and public interests to work/family/life balance to eating disorders. Participation has been consistently high, said Spigner, and women representing all class years regularly attend. Volunteer interest has also been steady, and helped the university identify new leaders and mentors for future programs. And younger women are catching on, too.

"I think the reason why initiatives like WAC, the Women's Summit, and now the Alumnae Leadership Council have worked so well is that none has taken a one-size-fits-all approach," explained Spigner. "Given the type of people that our alumni are, it's important for the university to provide many different ways to give back or be involved. It builds on the Colgate culture, to help other people in the family."

Impact on campus
This year, the Alumnae Leadership Council provided funding for the annual Leadership Institute for student campus leaders, and created two scholarships that were awarded at the beginning of the 2006-2007 academic year (there are plans to support even more undergraduates in the coming semesters).

"Financial aid and scholarships have, for me, meant the opportunity to study at Colgate," said Alison Rhodes '07, who with Ian Maron-Kolitch '07 received the first awards. "Without the assistance of groups like the Alumnae Leadership Council, I absolutely would not have been able to afford a Colgate education. My experience at Colgate — both in and out of the classroom — ended up being life-changing, incredibly fulfilling, and probably the best and most well-rounded education I could have asked for."

Rhodes added that the Alumnae Leadership Council offered her something more d1 "the opportunity to meet and spend time with the contributors, and to help promote alumni giving to Colgate in important ways," she said, explaining that she attended the council's gathering in May, where she met several members. "The Alumnae Scholarship helped me to become even more involved in Colgate both on campus and off."

Such comments are music to Flanagan's ears. "What all of us d1 members of the Alumnae Council, WAC, and all other alumni — like seeing is that students today graduate from Colgate engaged and responsible citizens. And if we can help play a role in attracting and educating those people, well, it's mission accomplished."

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