Laurie Burns McRobbie

Session at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly 2016, Power Players: Women and the future of philanthropy

Thank you, Deb, and thank you, Connie and Judy, for introducing and moderating this session. I’m delighted to be here today. My part of today’s session is to talk about how we’re putting the research into practice, through our Women’s Philanthropy program in the IU Foundation, the university’s development and advancement organization.

Indiana University Overview

I want to start by giving you a very quick overview of Indiana University so you have a better sense of the institution—although some of you may be alums. It also helps alleviate what can be a little confusion about the difference between the WPI and WP@IU–Deb runs a research center within an academic school at IU, and I oversee a development program, and we work together a lot.

IU is a large, comprehensive research university, founded in 1820 in Bloomington, and we’re about to celebrate our bicentennial.

We have 115,000 students on eight campuses across the state of Indiana. Our campuses in Bloomington and Indianapolis are the largest. We have almost 700,000 living alumni in about 160 countries around the world, and we are one of the most internationally focused institutions in the country. We teach more foreign languages than any other institution in the country and about 30% of our undergraduates study abroad for some period of time.

Connection

This morning I’m going to give you a quick tour through how our program came into being and describe how it works, and then spend a bit more time talking about what animates what we do, which is the idea of engagement. 

But I want to say at the outset that even though every organization’s programs are different, I think there are some basic similarities between the work that you’re doing within the Federation and what we do within the IU community. 

In both cases, there is already a connection with the potential donor community that other kinds of organizations have to build from scratch. We do have to work at it, but it’s there. 

For all of you in the Federation, it’s a connection through the Jewish faith that carries its own legacy of giving, tzedakah, and traditions through which women have carried out their faith-based philanthropic obligations for centuries. 

For universities, it’s a connection with one’s alma mater that also has its traditions of support, through alumni who want to give back to the institution they feel gave them their start in life. And of course women have been instrumental actors here too, going back many many years. So I think what I have to talk about this morning will be relevant for you.

The Light-Bulb Moment

At the Indiana University Foundation, we began doing some initial outreach in the mid-1990s, but it was fairly limited, just on our Bloomington campus and a few one-time efforts elsewhere. When we started looking at the research nearly ten years ago, we realized there was major untapped potential. 

And it was a real light-bulb moment – our alumnae were not a niche audience, they were THE audience. And we had this superb research institute right at the same university – we had to capitalize on what we were hearing, and put that research into practice. 

We knew anecdotally from what we had been doing that women want to engage, want that deeper connection with the organizations and causes they care about. 

It turns out that the research validates this as a significant difference in women’s philanthropic behavior vs. men’s—recall Deb’s slide that women are motivated to give by being on the board or by volunteering for an organization, more than men are? 

That’s a reflection of women’s desire to be involved, hands-on, to see the impact of their contributions of time, talent or treasure. 

For some time in the development world, this had actually been seen as a problem – it was not uncommon to hear development officers complain that women took too long to make decisions, needed more up front work, etc. etc. The hidden story was that there could be enormous payoff to being responsive to these desires, and we set out to build a program around this. 

Let me give you a little bit of the history and sketch an outline of the program. I mentioned that we had already started to do some outreach to our alumnae in the mid-1990s, and that was through what has continued to be our flagship engagement program, the Colloquium for Women. 

The Colloquium, which started in 1995 as an annual program and now is a biennial event, brings over 100 women to our original campus in Bloomington in the fall for a weekend of learning and networking. The program introduces them to distinguished faculty, alumnae, students, and speakers of national and international renown; in 2010, we were honored to feature Meryl Streep. We’ve engaged nearly 500 individual women through this program (many come year after year), and it has also served as a model for similar programs around the state of Indiana. 

It was the members of the Colloquium Steering Committee, along with some activist women on the IU Foundation’s Board of Directors (or spouses of Directors) who started pushing for more opportunities to engage. 

A group of us attended a WPI Symposium in the fall of 2008, and as I mentioned earlier, the light bulb went off. We invited Deb to present her research to the IU Foundation Board in June of 2009, and more light bulbs went off, particularly for the Foundation’s leadership.

Women's Philanthropy Council is Born

By that fall, we had developed our first strategic plan built around the research, which had as its principal action the establishment of a high-level Council to guide overall Foundation strategy for engaging alumnae and women donors to Indiana University.

We spent the several months in late 2009 and early 2010 reaching out to every female member of the Foundation Board and to two men who had expressed interest, and to many prominent alumnae and women donors as well. And in June of 2010, the Women’s Philanthropy Council of Indiana University was officially convened.  

In 2015, the Council voted to change its name to the Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council, or WPLC. The Council has matured into a real leadership group for what has become an expanding set of opportunities to engage, connect, and give, and we wanted our name to better reflect this.

We took as our guiding principles the following: 

  • To provide opportunities for women to learn about different programs at Indiana University so they can make gifts to areas where they are passionate and experience the impact of their giving.
  • To connect donors with IU and with each other, so that they can make common cause around those areas of passion.
  • To educate women about their untapped economic and philanthropic power, and
  • To inspire each other and celebrate women’s giving, by telling stories about the women who came before them and who are making a difference every day in the lives of students and the world beyond the campus boundaries.

And we developed a vision statement, which I’ll just leave for you to read–the core of it turns on this idea of engagement, bring women together and bringing them back to their alma mater. 

We also take seriously the opportunity we have to be an exemplar–we have the world’s first School of Philanthropy at IU and so it should be IU that is showing how the research can be put into practice.

Let me give you a quick overview of the Council’s structure. It can have between 30 and 45 members, and men are invited as well. We currently have 35 women and one man on the Council, each serving a renewable, 3-year term. Every member makes a $15,000 gift to IU at the start of her or his term to any area of Indiana University, and they are encouraged to put half of that gift, $7,500, into the WPLC Fund, which is under the direct control of the Council and awards about $100,000 annually to programs and units across the university. The Fund is in many ways the beating heart not only of the Council but our program more generally, allowing us to put our values into action and serving as an inspiring means of connecting members and others to their areas of interest and passion at the University. 

Each Council member serves on one of three working groups:

  • Grants, which oversees the review of grant applications and recommendation to the whole Council of that year’s recipients for funding;
  • Membership, which oversees the annual process of selecting new members and generally ensures the health of our membership processes and activities; and
  • Programming and Engagement, which oversees the planning and execution of a range of programs at IU and around the state and the country where we have large concentrations of alumnae

Impact by the Numbers

We’re in the sixth year of our program, and we’ve got some success to highlight. Just through the programs we directly manage–the Council and its Fund and a range of other projects–we have raised nearly $3 million in new money, and engaged about 2,000 women who are actively connected through what we do. We like to cite two additional numbers, though. 

The first is that if we look at the contributions made by the 57 individuals who are now or have been members of the WPLC, they have collectively given over $110 million since 2010.

Although we can’t take credit for those gifts–they are the result of a lot of great work by our colleagues across the university–we love to point to that number as tangible evidence of the impact a relatively small group of highly engaged women can have. And the gifts range in size from $40 million to $20, so it really is a representative sample.

The second number is one that’s specific to a university but I think you’ll appreciate the significance of it, which is that of the roughly $70 million in leadership gifts made to IU Athletics, three-quarters of that, or $55 million, came from women. 

This is unprecedented, we think, at least we’re fairly certain we’re among a very small number of universities whose Athletics departments are seeing this kind of support from women. And that department is crediting the existence of our program for creating a climate that celebrates women’s giving. So we know we’re doing something transformative beyond just what we can do on our own. 

Women's Philanthropy in IU's Bicentennial Campaign

We took another step in the last year or so, in concert with IU’s Bicentennial Campaign, which we’ll complete in 2020, our bicentennial year. 

As soon as the university campaign planning started, we saw an opportunity to use it to further our goals as we also served the university’s. We spent a lot of time thinking about how we could do something unique that was also in support of the larger campaign goals, and developed three main goal areas:

  • Develop the fund
  • Connect donors to areas of interest in four main priority areas:
    • Health
    • Global experiences and learning
    • Women in STEM
    • Diversity
    • Elevate the visibility of women’s leadership

Our campaign structure is a regional model, building of what we were already doing within the state of Indiana and in Chicago. We looked broadly at where our alumnae communities are, and we’re developing regional committees in cities where we have large concentrations of alumnae and therefore a lot of potential. 

We’re in phase one of this process right now, building out leadership groups in Indianapolis, Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC–in fact, I’m meeting with members of our group here for dinner tonight. 

The different shadings correspond to what we know right now about the depth of our prospect pools and potential for leadership, which is then translating to where we go first.

map of alumnae

A Model of Engagement

We also need to define what we mean we talk with our alumnae and tell them we want them to be involved. They want to know what they can do, besides attend events or get on the Council, which isn’t going to work for everyone (limited etc.). So we’ve put a lot of effort into defining volunteer roles.

At a high level, we’re looking for our alumnae:

  • to use their personal talents and connections – their networks and their expertise, whether it’s in leadership, mentoring, finance, the arts, etc.,
  • to help us create programs that offer diverse topics and activities that are relevant in their areas and to our key audiences, and 
  • to help elevate women’s leadership so that we can nurture the leadership potential in the female donor community. 

We’re also asking our volunteers to lead or serve on committees, host lunches and dinners, help us with recognition, but these are particularly important.

This next slide illustrates our model a little better. Women attend our events and programs, become members of the steering committees for those events and possibly rise to leadership positions, they engage with students and offer their expertise and guidance; they connect with specific units on campus, either the one where they got their degree or another for which they’ve developed an interest; they can move into leadership and governance positions in those units as members of various dean’s advisory councils and boards of visitors; they can become members of the WPLC and rise to leadership positions in the working groups and the Council overall; and ultimately, they are positioned to take on leadership roles for the whole university, as members of the IU Foundation Board of Directors and the IU Board of Trustees. I’m proud to say that in the last two years, four members of the WPLC have become Directors on the IUF Board, and the most recent female appointee to the IU Board of Trustees is a member of the Colloquium Steering Committee. So we know we’re helping to elevate the visibility of women as leaders at IU.

Engagement model

And, of course, philanthropy can happen anywhere along this path!

Empowering the Womam of IU

And finally, with our Council, campaign, and other programs up and running, we’re working to develop a deeper sense of identity around what it means to be connected to our programs.

Who is the woman of IU?  Working with the WPLC Program and Engagement Working Group and building on what we’ve heard and learned as we’ve talked with women who attend our programs and especially as we go through our Grants process, we’ve come up with this framework to help alumnae find themselves within the IU ecosystem. You can see examples of schools, departments and programs under each. Many women find themselves in more than one or even all four of these boxes, which is great. 

And in the wake of the election (which I’m not going to go into or we’d be here all day), we added another box, since this framework is a work in progress.

Given the rhetoric in the campaign, not only about women but about people of color, of different faiths, and from other countries, we want to affirm the role that universities play in preserving the values that this country stands for. 

And so the woman of IU, through all the ways she engages with the university, has a voice, and helps give others a voice, in standing up for the values of inclusion, tolerance, civility, and openness to the world. That is the woman of IU.

Conclusion

I want to conclude by summarizing what I think are the keys to the success we’ve seen:

  • We’re grounded in the research. This enabled us to make a compelling case for support – we needed staff to run the program – and for the buy-in across the university.
  • We used the first two years as a founding term, and devoted our time to setting up the Council structure, forming the working groups, and defining member obligations and activities. This not only made it easier to get the work done, it developed a tremendous sense of ownership.
  • We focus on women’s giving, not just women’s issues or women’s programs. This allowed us to reach out to a wide range of women, different ages, different backgrounds, and to men as well. 
  • We put our values into action through our Fund. Our members tell us that participating in the review of grant applications and especially hearing the presentations from the finalists is the single most meaningful experience they have.
  • And we are reclaiming our history. I talked about the legacy project through our bicentennial campaign, but even if we don’t wind up naming a building or building a statue for someone, we can recover the stories of all the women who came before us. We are truly standing on the shoulders of our foremothers and we need to honor them.

So now it’s your turn!  We’re going to take a few minutes before we go into Q&A to hear from you. I’d like you to turn to your neighbor and take two minutes to share one idea that you’ve put into practice or one idea you’ve gotten as a result of this morning’s session. And then I’m going to ask 3 or 4 of you to share what you hear with the rest of the group.