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Office of the First Lady

"Women Helping Women: Honoring Student Volunteer Leadership at IUSB"

Remarks of First Lady Laurie Burns McRobbie
Indiana University South Bend
April 3, 2013

Thank you, Debbie [Lemon].  I’m delighted to be here with you today, at the second Women Helping Women luncheon to honor student volunteer leadership at Indiana University.  I want to start by thanking Chancellor Mae Reck and Vice Chancellor Ilene Sheffer for hosting us today. I am particularly glad that we’re doing this before Chancellor Reck ends her 10+ years of service to Indiana University. And I want to recognize and congratulate our three recipients of the Student Volunteer Leadership award:  Victoria Harrington, Hailey Hennessy, and Roxanne Sirhan.  Congratulations to each of you! 

This luncheon is rapidly becoming another signature event for Women’s Philanthropy at Indiana University.  Women’s Philanthropy at IU is a groundbreaking initiative at the IU Foundation that we started just over three years ago as an innovative means of reaching out to women alums and donors, to help them find more meaningful connections with IU. 

My colleagues Holly Johnson and Casey Chell are here with us, director and assistant director respectively of Women’s Philanthropy at IU, and I hope you all have a chance to meet them before we part ways today. 

Serious, programmatic efforts at the IU Foundation to engage alumnae and women friends of Indiana University have been underway for nearly two decades, beginning with the Bloomington Colloquium for Women in 1995, an effort spearheaded by one of my predecessors, Peg Brand and several committed female members of the IU Foundation Board of Directors.  At that time, women made up only 14% of the Foundation Board, and then, as now when we’re just shy of 25% women, it was clear there was work to do.

The Colloquium was the answer then, and it was been extremely successful drawing alumnae back to Bloomington every other year for a weekend of learning and connecting, with IU and with each other.  But the Colloquium women were hungry for a more sustained way to stay engaged, and we were able to tap into that energy and interest in taking the next step.

In June of 2010, we formed the Women’s Philanthropy Council of Indiana University, a group of 34 women and 2 men, to provide the IU Foundation with strategic guidance in ensuring that women, who are the majority of our 580,000 living alumni around the globe, are able to make a real difference to the future of Indiana University. 

The work of the Women’s Philanthropy Council has already led to a host of new programs that bring people together to learn more what’s new at the university and how they can be part of its future.  We now have a Colloquium for Women in Ft. Wayne, a Women’s Philanthropy Conference in Indianapolis, a series of events in other cities where we have large concentrations of alumni, like Chicago and New York. 

And we have this luncheon, the brainchild of WPC member Janet Smith, who believes strongly that involvement leads to commitment, and commitment leads to support, starting with women students.  Victoria, Hailey, and Roxanne, you have certainly proved her right! 

The work we’re doing today with women’s philanthropy puts IU truly in the vanguard among institutions of higher education in making a serious, strategic, and aspirational effort to change how we engage alumnae.  It is also the case that we, and our three honorees today, are following in the footsteps of our foremothers, who created the great tradition of volunteerism and association-building in the U.S. 

From Colonial times on, it has been women, spurred by religious and civic sentiments, who laid the foundations for what we rely on today as the vast array of nonprofit organizations dedicated to social services, healthcare, education, the arts, and so many other causes.

Women have always been engaged in movements for progress, and particularly so in education.  To me, this work is at the heart of what it means to be philanthropic, in the broader society as well as in higher education.  Philanthropy is certainly the giving of treasure, but it is also the giving of time. Our three young women are thus continuing a cherished tradition and deserve the accolades we give them in recognition.

It is also true, sadly, that we have not always been very good about either recognizing or promoting the power of women’s philanthropy.  Despite all the volunteer efforts and the presence of women’s gifts down through the years, through most of the last century the work of the IU Foundation and development offices across the university was largely focused on men. 

Of course, IU was no different than any other university in thinking mainly about male patterns of giving.  They were, and still are, the primary wage-earners, and they heavily dominate the lists of richest individuals. 

But in the last decade or so, it began to be apparent to scholars of philanthropy – and notably those here at IU, at the School of Philanthropy – that women were in fact giving significant amounts, were more often than not the motivation behind a couple’s gift, and were giving in new, not always visible ways that deserved attention. 

Some of this change has to do with demographics – members of the baby boom generation are now in their peak earning years and getting ready to retire, and women, who now as then are likely to inherit twice, from parents and from spouses, also now have their own earnings from having entered the workforce in record numbers in the 1970s and 1980s. 

But the less visible aspects have to do with HOW women choose to give.  Women are more likely to spread their gifts over a greater number of organizations and causes than do men. 

Women, especially older women, are more likely to give anonymously. 

Women tend to gravitate towards collective forms of giving, to amplify the power of their individual contributions.

And women want deeper relationships with the organizations to which they give, which means there’s often more time involved before a contribution is made.

These behaviors mask the fact that once factors such as education, age, income, and others are taken into account, women give more than men, sometimes more than twice as much. 

Women are demonstrating a new-found assurance in their giving, to make sure their gifts help create change, push forward important causes, and make a difference to the future of their communities. 

At IU, the Bloomington Colloquium proved just how strongly women feel about reconnecting with their alma mater, and Women’s Philanthropy at IU capitalized on this and all of the research as we’ve pushed into new territory in women’s giving to higher education.  

Since we began our efforts, over $1 million in new contributions has been raised for IU, coming entirely out of the work of the Women’s Philanthropy Council.  And some of this money goes to support exciting new projects on IU’s eight campuses. 

Council members make a gift to IU when they join, and a portion of this goes into a fund that the Council manages.  This fund is distributed through an annual grant process.  Last year, we announced eight recipients of the inaugural round of grants, one of which was at IU-South Bend to support a service-learning program pilot that is part of the American Democracy Project. 

The grant funded faculty development of new courses and provided student fellowships, all focused on addressing challenges to civic engagement in the South Bend region. 

We are in the midst of reviewing another 40 applications for the 2013 grants, and we’ll announce this year’s recipients in June. 

I’m happy to tell you that you can be part of making change happen at IU, by becoming a Partner in Women’s Philanthropy.  For a donation of any size to the WPC Fund, you will go on our mailing list, get announcements and event invitations, and keep up with what’s going on.  Holly or Casey can tell you more. We have a wonderful webpage, where you can learn more about the work we’re doing.  We also have a Facebook page, and I encourage you to get in and like us! 

There is a lot going on at IU that supports and celebrates women’s giving, and I hope you can all be part of it.

In conclusion, I want to again congratulate our three wonderful volunteer leaders for their exceptional philanthropy.  I know we all believe in the power of women of all ages to make a difference, and with examples like Victoria, Hailey, and Roxanne, the future looks very bright!

Thank you.