About halfway through Smith’s seven- year Women for the World campaign to raise $450 million—the largest fundrais- ing goal in the college’s history—April Hoxie Foley ’69 found herself having to deliver a sobering message to fellow members of the Campaign Steering Committee. At the time, the U.S. economy was stuck in a sluggish recovery from a devastating recession and the national mood seemed to be playing out in front of them. “This isn’t where we need to be,” Foley said, holding up a graph that showed that the pace of giving had slowed considerably, despite a strong start. “We need to turn this around, otherwise we’re not going to hit our target.”
It wasn’t a message anyone wanted to hear, but as a rallying cry, it worked. It was time to up the game and take some risks. “When you begin to fall below your trend line, you have to change course,” Foley says now. “It was important for us to be more aggressive in getting more asks out into the marketplace and really stretching ourselves. Traditionally, Smith has been a bit conservative in its approach to fundraising. If we hadn’t stepped out of that comfort zone, we would have failed. And failure was not an option.”
Within 18 months, everything had changed. The college was breaking fundraising records, bringing in nearly $72 million in 2014 and close to $65 million in 2015. Early last year, Foley, as chair, got to deliver a different message, telling the Campaign Steering Committee, “We’re winning this campaign!”
It was a triumphant turnaround for a far-reaching campaign that saw its share of disruptive moments. By the time it came to an end on December 31, 2016, it had shattered expectations, having se- cured $486 million toward student scholarships, curriculum initiatives and innovative academic programs and new courses of study that will define Smith for the 21st century. Indeed, the campaign has not only transformed the college but also the landscape of women’s philanthropy.
“This campaign is a truly historic moment for Smith and for women,” says President Kathleen McCartney. “Smith is a stronger, better institution because of what we as a community have accomplished, and the world is forever going to benefit from the leadership, creativity and entrepreneurship of the women we graduate.”
Beth Raffeld, vice president for development at Smith, sees the successful completion of the campaign as a vivid example of the power of the Smith community and what can happen when Smith women rally around a cause. “There is so much goodwill toward Smith,” Raffeld says. “We are grateful for the thousands of alumnae, parents and friends who stepped forward to show their support of the college’s mission. We are incredibly proud. So many new doors have been opened because of the generosity of our community.”
At its heart, the campaign was all about women—their education, their leadership, their history, their future. With Women for the World as its guiding principle, the college set out to devise a set of initiatives that would, as former President Carol Christ said, position Smith as a college of global consequence and prepare women to succeed as leaders in whatever profession they choose. “Smith has a long and proud history of graduating high-achieving and accomplished women,” Christ says. “The campaign gave us an opportunity to envision a world in which women are represented equally and fairly and to position Smith as a generator of women leaders.”
Culturally, the first decade of the 21st century was perhaps the perfect moment to be discussing the idea of launching a campaign that would make women’s education and leadership its focus. In 2009, the book Half the Sky was sparking a worldwide conversation about the value—to families, to communities, to businesses and organizations—of having more women at the decision-making table. In it, authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn conclude that the key to economic progress is in unleashing women’s leadership potential and that access to education is the surest and most successful way of making that happen.
At the same time, a 2009 White House report “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership” concluded that although opportunities for women in the workforce had in- creased significantly, very few women were making it to the top of their professions. Specifically, the report noted, “So few women are at the leadership table with men, and the country is not benefiting from their ideas, talent and experience, especially on corporate boards, on editorial pages and on the Senate floor.”
“The campaign gave us an opportunity to envision a world in which women are represented equally and fairly and to position Smith as a generator of women leaders.”—former Smith President Carol Christ
These national conversations served as a backdrop for the creation of a strategic plan at Smith, called “The Design for Learning,” and a set of fundraising initiatives that would address the big issues related to women and women’s education that were rising to the surface across the culture. “The idea of women using their education for the good of the world has always been at the heart of Smith’s mission,” Christ says. “The campaign gave us a platform from which to tell that story in a more urgent and compelling way.”
At the top of the priority list was shoring up Smith’s financial aid program to ensure that a Smith education remained accessible and affordable to women, regardless of their economic background. Annually, about 60 percent of Smith students receive need-based scholarship support, with the average aid package totaling close to $42,000.
As president, Christ was an outspoken critic of the rising cost of higher education, warning that if the price tag continued to balloon, then only the wealthiest families would be able to afford college.
“Colleges are the main engine of social mobility,” she says. “If we’re making it difficult for the majority of people to attend, then that’s not good for the country, it’s not good for the world and it’s not good for colleges. At Smith, we all were dedicated to creating as large a pool as possible for financial aid, knowing that it was the best way to open doors for our future women leaders.”
In developing a strategic plan, Christ was well aware that students’ expectations were evolving and that the college’s curriculum would have to respond to new ways of teaching and learning in order to remain relevant. Thus emerged the overarching idea of reimagining the liberal arts for the 21st century. “For me, what was critical was understanding that the borders between disciplines needed to be much more porous,” Christ says. “I believed we needed to go beyond the major and emphasize capaci- ties of mind and imagination so that when someone talked about their Smith experience, they didn’t say, ‘I went to Smith and this was my major.’ Rather, I wanted them to say, ‘I went to Smith and these were the fundamental skills that I developed.’”
To that end, funds raised toward the “reimagining the liberal arts” initiative would support new programs and courses of study, endowed professorships in emerging fields, academic concentrations and centers for learning, Praxis internships and study-away opportunities. These initiatives, Christ said, would “provide students with the skills and habits of mind needed to become the change-makers the world needs.”
A third and equally critical fundraising goal was $90 million in general support through The Smith Fund, which supports a variety of efforts, from faculty enrichment to student life activities and scholarships.
The borders between disciplines needed to be much more porous.”—former Smith President Carol Christ
With a vision in place and a fundraising map to follow, the next step was getting donors on board. It wasn’t always easy, especially in the wake of the sharp downturn in the economy that had occurred just as Smith was reaching out to its supporters. Elizabeth (Betty) Mugar Eveillard ’69, former chair of the Smith College Board of Trustees, remembers the early days of the campaign as being a time of uncertainty. “The economic events of 2008 were devastating to a lot of people,” she says. “There was a sense of apprehension in the air. People, especially women, were concerned about outliving their investments.” President Christ recalls speaking to potential donors who expressed excitement about the campaign’s goals but were concerned about the long-term strength of their own assets. “The spirit was willing, but the confidence was weak,” she says of some of her preliminary meetings with donors. “There was a legitimate concern among many alumnae that once you gave something away, it was gone.”
But the trustees and Christ, along with her team of development officers and alumnae volunteers, forged ahead, confident in the campaign goal and the willingness of alumnae to get behind it. To build support, they embarked on an ambitious plan to bring the excitement of Smith to the world. President Christ hit the road, spending nearly a month touring cities in Asia, for example, while faculty gave Smith-style lectures around the country, inviting alumnae to “come back to class.” The message: Smith is an exciting place with big ideas worthy of support.
Over time, a number of donors stepped forward with major gifts that set the campaign in motion. Former trustee Phoebe Reese Lewis ’51 and her husband, John, endowed Smith’s burgeoning Global Studies Center with a $5 million gift; Betty Eveillard showed her support for international scholarships and programming with early gifts of more than $5 million; Joan Fletcher Lane ’49 pledged $2 million in honor of former Smith President Jill Ker Conway; Margaret Von Blon Wurtele ’67 donated $5 million to endow the college’s new Center for Work and Life; Janet Wright Ketcham ’53 provided $2 million to create an endowed professorship in Middle East studies; trustee emerita Nancy Godfrey Schacht ’56 and her husband, Henry, gave a leadership gift (the Schacht Center for Health and Wellness was later named in their honor); and an anonymous $16 million charitable lead trust from a member of the class of 1960 became the largest gift toward student scholarships in the college’s history.
This momentum helped the campaign surge, and by the time it launched publicly in October 2012 with a grand celebration on campus, there was well over $200 million in the campaign’s coffers. Then progress briefly slowed when Carol Christ announced her retirement that same year. “This wasn’t a surprise to anyone, but there was a bit of a pause, a wait-and-see period,” remembers Betty Eveillard. “That’s normal. People want to hear from the new president and find out what her plans are.”
With the arrival of Kathleen McCartney in the summer of 2013, the pace of the campaign began to pick up again. It is not easy for a new college president to step into the middle of a campaign, but McCartney embraced its initiatives. “I was well acquainted with nearly every aspect of the campaign, even before I arrived on campus, so I was ready to go on day one,” she says. “The trustees assured me when I accepted the job that they’d be with me every step of the way, and they were.”
Students’ expectations were evolving. The curriculum would have to respond to new ways of teaching and learning. Thus emerged the idea of reimagining the liberal arts.
McCartney quickly began making her own mark. She brought on Beth Raffeld, former executive director of philanthropic partnerships at MIT, as vice president for development, and together they mapped out a strategy to push the campaign forward by connecting donors to meaningful, high-impact giving opportunities. At the same time, McCartney began building on the campaign’s already ambitious vision, reaching out to faculty for their ideas on what a 21st-century Smith education should be. From this emerged dozens of proposals that led to a range of select new opportunities that needed funding, including design thinking, data sciences and a new iLab, which was later renamed the Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, a proposed intellectual hub and maker space that will support students’ entrepreneurial ideas and aspirations. The renovation of Neilson Library also became a cornerstone of the campaign, creating a sense of excitement among donors looking to be a part of a historic project to refurbish one of the college’s most iconic landmarks. Just a year and a half into McCartney’s tenure, the college collected more than $72 million in gifts. “Kathy had a tremendously active first year on the job,” Eveillard said. “That hard work laid the groundwork for the gifts that would come.”
Those gifts included a $2.5 million grant from the Branta Foundation for a design-thinking initiative connected to engineering; a $2.5 million gift from Charlotte Feng Ford ’83 to endow a contemporary art curator’s position at the Museum of Art; a $10 million anonymous gift to establish a new leadership development program for students; and individual gifts to endow Smith’s academic centers.
A particularly exciting moment for McCartney came when a member of the class of 1986 called her to say that she was donating $10 million for financial aid—one of the largest single gifts to Smith and to a women’s college. In making the gift, the donor said, “Giving to scholarship support is the most effective way I know to directly impact a student’s life and opportunities.” The donor had one request: that Smith use the money to inspire other alumnae to give scholarship funds. To that end, campaign leaders created the Promise to the Future gift-matching program.
“One thing we know is that Smith women step up to a good challenge,” Raffeld says. “We succeeded in taking full advantage of this generous gift and doubling its impact on financial aid.” By the end of the campaign, 46 additional donors had matched the donor’s gift dollar for dollar through 39 new endowed scholarship funds. “What’s exciting is that Smith students in perpetuity will benefit from these gifts,” McCartney says. “That is incredibly powerful and a great example of what happens when women come together to support other women.”
Indeed, one of the most profound lessons of the Women for the World campaign was the noticeable shift in women’s philanthropic power. Research by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute shows that women, in general, are more charitable than men; however, their largest gifts tend to come in the form of deferred gifts rather than from current assets. This campaign turned that notion on its head. “It feels like women are closing the giving gap,” says April Foley, reflecting on the campaign’s success. “They’re being bolder in their giving and losing some of the risk aversion of the past.”
“Philanthropy has changed from being controlled by men to being collaborative or even driven by women. The Smith cam- paign was an opportunity for women … to invest in other women.”—Mona Ghosh Sinha ’88
Consider: There were 93 gifts of $1 million or more to the campaign, representing 60 percent of the total raised. A “giving circle,” with the goal of raising $100 million from a small group of alumnae, generated eight gifts of $10 million or more. For Mona Ghosh Sinha ’88, a Smith trustee and one of Women for the World’s early organizers, the campaign shined a light on the fact that women are taking more control over their wealth and what they do with it. “Philanthropy has changed from being largely controlled by men to being collaborative or even driven by the women in the family,” she says. “The Smith campaign was an unprecedented opportunity for women donors to collaborate and invest in other women.”
McCartney says there was a simple reason that support for the campaign was so strong. “It was the ideas,” she says. “The partnership opportunities to advance Smith excited alumnae, and that’s why we had such extraordinary gifts.”
Sinha, who made a significant gift with her husband, Ravi, to support financial aid for international students, said the campaign inspired her to consider how Smith and the opportunities she was given as a student influenced her own life. “Smith was transformational for me, and I, too, want to support students so that access to education is not a barrier to learning,” she says. “I want other women to be able to unleash potential that they have not explored before.”
Already, the effects of the campaign have been far-reaching. As McCartney notes, the funds raised are keeping Smith accessible, making the college more entrepreneurial, inspiring innovation across the curriculum and fueling new academic initiatives that meld classroom learning with real-world experience. “Going forward, what’s going to differentiate outstanding liberal arts colleges has as much to do with the co-curriculum as the curriculum,” she says. “The campaign is allowing us to be bold in bringing big ideas to life, like incorporating design thinking into the curriculum and creating a leadership program that is open to all students. These programs, and others like them, are going to set Smith apart and make it possible for us to provide the very best education for women today.”
Eveillard sees the fact that the college far surpassed its $450 million goal as an affirmation of the continued need to foster women’s leadership through education. “There is a clear demand for women’s education,” she says. “Because of this campaign, Smith has renewed confidence in its mission. Without a doubt, we know there is a place for Smith in the pantheon of higher education.”
SAQ, Spring 2016