Women and Philanthropy – An Interview with Matthew T. Lambert

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Interview with Matthew T. Lambert | Vice President for University Advancement at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia,

With women controlling an ever-larger slice of the financial pie, university advancement teams across the country are taking a hard look at how to tailor fundraising strategies to meet the priorities and interests of women donors. When Matthew Lambert returned to his alma mater, William & Mary in 2013, as the vice president for university development, he found that an effort to better understand and leverage the talent and generosity of W&M women was underway.

The Women & Philanthropy Task Force had been organized in 2012 to study best practices in strategies for engaging women as philanthropic leaders at W&M. One of the first decisions Lambert made in his new role was to bring in a consultant, Kathleen Loehr, with deep understanding of research and best practices to assist staff and volunteers in this effort.

It was at this point that Lambert came to the conclusion that if the initiative to engage women were to be done correctly, staffing and resources would be required. He decided to fund a full-time position dedicated to programming and outreach designed around the interests and preferences of women donors. Dr. Valerie Cushman was hired in 2015 to begin the process of broadening alumnae engagement. She began by systematically building on the work that began in 2012. Cushman noted that in her 3 years in the role, “The task of growing women’s engagement and philanthropy at W&M has been rewarding because it is not the effort of one, but the whole Advancement team and a village of alumnae are forging this path with me. The return on investment has been both quick and sustained.”

According to Lambert, the Advancement team was compelled to “take a long look in the mirror and realize that whether it’s volunteer opportunities, our leadership boards, or our communications, we were not representing the entirety of the William & Mary community.” He continued, “So we really had to think critically about all of our publications, our alumni magazine, our emails, who was featured on the covers of those, and what the stories inside featured. We had to focus a lot more as well on the dearth of women that were populating some of our leadership boards and really take a long, hard look at how to change that.”

Women were first admitted to the university in 1918. Since then, generations of women have attended William & Mary and today, 100 years later, women make up 58% of the class of 2018 (and 53% of W&M alumni). The Society of 1918 was created in the fall of 2016 to recognize the

“…engagement, leadership and philanthropy of W&M women to achieve a level of impact, influence and generosity commensurate with their majority representation in the alumni community.”

The overarching goal of the Society is to support a $1.918 million Alumnae Initiatives Endowment that will in turn support programming and create and enhance opportunities for W&M women. Thus far, the response has been enthusiastic and has “tapped into a pent-up demand among alumnae,” says Brooke Trible Weinmann* ’79, a charter member of the Society of 1918. “W&M women are looking for an inclusive, comprehensive approach to more significantly understanding and appreciating women…and helping women to become further engaged with William & Mary,” she states.

Today the Leadership Circle boasts 255 charter members and the Alumnae Initiatives Endowment is fast approaching the $1.918 million goal.

According to Lambert, “Many universities have come to the conclusion that you’ve got to focus much more on the impact of philanthropy than just the numbers. Women have made clear that they are much more interested in learning about the impact of their philanthropy and the ways that their philanthropy can have real direct impact on students and faculty.”

Expressing gratitude for their education, having an impact on future generations, keeping the focus on academic excellence, hands-on project-based philanthropy, and opportunities to engage with other women are among the conclusions born out of the past six years of focus on women in philanthropy.

Placing women in leadership roles is a key facet of the effort to engage alumnae. While the Governor appoints the W&M Board of Visitors, Lambert states that there are numerous other boards campus-wide for which there is a goal of 50% representation by women by the end of the current comprehensive campaign (For the Bold: The Campaign for William & Mary is on-going and has raised just under $765 million to date).

Cultivating leadership among women can be challenging. “And it’s not going to happen overnight,” states Lambert. “You’ve got to do a much better job of growing leaders from within, growing a corps of leaders who can begin to populate those boards, and be much more thoughtful in reaching out to people that you’re asking to join a board.”

Another challenge, Lambert notes, is that women tend to want to give “quietly.” They often don’t want their names publicized in a press release or be named in a story. He confesses that he has come close to begging women donors to allow their gifts to be publicized so as to inspire others. Slowly, alumnae are acquiescing because they understand that it is important for other women to be made aware of and inspired by their gifts.

And that is where initiatives like the Society of 1918 are so important, we learn from Lambert. “Providing venues for alumnae to gather together to understand their collective power, feel a sense of community and encourage one another is vitally important.”

Despite the attention being focused on women and philanthropy, there are still entrenched ideas about fundraising “that have been engineered into the business and will take time to work through,” Lambert notes. But while some in the industry may not be ready to change, the raw fact is, as Lambert points out, women are controlling a growing percentage of the wealth and making a larger percentage of philanthropic decisions.

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William & Mary is celebrating 100 years of co-education in 2018. As part of that celebration, the first Women’s Weekend will take place in September when students, parents, faculty, staff and alumnae will gather in Williamsburg to empower one another and celebrate the accomplished women of William & Mary.


Matthew T. LambertMatthew T. Lambert | Vice President for University Advancement at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia

As vice president for University Advancement at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, Matthew T. Lambert ’99 oversees all William & Mary efforts related to alumni engagement, private fundraising and philanthropic outreach, university marketing and alumni communications. Under Dr. Lambert’s direction, University Advancement’s overarching goal is to create a lasting, robust culture of engagement and philanthropy among the greater William & Mary community.

Engaging students, alumni, parents and friends, corporations and foundations, and faculty and staff, is critical to William & Mary’s future. University Advancement strives to foster lifelong relationships among all constituents with the university. William & Mary’s ability to flourish and advance as a world-class university depends largely upon the active support of these key stakeholders.

William & Mary launched For the Bold: The Campaign for William & Mary in October 2015. The $1 billion initiative was rolled out with the announcement of a $50-million anonymous campaign commitment—the largest ever received by the university. More than $532 million was raised prior to the public launch (see current campaign progress), which not only pushed the campaign past the halfway mark, but also exceeded the entire amount raised during the university’s last campaign, which ended in 2007. For the Bold also summons alumni to strengthen ties with one another and with alma mater and to move into the small handful of universities whose alumni give annually at a rate of 40 percent or more.

A graduate of William & Mary with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology, Lambert earned a master’s degree from The Ohio State University, and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to returning to William & Mary in 2013 as the vice president for university development, he was associate vice president in Georgetown University’s Office of Advancement. In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, he is active in public policy research and scholarship and is the author of the book Privatization and the Public Good: Public Universities in the Balance (Harvard Education Press). Lambert and his wife, Karen Silverberg Lambert ’98, live in Williamsburg with their two sons, William and Harrison.

Lambert is also an ex-officio trustee of the William & Mary Foundation.

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The Woolbright Group’s services include counsel in strategic planning, board development, leadership and team building, capacity building, training in effective fundraising and solicitation skills, and more. For more information, please contact us.

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