Director, Centennial CircleDartmouth College
In 2014, as the 100th anniversary of the Dartmouth College Fund approached, Catherine Craighead Briggs, class of ’88, had an aha moment. What if, she thought, we asked 100 Dartmouth alumnae to each make a gift to the Dartmouth College Fund of $100,000 in honor of the anniversary? With six months to go until the anniversary, she approached Sylvia Racca, Executive Director of the Dartmouth College Fund, in the Advancement Division with her ambitious—some might say audacious—idea.
“This was big. Bigger than any institution had ever seen. At the time, we had maybe four women giving at that level,”
recalls Mindi Laine.
The Advancement team decided to run with it.
Two more women were identified as co-founders to help drive the effort forward. Women with gift histories that might indicate a likelihood of giving at the target level were identified and the quiet phase of the campaign was underway. In short order, thirty women joined the Centennial Circle and at that point the campaign went public. Within three months 114 women had stepped up and infused the Dartmouth College Fund with almost $15 million for financial aid for female students currently attending Dartmouth. Today there are 160 members representing four decades of alumnae who are setting a precedent in women’s philanthropy.
The impressive success of the Centennial Circle can be attributed to the confluence of several factors, according to Laine. She credits peer-to-peer recruiting of members as being the “secret sauce” of the Circle’s early success. Women talking to women about helping other women [students] combined with the imminent anniversary resonated on a deeply personal level. “There was historical precedent for giving generously to the Dartmouth College Fund, but this was the first time that we went outside of the class model of creating competition—the class of ’88 wants to ‘beat’ the class of ’87 and so on. That’s the way men have given but,” Laine states, “it doesn’t always resonate with women.” She continues, “The Centennial Circle really shook that [class model] up. The thinking was, there is going to be a different way for women to galvanize around leadership level philanthropy and create a new community of philanthropists.”
And while at first the Circle’s founding members were very intentional about whom they reached out to, it turned out that historical giving didn’t really matter. Many of the women who gave during the founding member stage and even beyond, are women who had never made a leadership gift to Dartmouth. According to Laine, “Supporting students through philanthropy, having an individual relationship with a student, sharing expertise and being a resource for them—these are what the Centennial Circle is about.” As the circle grows and evolves, creating opportunities for donors and students to engage is a top priority.
As a Centennial Circle donor, members are eligible for the Dartmouth College Fund’s Scholar Program. When donors to the Fund give $30,000 or more a student from the current junior or senior class is awarded a scholarship in the donor’s name for one year. In the case of Circle members, the scholarship recipient is always a woman. Donors and the scholarship recipient are introduced and encouraged to stay in touch over the course of the year. The Centennial Circle has supported over 600 scholarships since its founding, or 175 – 220 scholarships annually.
Another opportunity, piloted in 2016, is a mentorship program in which Circle members are paired with students in the First Year Student Enrichment Program--students who are the first in their family to go to college. Last year, eight women from the Centennial Circle were paired with eight students from FYSEP and based on the success of the experiment the program has been launched more formally this year.
A primary Circle objective is “creating opportunities for students to see philanthropy in action,” we learn from Laine, “so they can see that philanthropy is a big piece of their education and, ideally, are inspired to give back when it’s their time, when they’re in a position to do so.”
Laine recalls that following an event hosted by Circle members in New York City last year, a student approached Racca to say she had no idea that philanthropy was behind her receiving full financial aid at Dartmouth. She was very moved and grateful to realize that donor generosity had afforded her the chance to attend Dartmouth.
Asked about other achievements since the founding of the Centennial Circle, Laine sites the closing of the gender gap among donors. In 2012, she reports, men were outgiving women by almost 5:1. That has narrowed to a 2.5:1 ratio in 2017. In 2012 women comprised four percent of donors at the $100,000 level; that has risen to 20 percent today. And, since 2012, giving among women has increased from 22 percent to 31 percent.
Laine hopes the Centennial Circle is inspiring women to “think bigger,” whatever their capacity to give. She admits $100,000 can be a huge stretch and some may never be able to give at that level, but women are thinking differently about their philanthropy by seeing what others are doing. “Women are linking arms; they’re visibly giving leadership gifts and, frankly, they are inspiring a lot of men too,” she states.
“I think we’re just beginning to tap the potential of women’s philanthropy,” Laine concludes.
Mindi Laine is the Director of the Centennial Circle, overseeing the women's leadership philanthropy program at Dartmouth College.
She joined the Dartmouth College Fund as a Managing Director for Individual and Class Giving in 2011 before her appointment in 2016 as the first Director of the Centennial Circle. Prior to Dartmouth College, Mindi was an Assistant Director of Major Gifts at the Geisel School of Medicine/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center; a Major Gifts Officer working with family foundations at WNET.ORG; and a Development Officer at The Rockefeller University.
Mindi brings more than 15 years of nonprofit fundraising experience to her volunteer work for various community-focused organizations in Vermont and New Hampshire.