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Women’s Philanthropy at Spelman College

Interview with Jessie L. Brooks, CFRE, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Spelman College,

Atlanta, Georgia

Spelman College has long earned the admiration and support of female philanthropists inspired by the remarkable women who attend this historic school. Women philanthropists do of course give generously to other colleges and universities, but if ever there was a shining example of women supporting women, it is at Spelman College.

For this reason, The Woolbright Group recently spoke with Jessie L. Brooks, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, to ask about his perspective on the unique connection between Spelman students and the school’s women donors.

WG: Jessie, thank you very much for giving us your time today. Let’s start with a little background on Spelman College, if you would please.

JB: Of course. Spelman College is a Historically Black College and global leader in the education of women of African descent, and is dedicated to academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences and the intellectual, creative, ethical, and leadership development of its students. Part of Spelman’s mission is to empower the whole person, to engage the many cultures of the world, and inspire a commitment to positive social change.

Recognition from numerous entities demonstrates that Spelman continues to be on the ascent as an academic institution focused on the success of its students. As the highest ranked institution from which Black women science and engineering doctorate recipients earn bachelor's degrees, according to the National Science Foundation, Spelman is a strong training ground for women who go on to careers in which they lead and excel.

Spelman moved up 10 places to No. 51 in the U.S. News and World Report Best College's National Liberal Arts Colleges 2018 rankings. The College is also the No.1 HBCU and was included on the list of the nation’s most innovative liberal arts colleges.

WG: Have you recognized differences in women’s philanthropy when you compare co-educational institutions to single gender institutions?

JB: My prior experience has been at large public co-educational institutions, and the difference that I’ve found is that the philanthropy [at those institutions] was directed at enhancing a specific program or area as opposed to specifically educating future women leaders. There were individuals who supported women’s education initiatives specifically, but there were also groups that supported other programs that aligned with their personal passion.

WG: What do you believe are two to three considerations that most women make in deciding their commitment to providing philanthropic support to your institution?

JB: The factors that most women consider in determining their philanthropic commitment to Spelman College are: 1) the mission/leadership of the institution, 2) the impact of their gift on the students, and 3) stewardship of their gift.

WG: Please talk a bit about Spelman’s mission and what makes it unique in the world of women’s colleges. Also, please elaborate about the Spelman approach to stewardship; give a couple of examples of stewardship practices.

JB: Spelman is a global leader in the education of women of African descent. We are dedicated to academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences, and the intellectual, creative, ethical and leadership development of our students.

Spelman’s approach to stewardship is to ensure that our donors are as engaged as much as possible with the institution. We involve them in our signature activities such as Christmas Carol, Homecoming, Reunion and Founders Day, and we also include as many opportunities as possible for them to interact with our students through on and off campus activities.

WG: What might be one or two primary motivations for your donors to make major gifts?

JB: Spelman provides the opportunity for every young woman who enters the Spelman Colleges gates to graduate with a degree and competitive edge by preparing them to be the next generation of global leaders and change agents.

WG: Many if not all colleges and universities tout efforts to prepare a new generation of leaders and change agents. What sets Spelman graduates apart and how is that conveyed to your donors?

JB: Spelman graduates are proven change agents. They are leaders in medicine, STEM, business, education, law, the arts and the humanities and all other disciplines. We showcase our alumnae through our print and electronic publications, press releases, intellectual summits and other on and off campus events.

WG: How might students today be influenced as undergraduates to become donors themselves, upon graduating and continuing?

JB: A significant portion of our student population receives some financial aid including scholarship support. They know the impact that these funds have had on their educational journey. They see the importance of paying it forward and are motivated to do the same for future generations. The key is to continually to reinforce the spirit of philanthropy throughout their time at Spelman College and they will continue to give.

WG: How are students taught the importance of philanthropy? Are students made aware of the role donors play in the lives of Spelman students? How?

JB: We have established the Student Philanthropy Council to work with the various classes at Spelman College. Students manage the Council with support from the Institutional Advancement team. The classes determine their goals and implement them throughout the year through various activities. We also have a Senior Legacy Program designed to increase the overall giving and percentage of giving from our graduating students.

Our students are keenly aware of the impact of the role that donors play in their matriculation success. Our students write thank you notes, participate in the annual scholarship luncheon and thank donors in person when they visit campus.

WG: What three critical lessons have you learned about women’s philanthropy at your college?

JB: I have been at Spelman College for two years. During my time here, I have learned that our women donors are passionate about the mission of the College. Through their philanthropy, they want the College to provide our young women with an unrivaled academic experience, create and implement innovative programs and ensure that Spelman College remains a global leader for graduating women who will change the world.

Also, what I have observed about our strongest supporters is that in addition to their financial gifts, these women are actively involved as “volunteers” in service to the College. Their leadership, time and talent makes a significant impact in the College, far beyond their monetary support.

WG: What are the major challenges in recruiting new donors at Spelman?

JB: We are focusing on building a strong development team. We now have a fully staffed team who are out meeting with alumnae and friends and engaging them with the institution.

WG: Please give some examples of how the impact of donors’ gifts is demonstrated.

JB: A couple of important ways that the impact of a donor’s gift is demonstrated is when the donor meets the student or faculty member their support has impacted. The student is able to convey to the donor their story and journey and how it would not have been possible without their assistance. In the case of a faculty member, they convey to the donor the excellent educational experience they can provide because of the gift. We pride ourselves on creating an environment with an outstanding educational experience--second to none--for our students.

WG: Is there any other advice that you might share with other colleagues on women’s philanthropy to be more successful and effective?

JB: Listen, Listen, Listen. It is important to be responsive, to keep them engaged as much as possible with the institution (students, faculty, and leadership), and to demonstrate the impact of their giving.

WG: Thank you Jessie. This has been most enlightening.

For more information on the fascinating history of Spelman College:

Atlanta, Georgia

Brooks brings to Spelman nearly 20 years of experience in higher education fundraising. He most recently served as senior director of development for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Brooks began his development career working in corporate and foundation relations at the Thunderbird School of Global Management and, later, at the University of Washington College of Engineering. In 2001, he began his first stint at UCSD, serving as director of development for major gifts in the Division of Biological Sciences. After two years in the role, he joined San Diego State University, where he raised funds in support of the College of Health and Human Services. Five years later, he was named assistant and then associate vice president for university development at SDSU.

A native of New Mexico, Brooks earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of New Mexico. He is a Certified Fundraising Executive, past board member of the Association of Fundraising Professions, San Diego Chapter, and a 2014 graduate of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education Minority Advancement Institute.

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