Women Giving Back, Together
As an alumna of NC State’s College of Engineering and an accomplished professional, Elin Gabriel is well versed in the activities and needs of her home department and college, and she’s dedicated to giving back.
She has created an academic scholarship in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, served on an alumni advisory board and established a need-based study abroad scholarship for engineering majors.
But a new volunteer group also has increased her awareness of additional ways to support and learn about NC State. Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy is helping Gabriel and other women connect to opportunities campuswide – and connect with one another.
After a little more than 18 months of study and development, the group launched more formally this summer with the stated mission of building a sustainable, engaged, diverse network of women committed to NC State through their leadership, philanthropy and influence.
The idea is not to require giving at a certain level or to steer constituents to particular areas but rather to link them with their own passions. In late spring, for example, the group worked to raise the profile of the Student Emergency Fund.
In Dec. 2020, Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy teamed up with the Office of Annual Giving to spread the word about the Women’s Center. As part of Giving Tuesday, an annual, international celebration of philanthropy, they helped share information about the Women’s Center Survivor Fund.
The Survivor Fund supports students who have experienced interpersonal violence, including sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, stalking and sexual harassment. National studies indicate that about one in five women will experience such violence during their college years. Grants may provide for medical care, counseling or therapy, legal assistance, transportation, relocation expenses, costs associated with loss of employment and more.
“Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy is dedicated to providing opportunities for women’s giving, engagement, influence and leadership at NC State,” said Gabriel, a 1985 NC State graduate and inaugural chair of Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy. “We aim to accomplish this by applying the latest research about women’s philanthropy and engagement. We want to educate women both about the amazing things happening at NC State and about the importance of philanthropy and its impact.
“Women who participate will have access to an interesting, diverse, multigenerational, multidisciplinary group of women for networking, netweaving and mentorship. We have a motto of ‘impactful giving, meaningful engagement, influential leadership and amazing learning.’”
Comprising alumnae and friends of the university, along with a staff support team, Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy spans ages, backgrounds, disciplines and careers. Its immediate goals include recognizing and celebrating contributions by women to the university; increasing the number of women interested in and serving on university boards; and educating women about exciting events, accomplishments and needs across campus, along with ways they can provide financial support or get involved.
In general, women are the fastest growing philanthropy group with wealth, influence and commitment to leading change, Gabriel said. Women now hold an estimated 40% of global wealth, heavily influence much of family spending and tend to give more to nonprofits than men.
She noted that more than 100 data points from recent research indicate that gender makes a difference in philanthropy – one size doesn’t fit all, of course, but women’s giving motivations and patterns demonstrate unique trends. Traditionally, however, men often have been the focus of institutions’ volunteer leadership groups, and of donor conversations and appeals.
“NC State wants to engage women in ways that acknowledge their preferences to maximize commitment of women’s untapped time, talent, treasure, ties and testimony to the university,” Gabriel said.
While Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy has no official role or decision-making authority, its members hope to serve as influencers, advocates, mentors and role models.
They view their effort as particularly important because nearly 40% of NC State’s living alumni are women. And the 2019-20 incoming class was the first to include a higher percentage of women students than men; this year, 50.3% of incoming students identify as female.
“Women need more of a voice in how the future of NC State will be shaped,” said Gayle Lanier, a 1982 alumna, former member of the Board of Trustees and vice chair of Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy. Lanier has volunteered in various roles at NC State for more than 25 years – often finding herself as the only woman in the room. “I want to make sure that we create an inclusive environment for the future generation of women to flourish. Just as NC State exemplifies the power in the Pack, there is power in creating a strong, nurturing group for women to achieve their true potential by having the shoulders of other women to stand upon.
“Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy can lead an important charge.”
The group traces its origins to October 2018, when Ann Goodnight (‘68) and Susan Woodson put out a call for women to come together to dream about a new initiative, kicking off a research and exploration phase.
Since then, roughly 40 women have been involved in researching overall trends of women’s philanthropy; similar efforts across the country; learning about what’s already in place through NC State’s colleges and other units; and sharing their thoughts at several gatherings.
In 2017, as part of the university’s current Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign, a panel of staff members had set the stage for Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy by identifying a clear challenge and desire to boost women’s philanthropy, engagement and leadership as a way to advance NC State’s mission, momentum and strategic goals. The initiative began with the endorsement of both the chancellor and the vice chancellor for university advancement.
“One of the most exciting things about our Campaign has been seeing how deeply people care about this great university,” said Brian Sischo, vice chancellor for university advancement. “There are so many ways to support our students and faculty, and all the important work going on at NC State. Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy is a great example of volunteers stepping forward to help connect resources and talents with opportunities to make a difference. I look forward to seeing what this impressive group will accomplish and inspire.”
Over the past year or so, a steering committee of volunteers – a subgroup of the larger working group – continued to explore ideas, goals, strategies, structure, leadership roles and other details.
Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy transitioned into a more formalized leadership structure in early summer. In addition to a nine-member Leadership Council, its structure is organized around three committees: leadership and advocacy, engagement and recognition, and philanthropic development.
“When we began discussing this opportunity nearly three years ago, we enlisted a group of NC State staff, faculty, leaders and experts in the field of women’s philanthropy to help us develop this vision,” said Christina Walker, executive director and chief of staff for the vice chancellor for university advancement. “To see where this conversation started and how far we’ve come is powerful. I can’t think of a better group of women to be leading this initiative. It’s an honor to work alongside such amazing volunteers and staff.”
As it ramped up, the group already has participated, for example, in NC State’s Day of Giving efforts, a congratulatory graduation video coordinated by the Alumni Association in May and a Pack Appreciation Day video for students during Red and White Week. The group’s leaders have begun visiting volunteer boards across campus to advocate for a culture that intentionally embraces a range of experiences, perspectives and backgrounds.
In many ways, Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy plans not to reinvent the wheel but to serve as a hub, collaboratively tapping into activities taking place across campus and bringing them to its network’s attention. Some of the group’s early discussion meetings, for example, took place at and highlighted the JC Raulston Arboretum and the Entrepreneurship Garage.
In early 2021, Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy will begin reaching out more expansively to women donors to NC State at all levels who believe in its mission and are interested in participating. There are plans underway for several activities in March, which is Women’s History Month.
“This is a very grassroots effort of supportive women who raise their hands to help advance NC State in a wide range of ways, not a strict membership model in the sense of needing to give a certain amount of money or pay a fee to be involved,” said Gabriel, who recently became a member of the NC State University Foundation Board as well. “There truly is strength in the Pack, especially a Pack of women.”