An unprecedented group of more than 100 Dartmouth alumnae has committed gifts of at least $100,000 each to Dartmouth’s annual fund—raising $14.8 million toward scholarships for undergraduate women through the Dartmouth College Fund.
The Centennial Circle of Dartmouth Alumnae is the brainchild of Catherine Craighead Briggs ’88. Briggs, an active volunteer for Dartmouth and the head agent for her class’s record-breaking 25th reunion in 2013, says she was walking her chocolate Lab, Scout, in the mountains near her home in Los Gatos, Calif., last October when inspiration struck.
She had just watched a video chronicling the Fund’s 100-year legacy of alumni support for Dartmouth students, which originated in a grassroots effort to rebuild Dartmouth Hall after a fire. On her walk, she recalls thinking, “What if, for the 100th anniversary of the Dartmouth College Fund, 100 Dartmouth alumnae could each commit $100,000 to the Fund?”
After all, Dartmouth alumnae currently make up about 30 percent of the College’s total alumni base, and Dartmouth has graduated coed classes for four decades. “If Dartmouth men could rally for their college a century ago,” Briggs thought, “Dartmouth women can rally now.”
Record Year of Philanthropy Supports Vision for CollegeAnd so, with that ambitious goal, the Centennial Circle of Dartmouth Alumnae was born.
Dartmouth raised a record $287.2 million in philanthropic commitments in the 2014 fiscal year, which ended June 30, including $255.6 million in cash gifts received this year. The total includes the largest gift in the College’s history, as well as record annual giving through the Dartmouth College Fund and outstanding performance by the annual funds at Dartmouth’s professional schools of business, engineering, and medicine.
By Thanksgiving, with the help of Dartmouth College Fund staff and a growing pool of alumnae volunteers, Briggs and her fellow co-chairs, Lanie McNulty ’86 and Caroline Hribar ’00, had reached out to more than two dozen women from the classes of 1977 through 2000. By January, those leaders had begun to contact hundreds more, and had assembled a committee of 39 alumnae from 20 classes.
“I’ve never had so many women so enthusiastic, telling me to count on their gift,” says Briggs. “I knew we had the critical mass.”
Indeed. The Centennial Circle has succeeded far beyond its founders’ wildest dreams—raising a total of $14.8 million from 113 alumnae from 27 classes of the past 42 years of coeducation. Their success comes as the Dartmouth College Fund raised $48.3 million in cash gifts in fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30. Nearly 24,000 alumni donors contributed to the Fund, representing a participation rate of 42.8 percent—the second-highest in the Ivy League and among the highest in the country.
“The power of the Centennial Circle is that it was an alumnae-driven effort, and while we were seeking leadership gifts, we were also looking for greater participation,” says Hribar. “It’s important for all women, and all alumni, to express their support for the College, at whatever level they can.”
“The Centennial Circle is a testament to the truth that Dartmouth women make things happen,” says McNulty. “We set a daring goal and broke right through it. But what is important to understand is that the Centennial Circle is about Dartmouth women coming together to serve all students, faculty, and alumni—women and men.”
Key to the Circle is the impact that alumnae giving can have on students. Centennial Circle gifts have been targeted toward need-based financial aid. And the group is developing ongoing programming to harness members’ talents and interests as mentors to students—and each other—as much as their financial capacity.
“In philanthropy, women aren’t as motivated by having their names on a plaque, or giving more than the other donor. Generally, women want to be part of something larger, to have impact on the organization,” Briggs says. “A giving circle is a way for women to harness that collective power to inspire others. That rang true with alumnae.”
“I could not be more proud of what these daughters of Dartmouth have accomplished,” says President Phil Hanlon ’77. “Their initiative exemplifies the true Dartmouth spirit of community, innovation, and passion for this great institution. They didn’t wait to be asked what they could do for their college. They took the initiative, and they are creating an invaluable model for students and fellow alumni.”
Centennial Circle Committee member and Dartmouth Trustee Peggy Epstein Tanner ’79 says, “This initiative speaks to the depth of the love alumnae carry for Dartmouth—and shows that women can help shape the College for the better.”
Says McNulty, “Right now Dartmouth is on the brink of many positive changes, led by the vision of President Phil Hanlon. The way I see it, the best way to promote change is to jump in and get your hands dirty. The Centennial Circle is about jumping in.”
Centennial Circle organizers intend to continue their efforts, and welcome all alumnae who are able to consider joining. As Briggs says, “The Circle never closes.”