Centennial Circle Makes $12.5 Million Financial Aid Gift

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Celebratory alumnae gift marks a decade of supporting students.

Dartmouth Hall
(Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Members of the Centennial Circle of Dartmouth Alumnae recognized the giving society’s 10th anniversary this weekend by making a gift that celebrates the group’s national philanthropic leadership and Dartmouth’s first woman president.

In a two-day gathering that looked forward while also saluting 10 years of accomplishments, Centennial Circle members presented a $12.5 million check to President Sian Leah Beilock. As with nearly all funds raised through the Centennial Circle, the anniversary gift will provide essential financial aid for undergraduates and graduate students through the Dartmouth College Fund and the annual funds of Dartmouth’s graduate and professional schools.

“We live in a world where ability is far more widespread than opportunity, and to make a Dartmouth education possible for the most talented scholars and leaders, we need to level the financial playing field,” President Beilock told the more than 125 alumnae gathered in Hanover. “The Dartmouth College Fund is one of our largest sources of financial aid funding, and it allows us to recruit talented students from every walk of life and relieve the stress of financial burdens for students and families. Likewise, Dartmouth’s graduate and professional school annual funds offer critical support for students who are preparing to take on the world’s most pressing challenges.”

As part of the celebration, Beilock—who announced her membership in the circle on Saturday—presented the Centennial Circle Award to Catherine Craighead Briggs ’88, the giving society’s originator and most vigorous proponent.

In 2014, Craighead Briggs convened a group of alumnae who founded the circle with a goal of recruiting 100 Dartmouth women to make gifts of $100,000 or more in honor of the DCF’s 100th anniversary. In less than three months, with Caroline Hribar ’00 and Lanie Bertsche McNulty ’86 joining Craighead Briggs as co-chairs, 114 circle members had committed nearly $15 million to the DCF.

Sian Leah Beilock, Laurie Lewis Shapiro, Ashley Donnenfeld Shackelton, and Danielle Guthrie Johnson
From left, President Sian Leah Beilock celebrates with Laurie Lewis Shapiro ’95, Ashley Donnenfeld Shackelton ’05, and Danielle Guthrie Johnson ’98 after they presented a $12.5 million check from the Centennial Circle of Dartmouth Alumnae to mark its 10th anniversary. (Photo by Perry Smith)

As the circle has grown each year—and the current fiscal year is its best to date—Dartmouth alumnae have established a new national standard for alumnae-led higher education philanthropy, and multiple colleges and universities have reached out to Dartmouth as they’ve sought to establish similar communities of alumnae supporters.

The Centennial Circle today has 334 members who have given more than $87 million for financial aid, and the circle has emerged as the fastest-growing leadership giving society within the DCF, delivering more than $8 million annually in unrestricted support.

Many alumnae have made their first major philanthropic commitment with the advice and mentoring of fellow circle members, and the cumulative impact of their giving to financial aid is significant: Circle members represent about 1.5% of Dartmouth College Fund donors each year and they account for nearly 20% of all giving to the DCF.

“There is a special alchemy that occurs among Dartmouth women. While we are all very different, we share some key commonalities,” says Craighead Briggs. “We are quick and enthusiastic learners. We innovate and are excited by new opportunities. And, most important, we love a challenge.”

Beyond the scholarship funding made possible by their generous giving, Circle members have created a vibrant alumnae community, supporting one another in their careers, mentoring students, and inspiring other examples of philanthropic leadership, such as the alumnae-led renovation of Dartmouth Hall.

“What was initially a commemorative moment in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the College’s annual fund has undeniably evolved into a movement,” says Leslie Davis Dahl ’85, a founding member of the giving society. “Together, we have achieved remarkable feats. And together, harnessing the power that fuels the very essence of our community, we know we are capable of even more.”

Circle members are committed to growing the giving society as the need for financial aid remains pressing—the average scholarship award for an incoming member of the Class of 2028 is expected to exceed $69,000. A new generation of alumnae are dedicating themselves to continuing the circle’s successful work. Three alumnae who are rising leaders in the Centennial Circle—Danielle Guthrie Johnson ’98, Ashley Donnenfeld Shackelton ’05, and Laurie Lewis Shapiro ’95—presented the check to Beilock on Saturday afternoon.

“The Centennial Circle holds a genuine sense of community and a shared mission that empowers future women leaders,” says Shackelton. "As the circle grows beyond 300 members, its ever-strengthening energy and pride encourages the next generation to keep pushing boundaries.

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