Women’s Philanthropy Initiative Launched to Encourage Giving and Scholarship Funds

Charlotte P. Parks, 404-413-7064
GSU Development and Alumni Affairs

Georgia State University has always boasted a diverse student body. Throughout the university’s history, the typical GSU student has balanced school, work and family, putting in long hours to earn a degree. It’s always been a challenge, but Nancy Mansfield, professor of legal studies in J. Mack Robinson College of Business, says these last few years have been more challenging than anything she has seen in her 30 years at GSU.

That’s why she was excited when asked to join the Women’s Philanthropy Initiative (WPI), a group of GSU faculty, leaders and friends who have come together to encourage a culture of philanthropy on campus and empower the women of Georgia State. Although still in its infancy, the group already has 25 supporters and has raised more than $400,000.

Women's Philanthropy Initiative members

Women’s Philanthropy Initiative members

Spearheading the initiative are GSU’s first lady Laura Voisinet and GSU Foundation (GSUF) board member Cathy Henson, founder of the Georgia School Council Institute. Others on the steering committee are Kathy Bernhardt, executive director of HAVE; GSUF board member Mimi Breeden, formerly of SunTrust Bank; Marjorie Knowles, former dean of the GSU Law School; and GSUF board member Ray Uttenhove, executive vice president at SRS Real Estate Partners. (Pictured left to right above are Uttenhove, Mansfield, Breeden, Henson and Voisinet; not pictured are Bernhardt and Knowles.)

They are on a mission to develop women leaders and inspire them to give of their time, talents and resources to support GSU’s goal of positioning itself as a model of academic success for diverse populations.

A recent study by the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University revealed that 90 percent of the women in affluent households are either the sole decision maker or an equal partner in charitable decisions. These professional women approach charitable giving differently than men — they are more strategic in their thinking and look for deeper involvement, or collaboration, with the organizations they fund.

Several universities have launched similar initiatives, and Cathy Henson was intrigued by what she saw. “Many people think of philanthropy as something done only by millionaires who can write big checks,” she says. “But at its core, philanthropy is about wanting to help others. Women in particular often start through volunteer activities where they can see the impact of their efforts. I started out as the ‛Clinic Mom’ at my son’s elementary school.

“I saw first-hand the needs of the children in that school and experienced the rewards of being able to comfort a child who needed some extra TLC,” she continues. “I find, and the research shows, that women donate to organizations where they have had some kind of actual engagement. Through this initiative at Georgia State, we hope to teach women about the quality work being done at Georgia State — by students and faculty — and provide them opportunities to engage and support the work of the university.”

It wasn’t difficult for WPI leaders to find an area where they could make an immediate impact. Nine out of every ten Georgia State students receive financial aid, and since 2007, the unmet need for financial assistance at GSU has risen more than 100 percent. At the same time, it has become more difficult for students to hang onto the Hope Scholarship or other funding sources.

“Championing education, and higher education in particular, has been a real passion of mine,” says Voisinet. “And I think it is not a stretch to say that women the world over place a high importance on education for their children — and for their daughters in particular. Women everywhere understand that education is transformational for their children, transformational for their families and indeed transformational for their entire communities. It’s what I like to refer to as the ultimate ‘trickle down’ effect. And it is happening at GSU and the state of Georgia, as well.

“In my four years at Georgia State, I have been inspired by the dynamic and successful GSU women leaders and alumni I’ve met, and likewise the hundreds of emerging GSU student leaders. The WPI is creating a seamless link between these two generations: One generation of successful GSU women coming together to engage, share and generously invest in the next generation. When our women alumnae gather back on campus, they witness firsthand the palpable energy, audacious optimism and gushing enthusiasm our students exude.”

Mansfield is excited because WPI combines her professional and personal interests, something she is comfortable sharing with friends and colleagues. “I’ve seen the effects of the economy on these students. They are under so much stress, and I’m reminded of the many powerful stories they have to tell. It’s great that GSU is able to respond to their need and find creative ways to keep them in school, such as retention grants that help them re-earn the HOPE scholarship. Watching students make progress toward graduation is very meaningful for me.”

Vice Provost Tim Renick addressed a recent luncheon held to “kick off” the group’s activities. He thanked them for their service, and reiterated the need for their involvement.

“It’s very simple: scholarships change lives,” he told them. “For Georgia State students, even modest amounts of aid can mean the difference between dropping out and graduating. By investing scholarship dollars in students who are hard-working and committed to success but who just need a financial boost, Georgia State is not only improving individual lives, it is helping to create a brighter future for all of us.”

For more information about WPI, please e-mail Charlotte Parks or call 404-413-7064.