Sometimes, you just have to ask.
Fran Engoron ’70 didn't consider herself particularly engaged with William & Mary after graduation. She had a wonderful experience as a student and was still in touch with many of her college friends, but she wasn't particularly involved as an alumna.
Then, out of the blue, she got a phone call that would change her life. The dean of the business school asked her to join their foundation's board. Flattered and excited, she accepted, thus beginning more than 20 years of service to William & Mary.
"There are many women waiting for that one phone call that's going to activate them to engage with and support the university," Engoron said. "William & Mary's wonderful, talented women are an underutilized resource. But if we just ask, so many are ready and willing to step up to the plate."
When Dr. Valerie Cushman, director of alumnae initiatives, asked Engoron to join the new Women & Philanthropy Leadership Circle, she hoped she could collaborate with other alumnae to make real change to leverage the power, talent and generosity of W&M women.
This is the goal of William & Mary's newest giving society, the Society of 1918. Chaired by Engoron, the society is the outcome of the Women & Philanthropy Task Force created in 2012 at the behest of the College of William & Mary Foundation. They studied existing research and best practices, conducted surveys and created strategies to fully engage women as leaders, donors and advocates of William & Mary.
When Cushman first started at William & Mary 2016, she broadened alumnae engagement by growing the Task Force into the 24-member Leadership Circle that created the Society of 1918.
Named in honor of the year William & Mary first admitted female students, the Society of 1918 aims to grow women’s engagement, leadership and philanthropy throughout the university and celebrate and honor William & Mary women. Members who join by June 30, 2018, are charter members of the society.
"Our vision for the society has three parts: celebrate the past contributions of William & Mary women, increase opportunities for women to be involved in William & Mary's present, and pay it forward to future generations," said Brooke Trible Weinmann ’79, a charter member of the society and a member of the Women & Philanthropy Task Force. "In doing so, we improve our alma mater for everyone — students, faculty, administration, alumni and alumnae."
Fifty-eight percent of the Class of 2018 are women, as are 53 percent of William & Mary’s alumni. Research shows women approach giving differently than men. For example, they want to be asked, to feel engaged in the organizations they support through time and relationships and are more deliberate in their philanthropy.
"The society is an idea whose time has come," said Weinmann. "It's tapped into a pent-up demand among alumnae, students and faculty. William & Mary women are looking for an inclusive, comprehensive approach to more significantly understanding and appreciating women, meeting women where they are, and helping women to become further engaged, appropriately and substantially, with William & Mary."
The Society of 1918 supports the Alumnae Initiatives Endowment, which will enrich programming and enhance opportunities for women across the W&M community. The initial goal was 100 women collectively contributing $1 million. This goal was quickly surpassed.
Today there are more than 200 charter members who have committed more than $1.5 million towards the new goal of $1.918 million for the endowment. "There's been such an energy and enthusiasm around the Society of 1918, and it's encouraging that so many have already answered the call," said Elizabeth Cabell Jennings ’85, who chaired the Women & Philanthropy Task Force and is a charter member of the society. "We hope the society will continue to grow and increase the visibility and impact of women’s giving."
The Alumnae Initiatives Endowment is unique in that it is funded almost exclusively by and for women. It will enrich W&M women’s engagement opportunities throughout the country, provide exclusive programming for members of the Society of 1918 and help launch the new William & Mary Women’s Weekend, September 21-23, 2018, added Cushman.
The society aims to provide many opportunities and events for women across ages and backgrounds to network. Women will serve as mentors and role models for each other across generations and form new relationships.
Events sponsored by the Society of 1918 are already having an impact by connecting William & Mary women to each other and the university. Women's events held around the country, such as one held in Norfolk in January, are providing meaningful experiences for women in which they can encourage and learn from one another.
Meg Pratt Carter ’89, a charter member and member of the original Leadership Circle, said the Society of 1918 is helping her stay engaged with William & Mary long after graduation. "Women sometimes get lost in other things, between careers and family. But the society keeps me connected. It’s really a new group of friends — positive, intelligent and interesting women. I love to be around them and I feel like I’m better for it."
She hopes that the society will inspire women throughout the William & Mary community to also pay it forward and to give a gift of any size.
"I'd love to see the society be a very inclusive place for women to reflect on their wonderful experiences at William & Mary and for them to share and network," said Carter, who is now chair of the engagement committee. "For young graduates it could become a pathway to a lifetime of engagement and philanthropy."
Charter membership in the Society of 1918 is offered to all women who commit $10,000 or more to the Alumnae Initiatives Endowment by June 30, 2018. To fulfill that commitment, payments of $2,000 annually may be made over a five-year period.
If you are interested in joining a vibrant group of women committed to shaping William & Mary’s future, please make your gift or pledge today or contact Val Cushman at email@example.com or (757) 221-1622. Visit wmalumni.com/societyof1918 for more information, and follow #wmwomen on social media to see more William & Mary women's initiatives.
"The society can be a powerful force to secure the long-term future of William & Mary," said Jennings. "It's empowering."
As Engoron said, "We are really just beginning that journey to see how we can best leverage the great treasure we have in the wonderful women of William & Mary."
Our thanks to the founding members of the Task Force, Ginger Miller Ambler ’88, Ph.D. ’06, Sue Hanna Gerdelman ’76, Bob Glacel HON ’16, Elizabeth Cabell Jennings ’85, Ellen R. Stofan ’83, D.Sc. ’16, Martha Frechette Tack ’78 and Brooke Trible Weinmann ’79.