During the 3rd year of a global recession, it seems philanthropy would be the last thing on the minds of many students. Family budgets are being stretched thin all across the country and 95% of Mills students receive financial aid from the college. But even in these economic conditions, many students feel they can still benefit from learning about philanthropy.
Mills hosted, “At the Table: Women in Philanthropy” on Feb. 23, an event which profiled women holding leadership positions at Bay Area non-profits. This was the first event of its kind at Mills, organized by Lisa Gray, the former interim Director of the Institute for Civic Leadership.
According to Michaela Daystar, head of the Institute for Civic Leadership, the benefit of this event was that students were able to network with successful women in the field of philanthropy.
“We want students to have more awareness of philanthropy as a sector or as a career path.” said Daystar. She explained how women are becoming more prominent in the field of philanthropy and therefore are in an unprecedented position to make decisions about funding distributed by non-profits.
Emma Karki was asked by Judith Bishop, head of the Women’s Studies department at Mills, to help represent the department. Karki is an office assistant at the Office of Institutional advancement, the department that raises funds for Mills.
While she agrees that most students aren’t in the mindset of donating money she said understanding philanthropy offers a learning experience for students.
“It’s relevant for students who want to learn about fundraising … I don’t have money to give, I’m a student, but I’d love to work in a field where people give money to women and education.”
Karki explained that philanthropy is especially important during an economic recession.
“The people who need help from non-profits usually need it more during difficult economic times, when unfortunately there are less people to donate,” she said. “It’s probably easy when everyone is able to do it, but it’s so much more important now.”
Gray said her one of her motivations to create the panel was to inspire change in the Mills community. “ICL is trying to reach out to the larger Mills community about social justice. These types of opportunities allow people to see [social justice is] not just me holding a sign.”
The event was designed to cultivate partnerships, according to Gray. When selecting the panelists she asked herself, “Who were the women who were actively engaged?”
Daystar said she was surprised at the student response to the event.
“I’ve had quite a few students who said they were excited, and how they have planned to go into philanthropy,” she said.
Gray agreed, saying she was pleased with the turnout. About 35 students were at the event, held in the GSB 101.
The event featured 5 speakers from different organizations. Among them were Carole Watson, Chief Community Investment Officer for the United Way of the Bay Area and Tara Wilson, a Mills alum and a program fellow at the San Francisco Foundation. They represented a wide range of experiences from someone who was just starting out in philanthropy (Wilson) to an executive with decades of experience.
The panelists echoed the sentiments expressed by Daystar and Gray, and spoke about seeking to build partnerships between women in Philanthropy.
“Networking is one thing, relationships are a different thing.” said Watson. She said a lot of work is done by building relationships with different people in the field.
Mills sophomore Rebecca Freeman is one of a select group of students chosen by their academic department to attend the opening reception “At the Table.” She said she is interested in the non-monetary ways that students can be involved in philanthropy.
“Financially it can be difficult. I recognize that a large part of philanthropy is donating money, but, given the opportunity, students can see that there are other ways of giving back without money,” said Freeman.
She said that it was her upbringing that initially interested her in philanthropy.
“I was always taught that even if it’s not a large amount of money, if you can give of your time, talent and treasures it’s meaningful…Giving of yourself is just as meaningful, and can be a part of philanthropy as well,” she said.
Freeman said she was particularly excited about the new club on campus, the Student Philanthropy Council. The club was thought up mainly by Gurpreet Tung, the Telephone Outreach Program Coordinator at the Office of Institutional Advancement, which means she coordinates the program which calls alumnae to connect and of course, facilitate donating to Mills.
Tung sees the Student Philanthropy council as a way to keep students connected to Mills after graduation. While philanthropy can involve many ways of giving back, the Student Philanthropy Council focuses mainly on monetary donations and educating students about how their own education is funded.
According to Freeman, it’s easy to give back.
“Coming from a perspective where I’m so blessed, philanthropy is a way to be able to share that,” she said.
Gray echoes the sentiment, saying “If you are passionate about an issue, you can plug into that and inspire meaningful change for others”
The ICL is currently accepting applications for next year’s program, due March 18th.