New Women's Giving Campaign Supports Students
For years, Tufts University Trustee Kalahn Taylor-Clark, J99, MG01, wanted to give back to Tufts in a “really meaningful way,” but that didn’t seem possible while she was an early and mid-career health policy professional with a young family and limited resources.
“The education I got at Tufts changed my life,” said Taylor-Clark, who came from a single-mother household and whose work has focused on finding creative solutions to health care challenges and reducing health care inequality.
Now she and fellow trustees Lisbeth Tarlow, F84, FG97, and Mariann Youniss, J83, are opening creative new avenues for alumna giving as chairs of Women Impact Tufts (WIT). The initiative, which is the culmination of a year-long effort to develop more meaningful philanthropic opportunities for alumnae, is the first to bring Tufts women together in a purposeful way to address pressing university-wide needs.
Fittingly, it launches 130 years after women first enrolled at Tufts, decades before most colleges admitted women. WIT seeks to inspire at least 130 donors to fund scholarships at all of Tufts schools, as well as graduate, professional, and post-doctoral fellowships—many endowed, thus ensuring sustainability—and enables friends and classmates to pool resources in “giving circles” if they choose.
WIT will be a key component in obtaining funds from the $25 million challenge grant that Tufts received from the Schuler Education Foundation. That grant matches money raised for aid to low-income students, including those eligible for Federal Pell Grants and those with undocumented and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status.
“I can’t stand the fact that students may not be able to attend Tufts for no other reason than we’re not need-blind,” said Youniss, a math and economics major whose career has spanned management consulting, technology, and volunteerism. “That bothers me to the core because the only way I got to Tufts was through a very, very strong financial aid package.”
Financial aid is the “biggest challenge we have to getting top-quality students,” Tarlow said, “and outstanding students help Tufts attract the outstanding educators, scholars, and researchers needed to fulfill the university’s mission and maintain our reputation among peers.” An expert on Russian foreign and domestic policy who has chaired The Fletcher School’s board of advisors, she stressed that Tufts graduate and professional programs need more resources to compete for students, particularly international students from under-resourced areas. “WIT could be a game changer,” she said.
Inclusive, Not Exclusive
The co-chairs emphasize that WIT is designed to be “super inclusive” when it comes to who gives as well as who is funded. The goal is to have as many people as possible participate in a way that is right for them. “This is not an exclusive club,” Youniss said.
“Contributions of time, talent, and treasure are all welcome,” Taylor-Clark said. She speaks with excitement about classmates who pooled resources in a joint donation that will endow a new scholarship. “These are all new donors who have never before given to Tufts, so it’s very exciting to see how this initiative has kindled their enthusiasm and provided a realistic way for them to contribute to something that is so meaningful.”
“Funding a scholarship single-handedly is a nonstarter for a lot of people, but if I say, ‘I’m giving some and I’m also going in with others,’ it changes the dynamic to make giving more accessible and more equitable,” Taylor-Clark added. “We very much want to include more voices in the giving community at Tufts.”
Women worldwide have long been both breadwinners and philanthropists, but in recent years they have assumed more visibility, agency, and control. WIT adds Tufts to a growing number of universities that have recognized women’s burgeoning philanthropic leadership and their preferred approach to giving. The initiative draws on insights gained through focus groups involving almost 150 Tufts women of varied ages, ethnicities, racial backgrounds, and personal and professional experiences. It also relies on the efforts of a women’s task force working with Tufts’ University Advancement division.
“We are immensely grateful to the extraordinary women whose expertise, energy, and creativity have shaped this initiative that will contribute so much to the success of the Brighter World campaign in its final year,” said Caroline Genco, provost and senior vice president ad interim at Tufts. Brighter World is Tufts’ $1.5-billion fundraising campaign, which will close in June 2023.
The focus group conversations with Tufts alumnae showed that they seek a strong personal connection in their giving, and that impact is far more important to them than individual recognition. “Rather than see their name on a building, many women want to understand very clearly how their gift will directly address a pressing need at an institution they care about,” Youniss said.
Recognizing that it’s particularly important to alumnae to engage with Tufts over the long term, WIT is exploring new ways for them to network and volunteer, including mentoring initiatives, speaker programs, learning opportunities, and social interaction—starting with a series of launch events to build community and kick off the initiative this fall. WIT may also aim to strengthen connections with students before they graduate, inspiring future generations of givers.
No matter what form it takes, harnessing the power of women’s giving will lead to crucial support for students, particularly those from underrepresented communities, the co-chairs said. “We want to be sure every student has all the resources they need to fully participate in the Tufts community and to feel they are part of a worthy university that they can be proud of,” Youniss said.
WIT enthusiastically welcomes support from all Tufts constituents. At the same time, Tarlow acknowledged that “there’s a special bonding” that happens when Tufts women work together. “It’s incredibly satisfying and empowering for alumnae to engage in a new way, as a unit, to address a critical need across the university,” she said. “This is a first for Tufts, and it’s exciting to envision all the possibilities as the future unfolds.”