Dartmouth women philanthropists make history with $379 million in donations

An unprecedented 103 women donated at least $1 million each to the College’s Call to Lead Campaign.

by Arizbeth Rojas | 10/22/21 5:10am

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Dartmouth Hall will not be "photogenic" in time for the Class of 2021’s June graduation.

by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

As part of the College’s Call to Lead campaign, an unprecedented 103 women each donated gifts upwards of $1 million, totaling $379 million in campaign commitments and another $61 million in bequest expectancies. 

According to Centennial Circle member Peggy Epstein ’79, Dartmouth’s previous campaign — the 2002 Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience — only saw a total of four women alumnae donate at least $1 million. 

The Centennial Circle — the first fundraising society created specifically for Dartmouth alumnae — played a major role in coordinating the philanthropic achievement, Epstein said. According to its website, the group was founded in 2014 to celebrate the Dartmouth College Fund’s 100th anniversary by recruiting 100 alumnae to join the society. Each alumna must make a contribution of at least $100,000 to the Dartmouth College Fund or the annual fund of Dartmouth’s professional school in order to gain membership. Today, The Centennial Circle has 285 members, nearly tripling its initial goal. 

Dean of faculty of the arts and sciences Elizabeth Smith attributed the rise in female-led donations to Dartmouth’s “dedicated” alumnae base. 

Although a record number of the donations exceeded $1 million, another Centennial Circle member, Ashley Donnenfeld Shackelton ’05, said women of any giving capacity were encouraged to chip in. The College plans to engrave the names of donors on Dartmouth Hall’s wall, Epstein added. 

“Any amount of money — anywhere from $5 to $5 million — would get you your name on the wall of Dartmouth Hall,” Shackelton said. “It’s something that we wanted to feel accessible for all women. We wanted them to feel that this special place on campus could become theirs, in a way.” 

As of Oct. 21, Dartmouth Hall is set to have the names of 2,719 donors — out of a goal of 3,000 — on its wall.

Epstein said the Centennial Circle was able to harness alumnae’s donating power by simply asking for contributions.

“[The Centennial Circle] asked,” Epstein said. “I don’t think in the past anyone’s ever thought to say to women, ‘Would you be willing to step up at this kind of level?’” 

Epstein added that the Call to Lead campaign has featured greater female representation than past College campaigns, with representation on the executive committee being “very balanced male to female.” In 1988, Epstein served as the only woman on the Will to Excel campaign’s executive committee.  

“I think having women in active leadership roles this time around has made a huge difference,” she added. 

Epstein said the Call to Lead campaign’s personal approach to female donors makes it stand out from other campaigns. She noted that to incentivize alumnae to join, the Centennial Circle coordinated social events limited to members of the group.

“What made Centennial Circle work was that we offered [alumnae] the opportunity to be part of this community,” Epstein said. “[Alumnae] felt not only excited to support financially, but [they] felt [they] were getting to have fun in return, as well.”

Shackelton said she hopes to extend this sisterhood to current female-identifying students at Dartmouth and hopes they too will donate to Dartmouth Hall and “make their mark on history.” 

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