February 23, 2018

Scecina Women’s Circle shows philanthropic impact of women

Several members of the Scecina Women’s Giving Circle—a philanthropic group of women who pool their funds to support the students of Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis—pose outside of a restaurant in Oldenburg on Dec. 3, 2017. One of the purposes of the trip was to visit the convent of the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis in Oldenburg, which over the years provided many teachers to the Indianapolis East Deanery high school. (Submitted photo)

Several members of the Scecina Women’s Giving Circle—a philanthropic group of women who pool their funds to support the students of Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis—pose outside of a restaurant in Oldenburg on Dec. 3, 2017. One of the purposes of the trip was to visit the convent of the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis in Oldenburg, which over the years provided many teachers to the Indianapolis East Deanery high school. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

Jean Donlan and Beth Murphy first learned of the “women’s giving circle” concept at a philanthropy conference in the spring of 2016. They were inspired by the idea: a group of women pooling their own donations for a specific cause.

A little more than one year, 51 women and $24,000 later, inspiration had become reality in the form of the Scecina Women’s Circle to benefit the students of Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School on the east side of Indianapolis.

“For many years, philanthropy was focused on men,” says Donlan, former Scecina director of community engagement. “We all know that women [also] make economic decisions—we invest, we make decisions about our Church donations.”

“It was very much about giving women the power to decide where their money was going to be used,” adds Murphy, director of marketing communications at Scecina. “We’ve come a long way [with] people recognizing that women have their own financial power in philanthropy.”

‘We’re adding to Scecina’

After the conference, Donlan and Murphy approached the school’s administration and board about creating a women’s giving circle at Scecina to support the students and mission of the school.

Scecina president Joseph Therber was impressed.

“It’s a great opportunity to engage more alumni and friends who are women in ways that serve students directly, and that increases financial support and increases relationships,” he says. “My support has been 100 percent from the beginning.”

What’s also impressive about the group, says Murphy, is its novelty.

“We did all kinds of research and calling around, and we believe we’re the first women’s circle in the archdiocese,” she says.

One Scecina board member in particular “loved the idea”—Nancy Leming, a 1985 alumna and Scecina parent who works as a private banking director.

When she was asked to chair the giving circle, “I jumped on it,” she says.

The Scecina Women’s Circle developed three objectives: to reinforce the social and communal bonds within the Scecina community; to model for students the important influence of women in philanthropy; and to provide financial support to programs that impact student life at Scecina.

The group—which consists of Scecina alumnae, mothers and grandmothers of graduates, staff, Catholics, non-Catholics and friends of the school—held its first meeting in October 2016. The 30 women present set a goal of contributing $20,000.

By the end of its fiscal year in June 2017, the group had grown to 51 women ranging in age from 27-87. Their individual contributions totaled $24,000—$4,000 more than their goal.

While individual gifts ranged from $200-$2,000, “there is no minimum contribution, so it’s very welcoming to young college graduates,” says Anne O’Connor, an attorney for the city of Indianapolis and a Scecina parent.

Plus, says Murphy, “Most of these gifts were on top of what they were already giving to Scecina. It [isn’t] taking away from Scecina—we’re adding to Scecina.”

‘We hope they remember to give back’

The group worked with the school’s administration to determine where the funds would benefit the students most. For 2017, the areas identified were retreats, clubs and the spring musical.

Of the $4,000 excess raised, $2,000 was designated to help with the spring musical and Scecina clubs. The other half was used to create two $1,000 scholarships for seniors. The recipients were the winners of an essay contest describing the personal impact of Scecina on the student’s life.

The majority of the funds—the initial goal of $20,000—went toward retreats.

“When my oldest started [at Scecina], they only had senior retreats,” says Maureen Griffin, parent of three Scecina alumni and one senior. “I have just loved the growth and development there. Retreats are just one of the most powerful things.”

The women not only helped fund retreats for the students: They also volunteered at the freshman retreat by serving lunch, assisting during sessions and more.

“Our goal is to demonstrate [philanthropy] actively and be in front of the students when appropriate so that they understand that women are a big part of [supporting the school],” says Leming. “We hope that years down the road when they return back to Scecina or the community they live in, that they remember to give back philanthropically as well.”

Demonstrating to students the importance of philanthropic support is of primary importance to the members of the Scecina Women’s Circle.

“I want to model for my girls [that] this kind of behavior is what we expect of ourselves and of them later in life,” says O’Connor. Being involved in the women’s circle “is something I see myself doing well after my girls are [graduated], and hopefully bringing them in after they graduate from college and have a job.”

As alumni and donor relations coordinator at Scecina, Rose Branson says she “knows the power of philanthropy. ... I think it’s good that both boys and girls can see us as strong leaders making a change with our money.”

Therber, too, sees the potential impact of the example the women set for the students, not just in terms of philanthropy, but also “as role models relative to their career success, faith and life values.”

Providing shoulders to stand on

Scecina Women’s Circle is not just about funds but also fun, providing a social network for participants. Meetings are geared around activities. For one meeting last summer, Leming hosted a garden party with two influential Indiana University women—the director of Women’s Philanthropy and the wife of the university president—speaking on the influence of women in philanthropy.

Participants also enjoy social outings. The most recent trip was to the convent of the Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis in Oldenburg. Many of Scecina’s teachers over the years have been Oldenburg Franciscan sisters, who contributed to the Catholic identity of the Indianapolis school.

It’s that same Catholic faith that leads the Scecina Women’s Circle.

“The Holy Spirit is moving and guiding this effort,” says Donlan. “Everything we do is faith-based and driven, and connecting women to do that work [of the Spirit].”

And when these women “get together to celebrate their gifts and their talent, I know great things happen,” says Wendy Braun, mother and grandmother of six Scecina graduates.

“What’s really special about this [effort] is we’re coming together in ways that can help Scecina students develop and maybe discover their gifts and ultimately share them. That really is a circle. It’s a giving circle.

“We all stand on the shoulders of other people. I like to think that we can be among those shoulders for the young men and women at Scecina.”
 

(For more information about the Scecina Women’s Circle, visit scecina.org/scecina-womens-circle or contact Nancy Leming at nleming3689@gmail.com or Rose Branson at rbranson@scecina.org. Leming and Branson may also be contacted for information on how to form a women’s giving circle.)

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