Donations at the Diva Level

These women made million-dollar+ gifts to organizations of their endearment, in recent memory. This is my little way of celebrating their philanthropy, by sharing with you, dear readers, the positive emotional responses their gifts continue to elicit from me.

Care to comment? Tell me about a woman at your organization who has quietly gone about giving her time, talent and treasure with little fanfare. I would love to add her generosity to this list.

For most of history, Anonymous was a woman. — Virginia Woolf

*Last Updated on February 16, 2018


~~ This family is all in: The School of Music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem has received $1M from the estate of artist and philanthropist Jenny Lillian Semans Koortbojian, daughter of school founders, advocates and benefactors Dr. James H. Semans and Mary D.B.T. Semans, to endow merit-based scholarships.

(Thanks to philanthropy blogger Todd Cohen for pointing this gift out HERE)

~~ One innovative woman: German entrepreneur, businesswoman and philanthropist Susanne Klatten has made a gift of £1.8M to fund an Innovation and Enterprise Centre at the University of Buckingham to grow its entrepreneurship department.

As well as having a highly successful career, BSc Business Studies graduate Susanne is also involved in a huge range of philanthropic work including the establishment of a leading European centre for entrepreneurship in Munich. RELEASE

~~ Warms this woman’s heart: Kathryn Vecellio gave $1M to The Cleveland Clinic to carry out desperately-needed research in women’s cardiology. It’s the place where she underwent two aortic valve replacement surgeries.

Her and her husband Leo’s gift establishes the Kathryn C. and Leo A. Vecellio Women’s Cardiology Research Fund. The Cleveland Clinic holds the largest database tracking gender difference in valve disease. NEWS

~~ Holy Mackerel. The transformational donations to mental health care continue! Roberta “Bertie” Bialek Elliott just donated $105.8 million to Montage Health Foundation, the largest gift ever in Monterey County and one of the most significant philanthropic commitments nationwide over the past decade.

Elliott previously gave a $100 million gift to her alma mater, Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. She and her three daughters established the Berkshire Foundation in 1996 and have supported many organizations and institutions through it. She was an early investor in Berkshire Hathaway, founded by her brother, legendary investor Warren Buffett. PRESS RELEASE

~~ Good Girls! The Girls Scouts of Eastern Missouri received two gifts totaling $3.5 million to be invested in an endowment to support the organization’s Community Troop Program.

Jo Ann Taylor Kindle, president of Enterprise Holdings Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the car rental giant, has made a $2 million gift to the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri, the single largest contribution in the organization’s history. NEWS

~~ Do you think bequests are boring? You may feel differently after hearing Lady Lucan‘s story. The Countess cut her children out of her will and left her entire fortune (of an undisclosed amount) to the British charity Shelter. There is plenty of drama in her life’s story. NEWS

~~ Et elle était Canadienne! The University of Prince Edward Island received a $1 million gift from the estate of Ruth MacDonald to establish the Roderick Stirling MacDonald Scholarship Fund (named after her late husband). “Mrs. MacDonald’s considerate act of naming UPEI as a beneficiary of her estate will have a tremendous impact on our students for years to come.” NEWS

~~ What a life story, Ms Sallie! Her $5M gift establishes an endowment for the chief curator position at the Taft Museum of Art, the museum just announced.

The gift from the late philanthropist Sallie Robinson Wadsworth will ensure that self-organized exhibitions that advance scholarship are a priority for the museum. (Ladies: this Smith College alumna served on the museum’s board for 30 years.) MORE

~~ Awesome, Ann! Ann Aikens, a longtime trustee on various Cranbrook Educational Community boards, in Michigan, has made a $2M gift to Cranbrook Schools to establish a program to help its K-12 students deal with mental and emotional distress, issues that are on the rise nationally among students. A life-long learner, Ann earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in 2002. NEWS


~~ So glad for this Getty! Ariadne Getty is set to make a $1M donation to Glaad because the LGBTQ community is close to this philanthropist’s heart. Her gift will help fund the Glaad Media Institute, which works with newsmakers, journalists, and Hollywood to ensure that LGBQT stories told; as well as provide training to LGBTQ individuals and advocates on how to tell their stories; and create an annual report to evaluate the current state of LGBTQ acceptance in America. ARTICLE

~~ Nancy Ann knows education is key: The Nancy Ann Hunt Foundation has given Southern Methodist University a $15M gift to continue support of the prestigious Hunt Leadership Scholars Program. The donation will be split, with $10 million dedicated to an endowment and $5 million funding scholarships over the next several years.

Nancy Ann and Ray L. Hunt’s overall contributions to the scholars program total $65 million since it launched in 1993. NEWS

~~ Anne is our Ma’am! The Columbus Symphony announced the single largest gift in the organization’s history – an $8 million legacy gift from the estate of Anne Melvin, long-time friend, board member, and passionate champion of the Columbus Symphony.

And there will be more once her estate is fully settled. Nice! NEWS

~~ My, My, Maedell: Her $10M legacy gift to Loyola University in New Orleans will provide scholarship funding to many generations of students. It turns out, Maedell Hoover Braud was a loyal administrative assistant in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. PRESS

~~ Mary’s sure are generous! Mary Vanier, of Manhattan, KS, has given $1M to Kansas State University to create at least 30 matching gift scholarships as part of the K-State Family Scholarship Program. This program is designed to increase scholarship dollars to help the university attract and retain students and to inspire new donors to invest in student success. The Mary L. Vanier K-State Family Scholarship will be used to match at least 30 new gifts for scholarships. NEWS

~~ Proud of Mary: A kindergarten teacher who walked to work even in howling winter weather has left $2.5 million to National Louis University in Chicago, from which she graduated in 1954.

Mary Bullock of Geneva, Illinois, who spent 40 years teaching in School District 45, based in Villa Park, Ill., left the gift to NLU’s National College of Education. The school will use it as an endowed scholarship fund to support scholarships for early childhood educators. Bullock was also a regular donor to the university’s annual fund. PRESS

~~ They’re the inspiration! Tampa Bay area philanthropists Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton have donated $1.5 million to the ongoing expansion of Ruth Eckerd Hall.

The gift will fund a new 250-seat cabaret theater in the lobby where children will perform before main events. The theater, expected to begin construction in January, will be named after its donors.

Tiedemann and Cotton together have donated $11 million to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and $500,000 to Metro Wellness and Community Centers. In 2016 they were named Philanthropist of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Suncoast. MORE

~~ Jayne’s generosity will live on forever as The Wichita Community Foundation accepts the largest gift it’s ever received in its 31-year history. The WCF received the $6.9M estate gift from Jayne Milburn, a prominent Wichitan who was involved in many civic organizations in the city before her death last year.

The money will be dispersed, through the WCF, to four non-profits: the Wichita Art Museum, the Wichita Children’s Home, the Wichita Symphony Society and Botanica. NEWS

~~ One for us in Canada! A planned housing complex for youth, expectant teen mothers, young mothers and babies is $1M closer to reality thanks to a generous gift from the family of Joan Smith, Ontario’s first female solicitor-general. The funds are going to Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), in London, Ontario.

Joan Smith was a long-time advocate for social policy change, who passed away last year at the age of 88. Now, we get to see her name on a building: Joan Smith Building for Youth. (It has a nice ring to it, right?) NEWS

~~ I hope the good folks of Apra-MoKan see this! A $10M gift was just announced to the University of Kansas Hospital from Cheryl Lockton Williams.

The gift will be used for equipment and furnishings for the new Cambridge Tower A building at the hospital in Kansas City, Kansas. The fifth level of the new tower will be named the Jack and Cheryl Lockton Intensive Care Patient Unit in recognition of Cheryl and her former husband, Jack.

At the announcement, an audible gasp went through the group when they heard the $10 million figure. They had anticipated a gift more along the lines of $1 to $2 million. MORE

~~ An enthusiastic *shout out* to the late Jean Hower Taber, the great-granddaughter of a Quaker Oats founder. Her giving to the University of Akron goes back to 1980, totaling nearly $8 million before her latest $20M gift, the largest ever in the history of the school.

“That about two-thirds of the money will go to scholarships for honors students and audiology students (UA helped Taber with a hearing problem) is especially heartening, going to the core of the university mission.” ARTICLE

~~ There are no words, only GIANT accolades for He Qiaonv, Beijing businesswoman, billionairess and now arguably the world’s most generous female donor: she is setting aside half of her fortune ($1.5 billion) for conservation efforts in China. ARTICLE

~~ Aunt Betty, I raise my mug to you. The late Betty Brewer left $2.1M from her estate to the Darke Community Foundation. She always wanted to attend college and she loved cats. It’s a classic case where “our community will benefit from the generosity of one woman for many years to come.” NEWS

~~ Darling Darla! Former Wall Street investment banker Darla Moore is donating $1M toward the construction of the $75 million International African American Museum, in Charleston, adding to a string of gifts to educational and cultural causes in her home state South Carolina. The money was pledged through her foundation. Read more about her philanthropic works HERE.

~~ Super Soccer! At Dartmouth, Stacy Smith Branca ’94, a captain of the 1993 Big Green women’s soccer team, and her family made a $2M gift to endow the women’s soccer head coach position. Stacy said she hopes that the gift will continue to inspire student athletes and help them develop vital life skills. ARTICLE

~~ Late Lady Lynne: The start of the Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium construction project broke ground recently on Grand Haven’s waterfront.  It’s a $3.2 million redevelopment project that is several years in the making. Known as a community supporter and local philanthropist, Lynne passed away in 2016. A $3M gift from her estate is funding most of the project. ARTICLE

~~ Fiercely fit! The people at Meredith College are about to get healthier thanks to a generous US$1M donation from alumna Ann Lowery to renovate the campus’ fitness center – now named The Lowery Family Fitness Center. (Ann named the center after her parents Herman and Ruth.)

“There is so much excitement and gratitude for this gift,” said Marie Chamblee, dean of education and health and human sciences. NEWS

~~ A Midwestern eye-opener: Jane Hardesty Poole, a Washington University alumna, made a US$10M donation to commemorate her father, the late St. Louis ophthalmologist Dr. John Hardesty. The University will rename the ophthalmology department at its medical school the John F. Hardesty Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. The gift will fund research and patient care. (I’m hopeful that Jane will also continue to be remembered.) ARTICLE

~~ Go, Gail! Former Westpac CEO Gail Kelly has given the Sydney-based University of New South Wales $1M to build education ties between Australia and her native South Africa.

The gift will establish a student exchange program with the University of Cape Town, where Ms Kelly did her arts degree, majoring in history and Latin, and trained as a teacher with a diploma of education. NEWS

~~ I’m speechless, Sandra. Northwell Health, in New York state, announced three significant gifts, totaling $40 million, from life trustee Sandra Atlas Bass, bringing her lifetime giving to Northwell to more than US$93 million.  Ms. Bass has supported cardiac care at Northwell Health for more than 25 years. Of her recent gifts, $25 million will be allocated to North Shore University Hospital to support the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital located on the Manhasset campus – a “hospital within a hospital.” PRESS

~~ The late Phyllis Hanse left a US$4.2M estate to a number of charities, administered by the South Dakota Community Foundation. This former piano teacher’s generosity will help children, high school students, a local church and the library in Webster. READ

~~ Former Second Lady of the United States, Tipper Gore has gifted US$1M to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to expand their flagship teen program nationwide. More middle school and high school students will have access to Ending the Silence, designed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and help young people get the treatment they need. PRESS RELEASE

~~ The woman who gave it all away: the late Joan B Kroc, was arguably the most generous woman philanthropist of our time, if you measure generosity purely by dollar value. She awarded nearly US$3 billion to more than 190 organizations, charities, non-profits, advocacy groups and individuals. Journalist Lisa Napoli has just released a new book about her and her infamous McHusband. BOOK REVIEW

~~ Y,all, the late Jeanette Nassour elegantly left US$4M to various Austin arts, faith and education organizations including her favourite Austin Opera, in June 2017. NEWS

~~ The late Madeleine Rast left US$9M to her beloved National Museum of Women in the Arts (general endowment fund), reported by The Washington Post in June 2017. ARTICLE 

~~ Marilyn Beaudry-Corbett made a US$4M gift to the USC Marshall School of Business, in May 2017, as reported by USC News. The gift will fund scholarships for female MBA students who are 30 and older. PRESS RELEASE

~~ While the late Seth W Ryan wasn’t a “diva” in a gendered sense, his US$10M bequest for his alma mater Southeastern Louisiana University deserves an accolade on this list. He made his gift in the name of his late wife Thelma McNamara Nicaud Ryan who couldn’t afford to attend college. The gift, announced in April 2017, will be directed toward female students in specific academic disciplines. ANNOUNCEMENT

~~ Holy, Helen! The Helen Diller Foundation granted US$500M (the number of zeroes is correct!) to UC San Francisco, announced in January 2017. The gift is the single-largest in this public university’s history. It will be directed toward faculty, students and Chancellor’s priorities. Legacy making, right here, Ladies. NEWS


~~ Yay, Yoshi! Her husband Michael Audain is likely better known as a generous philanthropist in Vancouver, but Ms Yoshiko Karasawa made her own $1M transformational gift to Nikkei Place Foundation, ultimately supporting intercultural understanding. She is beautiful on the inside and out. (Thanks to Jill Lambert for pointing me to this phenomenal gift!) PRESS RELEASE

~~ Neda Nobari, a San Francisco State University alumna and Iranian-American philanthropist, gave US$5M to her alma mater to establish the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies, in 2016. It’s the first interdisciplinary center of its kind. ANNOUNCEMENT


~~ Miss Lyda Hill, 73, donated US$25M to establish the new Department of Bioinformatics at University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center, in June 2015. Her “exceptional gift” bridges research and clinical care using big data. NEWS RELEASE

~~ Finally, a Canadian woman donor! Elizabeth Wirth gave $7.5M to McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, to enhance student-related programs, in 2015. The New Music Building on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal is named in her honour. (She volunteered and fundraised for McGill over many years first.) NEWS


~~ The late Nadine Bradley Dempster, of Knoxville, left a US$6.16M estate to eight different charities; evenly divided and unrestricted ($770,000) to support organizations in animal welfare, cancer care, children and others. “She was one of those ladies who quietly went through life caring about others.” ARTICLE



What if Women Ruled the World, 2016; By Yael Bartana; Viewed at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, DC, on July 4, 2017

%d bloggers like this: