Fundraiser. Practitioner. Builder.
These are just a few ways Jeannie Sager describes herself after 25 years in the philanthropy space. Now, she’s embarking on a new journey.
“I was really drawn to a quote once that said, “Build things that will last longer than you,” said Sager, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at Indiana University.
Before joining WPI in January, Sager came from the leadership team that built a statewide flagship foundation for Indiana University Health. Prior to that, she spent 12 years leading the development efforts for University High School in the Greater Indianapolis area.
“We had a vision and mission that would have only existed through what I call transformational philanthropy,” Sager said.
Sager recently spoke with Giving Compass about her plans for WPI, the importance of women’s philanthropy, and how we can all find the joy in giving.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What lessons from your last two roles will you bring to WPI?
WPI’s mission is to conduct, curate, and disseminate research that grows philanthropy and focuses on encouraging and elevating women's voices. One of the things that really drew me to this particular position was WPI’s role as curator. For me, a curator, as defined by Roya Sachs, is someone who can connect people and ideas and then find a way to create a universal language between those things and find a broader audience. What I'm really hoping to do is amplify the idea of putting research to practice. Given my previous experience as a lead communicator, I think that's where I take this.
We really do stick to this emphasis on “why” and not “how to.” I think there's a real interest and desire among practitioners to spend some time in the messiness of the “why” and have a chance to think about that and hear other people's stories. Practitioners are often in a space that's metrics-driven, talking to the next consultant about the next big idea, and how to implement that. The “why” is what puts the magic in our work.
What is your number one priority in the next six to 12 months?
I'll be looking at what our three-year strategy plan is and understanding where we're headed with upcoming research. We also still have work to do in disseminating the research that's been done and and making sure that it's still relevant. How do we update that? Mainly, I’ll be looking at where we’re going as it relates to putting research into practice.
What role can women's philanthropy play in shifting power dynamics?
Philanthropy is defined at the school -- and by my mentor, Bob Payton -- as voluntary action for the public good. Women need to understand their power in showing up and speaking up. It’s worthy of our time and investment in research in this space because the better informed we are, the better we can help motivate, encourage, and engage.
There’s also the issue of power related to how women give and how are they motivated to give. When women get more comfortable about money and their relationship with money, it will translate to philanthropy.
What do you see as WPI's "secret sauce?" What is the organization's greatest strength?
A word that Andrea Pactor [Associate Director at WPI] uses to describe our work is entrepreneurial. I think it's going to be very important for us to remain flexible and true to the ethos that has sustained us. We have an opportunity to be on the leading edge and ask questions other researchers aren’t asking, while leveraging our brand behind Indiana University and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
We are thinking about how the research gets used and ensuring that it's not research for research sake. Our genuine love for the women’s philanthropy space and this desire to grow philanthropy writ large is also one of our strengths.
With so many different discussions happening in philanthropy right now, are there topics you want to tackle with research?
The important piece to this is the absolute intentionality about gender. You could go in many different directions with this topic. We are being very intentional about providing empirical research and data that is focused on women. We are committed to research where we can comb through larger data sets to create a more informed spectrum.
What is it about women's philanthropy that is so exciting and unique?
The benchmarks and best practices that are out there are really based on how men give and, in particular, how white men give. When we think about the future and engaging new generations with philanthropy, that model doesn't work anymore. So we really have to explore the role women have played in civil society and amplify and elevate that. People need to see themselves as a philanthropist and as a person who can make a difference. It has everything to do with seeing that reflection of themselves in this work. While we are focused on women and gender, it extends beyond that. I want everybody to see themselves as a philanthropist and to understand the complexity of that world view.
What advice do you have for donors?
Understanding how you give and what you give to is a journey and it will change as your seasons of life change. The more that you can home in on and incorporate your personal values into how you give, the more satisfying it will be. I teach the joy of giving.