The Duke Forward capital campaign may be more than halfway to its goal, but recent research shows that women make up significantly less than half of of alumni leadership positions and high-level donors—statistics that a new initiative hopes to change.

Organized by members of the University Development Office, the Women in Philanthropy and Leadership Initiative is working toward boosting female leadership in the alumni community and closing a gender gap in alumni donations. On average, females comprise just a quarter of membership on Duke's various boards of visitors and are not equally represented in higher levels of giving, said Cam Kelly, senior assistant vice president for principal gifts.

"We want to shift the culture here at Duke around how we do our fundraising work," Kelly said. "This is a community issue, not a women's issue."

Discussions about the possibility of such an initiative began in 2012 and a task force formulated a strategic plan in summer 2013. The Development Office has now begun to move forward with steps such as recruiting an internal advisory committee to examine fundraising practices and hiring a full-time director of women in leadership and philanthropy, a position the office posted in mid-June and hopes to fill by September.

"At the higher giving levels, we did not have enough women represented," Kelly said. "We wanted to know why—partly it may be the culture of Duke, and partly it may be how we do our work here in development."

Increasing alumnae donations will require a shift in the values of the University's traditional fundraising model, the initiative's strategic plan notes. A recent survey of alumnae indicated that female philanthropy at Duke is most frequently motivated by a desire to give back to the institution or "pay it forward" and help others, as opposed to a desire for recognition or access to leadership, which have sometimes been cited as motivating factors for male philanthropy, Kelly said.

"That’s where the cultural shift needs to come into play a lot in how we do our fundraising," she said.

Such a shift can come about not only through adjusting the values emphasized by the development office, but also through sponsoring regional alumnae events and creating an Internet presence tailored to potential female donors, the initiative's strategic plan notes.

In addition to increasing alumnae philanthropy, the initiative aims to boost alumnae volunteer leadership at Duke. Each of the University's 10 schools has a board of visitors that is responsible for offering counsel on a variety of matters, and the initiative aims to increase female representation on these boards beyond the current average of a quarter.

Kelly noted that some of the University's schools—including the Pratt School of Engineering and the Fuqua School of Business—have alumni demographics that tend to skew male, and so complete gender parity on advisory boards is not fair as an immediate goal. Rather, the initiative wants to advocate for increased female presence by highlighting the benefits of a leadership environment that includes varied perspectives.

"We want to raise awareness for the type of diversity they want on their board," Kelly said.

An environment in which female students feel engaged and empowered is more likely to produce involved alumnae, noted Stephanie Helms Pickett, director of the Women's Center.

"We aim to provide students with significant programming and experiences that affirm the existence, contributions and power of women through a womanist and feminist lens," Helms Pickett wrote in an email June 24. "It is our hope that as students and women in particular depart Duke and reflect upon their engagement during their undergraduate and graduate or professional years that they feel compelled to give back to the University community through their time, talent and fiscal support."

Kelly is one of four women who spearheaded the initiative, joined by Cynthia Baker, senior regional development director; Elizabeth Gatewood, program coordinator of principal gifts programs; and Ann Gleason, assistant vice president of major gifts programs and special initiatives.

As the initiative moves forward, Kelly noted the importance of viewing the gender gap as an issue that affects the entire Duke community and not just women.

"In order for Duke to be the best that it can be and to reach its aspirations, we have to harness the power and thought of all our alumni equally and do a better job of bringing women’s voices," Kelly noted.