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Fun Ways Smith Clubs Raise Funds for Student Scholarships

  • December 10, 2019

Outdoor group shot of the Smith Club of Oregon

The Smith College Club of Oregon

“When Smithies come together for an important cause, their impact is tremendous,” says Kelsey Cleveland ’95, former co-president of the Smith College Club of Oregon, one of many Smith Clubs around the world that raise money to support scholarship aid. “Since our club established an endowed scholarship fund in 1951, Smithies in Oregon proudly come together to support the college and a Smith student from Oregon every year.”

The Smith Club of Oregon donates all dues that are contributed beyond their club’s operating costs—and “we keep our operating costs as low as possible to maximize our club’s annual donation,” says Kelsey—while other Smith Clubs have found ways to raise funds for students while having fun connecting across class years.

In the last 10 years alone, clubs have donated almost $1.5 million for financial aid by doing everything from selling pecans and toffee to making desk calendars and tote bags. The efforts are particularly welcome as the college launches Here for Every Voice, an initiative to raise $75 million for scholarships, providing access to a world-class education for every talented and qualified Smithie who seeks it. 

Here are four clever ways Smith Clubs are helping the best and brightest students attend Smith, while maintaining a strong community outside of the Grécourt Gates. “Engagement, community and Smithies connecting. Nothing better than that!” says Vanessa Gates-Elston ’02 of the Smith College Club of New York City.

Hosting a Scholarship Benefit

Members of the Smith College Club of New York City

The Smith College Club of New York City at their 2019 Annual Scholar Benefit.

Who: The Smith College Club of New York City

What it is: An annual two-hour gala evening for 100 to 150 people, featuring drinks and hors d'oeuvres as well as a keynote speaker such as New York Times food and wine writer Florence Fabricant ’58. Tickets cost $200. A tiered pricing structure allows patrons to purchase tickets for alumnae and others who might not otherwise be able to attend. 

“I support Smith because I want future generations to know I believe in them; I want them to thrive and be true to who they are meant to be and carry the Smith torch in the world. No Smithie is alike but we are passionate, brilliant, opinionated, brave, kind, strong and innovative,” says Vanessa Gates-Elston ’02, 2019 honorary chair of the benefit.

Scholarship funds raised: Approximately $48,000 in 2019; more in previous years

Vanessa’s tips for organizing a benefit:

  • Contact potential keynote speakers six to 24 months in advance to reserve a spot on their busy calendars. And consider reaching out to notable alumnae who don’t live in your area—they may travel in for the event.
  • Book venues six to 12 months in advance.
  • Utilize all alumnae resources at your disposal. That may mean using an alumnae home for the location, providing food or favors from alumnae-owned business or having a group of alums underwrite the cost of the event so maximum proceeds go to Smith students. 

Learn more:

Sponsor a Book Sale

Who: The Smith College Club of New Hampshire 

What it is: The Five Colleges Book Sale was kickstarted in the spring of 1962 by alumnae from five northeastern colleges and is one of New England’s largest sales of used books. The sale raises scholarship money for students from Vermont and New Hampshire who attend Smith, Mount Holyoke, Simmons, Vassar and Wellesley. Each spring more than 300 graduates and friends of the colleges volunteer to put on the mega sale, which includes roughly 35,000 books as well as CDs, DVDs, audiobooks and memorabilia. Each year 1,500 to 3,000 people attend the event. 

“Our club feels it’s important to fundraise for scholarship aid because the gift of an education is one of the greatest anyone can give,” says Cindy Kordys ’90.

Scholarship funds raised: Approximately $65,000 annually, which is split evenly among the schools

Cindy’s tips for organizing a book sale: 

  • Create a leadership team to help make this big endeavor run smoothly. The Five Colleges Book Sale chooses two to three leaders as well as a secretary, a treasurer, and a steering committee comprised of former sale leaders, representatives from each college, a volunteer coordinator, a publicity coordinator and several veteran volunteers.
  • Create, assign and share a to-do list, complete with deadlines, to keep the project on track. 
  • Recruit volunteers as well as sponsors to defray the cost of the fundraiser.

Learn more:

Organize a Book Club

Members of the East Bay Smith College Club

The East Bay Smith College Club at their 25th Anniversary Book Club.

Who: The East Bay Smith College Club

What it is: The East Bay SC Book Club, which first met in Oakland, California, in March 1994, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Sherrill Lavagnino ’84, membership chair, describes the club as a wonderful source of friendship and intellectual stimulation, with the added benefits of raising money for scholarship aid and keeping alumnae connected to Smith. A typical meeting draws five to 10 attendees—though roughly 50 are on the mailing list—from the class of 2017 through the 1940s. Each participant donates $5 per meeting except for the host, which club treasurer Mary Stapleton ’79 collects and directs to the Mary E. Wilson Endowed Scholarship Fund in support of a student from the East Bay. 

Scholarship funds raised: $1,500 annually

Sherrill’s tips for organizing a book club:

  • Choose books out in paperback to keep costs down.
  • Pick books two to three months in advance so members have time to reserve them at the library.
  • Hold meetings on different nights of the week (Tuesday one month, say, Wednesday the next) so those with specific conflicts can make it to at least some meetings. 
  • Rotate the location among members’ homes.

Learn more:

Run a Silent Auction

Christl Hutter Larson and Emily Hagens Beck

Christl Hutter Larson ’86 (left) and Emily Hagens Beck ’10 (right) at the Smith College Club of Minnesota’s Silent Auction.

Who: The Smith College Club of Minnesota

What it is: The Smith College Club of Minnesota started “Smith Day” in 1933 as a fundraising effort held each year in the home of a local alum. The silent auction was originally one of many events featured on Smith Day, but has now become the primary attraction and is held in a large, local venue such as a museum. At the auction, items as well as experiences (think singing lessons, bread-making lessons and even ice bowling) are auctioned, and the funds raised go to support the club’s endowed scholarship fund for local Smith students as well as Smith’s summer Praxis internships. In recent years, the club solicits nominations for distinguished local alums and honors one of their own with a Minnesota Smith Medal at the event. Annually, about 100 alums and guests attend. 

“We want to make sure that a Smith education is always an option no matter what somebody’s resources are. We want smart, educated women from all walks of life, and providing scholarships is the way to do it!” says Kate Lehmann ’78, the president of the club.

Scholarship funds raised: Approximately $8,000 – $10,000

Kate’s tips for organizing a silent auction:

  • Start planning six months in advance to ensure you can reserve the space you need.
  • Focus on publicity and attendance. You might try Facebook event posts, mailed invitations, email blasts and a digital newsletter.
  • Consider selling tickets to the event to raise additional funds: at the door, online and in advance through mail-in reservations. The Smith Club of Minnesota offers a discounted price for younger alums and has experimented with a “pay what you can” approach, which means most pay the suggested fee or more to support younger alumnae.

Learn more:

Read about more exciting ways Smith Clubs are raising funds for scholarship aid at the Smith College Alumnae Relations website

By Hailey Escobar ’19 and Jessie Wang ’19