Meet Jeannie Sager, the new director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI). Sager is an accomplished fundraising leader, with over 25 years of experience, and an alumna of the Center on Philanthropy.
Learn more about her experiences, what first brought her to the Center on Philanthropy as a student, and her vision for the future of WPI.
Educational background: B.A. International Relations, Rollins College (FL); M.A. Philanthropic Studies, then-Center on Philanthropy (now Lilly Family School of Philanthropy)
Work experience: Rollins College (FL), Miami University (OH), IU Foundation, IU School of Medicine, University High School (IN), IU Health Foundation
How she first learned about philanthropy: “Growing up, philanthropy was very much familial-based. My first model for philanthropy was my mom, who supported various causes including our church, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and our family in the Philippines.
“My entrée into formalized philanthropy came through my sorority while in undergrad. They had an executive position called ’Philanthropy Chair,’ which helped me understand that people organized around giving and volunteering.”
First job in philanthropy: Initially aiming for a career with the diplomatic corps and then in retail management, Sager found a position soon after graduating working with young alumni and student programs within the annual fund in her college’s development office.
Introduction to the Center on Philanthropy: It was by chance, while thumbing through the pages of the Chronicle of Philanthropy that Sager eyed a fellowship notice about the Jane Addams Fellowship. Interest piqued because of senior honors thesis research conducted on Jane Addams and her pacifist ideas, Sager read on to learn more about the Fellowship.
“The description said that the Fellowship was designed for somebody who completed an undergraduate degree but was not in graduate school, and wanted to spend a focused year exploring philanthropy.
“I thought, ‘that’s me!’ So I applied, was accepted, and came to Indiana.”
Fellow experience: Every week, Sager and the other Fellows would meet with philanthropic pioneer and former executive director of the Center, Robert Payton, for weekly seminars to discuss philanthropy. They would also meet with philanthropic, business, and government leaders and grassroots nonprofit organizers in Indianapolis.
During her fellowship, Sager also served as an intern at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, where she worked on three capital campaigns.
After completing her fellowship, she realized that she was just beginning to understand the breadth and depth of philanthropy, and wanted to explore more.
So, Sager enrolled in the master’s degree program.
Student experience: She was able to take classes with Dr. Debra Mesch, Dr. Dwight Burlingame, and Dr. Patrick Rooney, people who still research, teach, and work at the school.
“Returning to work here feels like coming full circle.”
Sager also completed a graduate assistantship at the Inland Foundation, a private foundation associated with Temple-Inland, a paperboard and packaging company. Its foundation worked with local communities in places where the company was located, identifying local and appropriate needs to serve.
While Sager considered a career with foundations, she realized that she had found a passion for fundraising and decided to pursue opportunities connecting donors to causes they care about.
Using WPI research in her previous work: Throughout her work in higher education, independent schools, and health care, Sager continued to rely on knowledge she learned at the school, while also attending relevant lectures and discussions on philanthropy.
“I’m a lifelong learner and a philanthropy nerd, so I tried to incorporate WPI’s and the school’s research into my work with donors and volunteers, while also helping younger fundraisers understand the importance of using research to inform our work.”
How other practitioners and/or donors can use WPI research: “At WPI, we want to connect specific audiences to research that matters to them.
“For example, we recently discussed the number 1.6 percent, which is the percentage of dollars that are directed to women’s and girls’ organizations. How can we use that data point to encourage greater giving to women’s organizations? How can we inform donors that if giving to these causes is a passion place for them, there is an opportunity to do much more?”
Which WPI report she’s most excited about: “Women Give 2020 (due out March 31)! It features great data-driven points and stories, and I think it will be really intriguing to delve into it.”
Future for WPI: “What will make WPI successful is the ability to continue being entrepreneurial, while asking questions that are on the leading edge of philanthropy.
“How can we bring greater understanding to how people’s uniqueness influences their philanthropy, how philanthropy is lived out in people’s lives, and how everyday individuals can influence others with their philanthropy.”
Favorite woman philanthropist: “Jane Addams. She was a true trailblazer for women philanthropists who from the beginning understood the power of women and how their world view could champion change to improve the lives of women and children.
“I’m inspired by women who have stepped up to make a difference, whether they are mentors of mine or individual donors I’ve worked with.
“I worked with a donor who was a former teacher who set up a scholarship fund for students. It mattered so much to her to give students the opportunity to succeed.
“Another donor wanted to honor her father with a gift. It was amazing to see her not only honor his legacy, but to watch her go through the process of what it meant to make a gift like this was incredibly special as well.”
Final thoughts about being back at the school: “I’m thrilled. It feels like coming home. I ended up where I was always headed.”
Jeannie Sager joined the Women’s Philanthropy Institute as director in January 2020. Register to attend the 2020 Symposium to meet Jeannie and connect with other leaders in women’s philanthropy in Chicago. Sign up to receive updates from WPI via email, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.