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Women Investing in Shepherd surpasses $1 million milestone

ISSUED: 7 February 2023

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — When Women Investing in Shepherd (WISH) started in 2014, it had a goal of raising $1 million to invest in the community and university in 10 years. WISH has surpassed that $1 million-mark one year early through the recruitment and retention of 284 membership gifts.

Women who join WISH make an annual charitable contribution of $500. All gifts received during the calendar year are placed into a grant fund, which is then divided into two equal pools. One provides awards for Shepherd campus-centered academic, athletic, cultural, or community service-learning programs. The other provides awards to community nonprofits in the areas of education, arts and culture, community and family, health and wellness, and environment.

Community organizations in the following counties are eligible to apply for grants: Jefferson, Berkeley, Morgan, and Hampshire counties in West Virginia; Loudoun, Frederick, and Clarke counties in Virginia; and Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland.

To date, WISH has provided more than $500,000 to regional nonprofits and $500,000 to University academic programs and learning initiatives. A “one-woman, one-vote” policy ensures that each $500 annual membership gift has played an equal part in reaching the $1 million milestone.

Shepherd President Mary J.C. Hendrix, a current member, expressed her gratitude to WISH for bestowing $500,000 to date for vital University initiatives.

“WISH is a women’s giving circle comprised of alumnae and community members—created to educate, engage, and empower women to achieve their philanthropic goals,” Hendrix said. “Each year, half of the grants awarded are community focused and the other half are Shepherd oriented. Our University and community have benefitted significantly from the fundraising efforts and success of this remarkable group of dedicated volunteers.”

Inspired beginnings

The Shepherd University Foundation created the women’s giving circle through the efforts of a core group of volunteers. The idea began in October 2013 when the Shepherd University Foundation hosted a program called “Inspired Philanthropy.” The keynote speaker was Rebecca Powers, founder of Impact Austin, a women’s giving circle in Austin, Texas. Former Shepherd University Foundation Executive Vice President Monica Lingenfelter invited several event attendees to a breakfast meeting with Powers the following morning. It was during breakfast that the idea for WISH took shape.

Group photos of founding members of WISH, a women's giving circle, in front of McMurran Hall.

Pictured, (front row, l. to r.) are WISH founding members Mary “Peachy” Staley, Sherri Janelle, Bev Hughes, and Bonnie Brannon, second row, Teresa McCabe, Liz Oates, and Monica Lingenfelter, third row, Carol Kable and Meg Patterson. Not pictured is Carolyn Fleenor.

“This is such an amazing tribute to our members—past and present. I am so grateful that I have WISH in my life,” said Mary “Peachy” Staley, who was recruited after that initial philanthropy event to serve as a member of a four-person advisory council.

Liz Oates, Bev Hughes, and Carolyn Fleenor, who along with Staley make up the advisory team, have dedicated hundreds of hours to the membership experience and grant-making policies that have made the $1 million milestone possible. Founding members Sherri Janelle and Teresa McCabe also serve in leadership positions with membership recruitment.

“I didn’t think that number [$1 million] was even a tiny thought when we began this journey in October 2013,” said Hughes, who primarily serves as the grant committee advisor. “What a fun ride it has been.”

Campus and community impact

Under the guidance of Bonnie Brannon and Carol Kable, the grant committee has judiciously selected worthy finalists each year that are placed on a ballot for vote by the membership.  The “equal voice, equal vote” mantra has supported many needs in the community and at Shepherd University.

“We are prospered beyond belief in our personal inspiration,” said Brannon, who has been able to meet dozens of nonprofit leaders and governing boards over the past nine years. “The agencies we have touched have grown and prospered, too.”

Since 2015, nearly $150,000 in grant funding has been awarded to support capital projects in the areas of homeless support services, equine therapy, environmental science enhancements, historic preservation, and health sciences. In the past four years, $123,710 has been awarded toward health and recovery initiatives in the region, $133,250 has gone toward technology updates, and $90,920 to COVID-19 recovery initiatives.

WISH is offering $142,000 in grant funding for 2023, with two $35,500 grants designated for local nonprofits and two $35,500 grants for Shepherd University learning initiatives.

“Our donors have significantly expanded the direct and immediate impact of Shepherd University alumni and friends upon literally thousands of regional residents,” said Lingenfelter, who retired from her role at the Foundation in December 2022 but remains active with WISH. “WISH members and Shepherd University are accomplishing amazing things, partnering with our nonprofit grant recipients to be change agents for our broader community.”

To learn more about how to apply for the current WISH grant funding, or for more information on how to join, visit or contact Meg Patterson, director of donor relations, or call 304-876-5021.

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