The Alliance of Womens Philanthropists inaugural meeting in 1998.

A 1995 article about women and wealth, “Reinventing Fundraising: Realizing the Potential of Women’s Philanthropy” by Sondra Shaw and Martha Taylor lit a fire under UT Director of Development Dorothy Bryson. 

The article emphasized two major points: 
1. American women owned 60% of the nation’s wealth. 
2. Nationally, for four decades, fundraising was operated on a male model.

Dorothy realized women were not presently acknowledged at the University of Tennessee as major donors and immediately shared the article with her kindred spirited female UT colleagues. Meeting privately at lunch and after work, the group gained momentum in their enthusiasm and synergistic interaction on the topic of women and wealth. All agreed the support of their mission by upper management would be imperative as the next step in accomplishing their goal. 

The idea of developing a separate female philanthropic group was proposed to Jack E. Williams UT System vice president of development and alumni affairs. Appointed to his position on June 1, 1997, Jack was in the perfect place at the perfect time to readily accept and support this determined group of women and eagerly championed their cause. He viewed the optimism of the Alliance Founders as a sign of unquestionable success when approaching women with wealth as major donors. 

Over the years I, along with other colleagues, saw the impact that women had on philanthropic gifts to the various campuses of the University. Within the University of Tennessee’s System, the widow of a UT alum and one of the leading California motion picture directors, preserved his will which directed half his estate to come to UT. Another astute businesswoman and UT alum from Gatlinburg, headed a gift of land to UT which resulted in an endowment which today exceeds $10 million and supports several programs within the UT System. The Alliance over the years has indeed influenced and strengthened women in philanthropy within the UT System.

On October 27, 1997, with Jack’s approval, the Founders presented UT System President Joseph E. Johnson (1990-1999) the written proposal to establish the Alliance of Women Philanthropists. The following is a quote from the proposal, “It will come as no surprise to you that the five of us are interested in the subject of women as major donors.” It was obviously no surprise to Dr. Johnson and with Dr. Johnson’s approval, the rest is history. It is worthy of noting that Dr. Johnson always supported women during his tenure at the University of Tennessee. 

President Johnson’s approval established the Alliance of Women Philanthropists. The dynamics of giving at the University of Tennessee were immediately changed and ultimately inspired and embraced an untapped resource of extremely gracious female benefactors. 

The inaugural meeting of the Alliance of Women Philanthropists was held in 1998 in Atlanta, Ga. 

There are currently over 5,600 members of the Alliance of Women Philanthropists.
Women have always been an important part of philanthropy at UT with 991,651 women historically choosing to make a gift to the university dating back to the early 1950's.
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Founding Members

Dorothy Bryson – Director of Development

Dottie Bressi – Director of Development, College of Law (deceased)

Mary Cruise – Director of Development Research

Marty Hopkins – VP for Advancement Services

Becky Little – Director, UTAA Women’s Council

Margaret Kelley – Vice Chancellor, UT Chattanooga

Margaret Perry – Chancellor, UT Martin

Betty Hickman – Administrative Assistant to Marty Hopkins

“The power of the Alliance has been, from the very beginning, the energy of the women who have made substantial gifts to the University of Tennessee and the remarkable stories behind their philanthropy. We were inspired to get something important accomplished and the momentum of our times together carried forward. We were on a mission! And we had a lot of fun.”
“While we worked to form the Alliance of Women Philanthropists, significant to me were the reactions of the women we recruited to become charter members. I encountered surprise, modesty, appreciation, and one woman said, ‘I wondered if anyone would ever ask!’ What an interesting and remarkable group of women they were, each one a leader and a philanthropist.”
“It was such a privilege working with those outstanding female philanthropists.  They weren’t all sure they liked the tag of philanthropist when they attended the first board meeting.  Our first chair was covering the name on her folder when she flew in from California, but she assured us she displayed it proudly on the flight home from Atlanta.  Many women decided for the first time they were an important part of their families’ financial & philanthropic decisions.”
“I totally supported the UT Women and Philanthropy concept because the UTAA Women’s Council had been a tremendous success involving alumnae since 1970. The UT Alumni Women’s Council members (15 per year representing all UT campuses) were identified for many leadership roles for the university (i.e., President of the UT Alumni Association).”

Contact Alliance

Program Director

Melissa Smith
Director of Alumni Marketing
and Special Events [email protected]
(865) 974-7544

Get in Touch

(865) 974-2115 or send us an email at [email protected].

Physical Address

Alliance for Women Philanthropists
1525 University Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37921

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