Georgia Women Give celebrates year of growth, impact

An initiative born in living-room focus groups now sends UGA students around the world.

Trang Nguyen ’27 wasn’t sure what to expect during her freshman year at the University of Georgia. She certainly didn’t anticipate getting to spend a week exploring Moroccan cities and riding a camel through the Sahara Desert alongside other freshmen and UGA faculty. But last month, she found herself doing all that and more.

Were it not for the generosity of a group of donors organized around the same time Nguyen was admitted to UGA, she and 19 other students might not have had this experience.

Georgia Women Give, one of UGA’s most successful fundraising initiatives, celebrated its one-year anniversary with an on-campus event on March 21 and 22. That event culminated with a luncheon that brought together GWG donors and students like Nguyen who participated in Connect Abroad, a new study abroad program for first-year students. The program, which is the first beneficiary of GWG’s campus priorities fund, held its inaugural trips during this year’s spring break.

“I am more than grateful for these Connect Abroad opportunities and the support we received from Georgia Women Give. It has allowed me a chance to explore a completely new world, to significantly expand my mindset and to be more culturally aware and culturally knowledgeable,” Nguyen said at the event.

Lotenne Nwokolo ’27 speaks with Georgia Women Give spring event attendees about her experience with Connect Abroad during the event’s luncheon on March 22 at the Richard B. Russell Jr. Special Collections Libraries Building. PHOTO: Justin Evans.

Connect Abroad programs connect first-year students to peers, faculty and unique experiences over UGA’s spring break in Cuba, Italy, the United Kingdom or Morocco. The programs’ focus on immersion and community for an audience not traditionally active in study abroad — only about 1% of participants each year are freshmen — aligned with Georgia Women Give’s priorities.

Launched in March 2023 through the efforts of a group of UGA Foundation trustees, GWG is a nationwide, women-directed fundraising group inviting more women to become philanthropists and engage more deeply with the university. In the early stages of GWG, small events were hosted by donors across the country, fostering the culture of community, conversation and impact-focused philanthropy that is central to the group.

GWG was built around the idea of collective philanthropy: effecting the most change through concentrated giving. The group does this by asking donors to designate their gifts to any of three specific funds: a merit-based scholarship endowment, a study away endowment and the campus priorities fund. Both endowments offer distinct forms of student support, but the campus priorities fund directs aid to important university programs at the discretion of the group’s executive committee.

As of today, 118 donors have contributed nearly $3 million to GWG’s three funds, far exceeding the group’s launch goal of 50 donors by June 2024.

“I am just so proud and truly grateful for all of these dedicated women,” said Jill S. Walton (BSA ’99, MPA ’03), UGA vice president for development and alumni relations. “I myself am a Georgia Women Give donor, so watching this group grow and seeing the impact of our giving has been inspiring.”

UGA vice presidents Jill Walton (development and alumni relations), Kathy Pharr (marketing and communications, also chief of staff of the Office of the President), Marisa Pagnattaro (instruction, also senior vice provost for academic planning) and Jennifer Frum (public service and outreach) answer questions as part of a panel discussion during Georgia Women Give’s spring event on March 21 in the UGA Chapel. PHOTO: Justin Evans.

With a year under their belts, the group was able to use their March event to explore the impact they’ve made. Connect Abroad staff and students delivered the keynote address at the event’s concluding luncheon, where Connect Abroad students sat at each table, sharing personal experiences with event attendees.

GWG donors are currently working to grow both the group’s impact and the group itself. Georgia Women Give is now aiming for 150 donors by the end of June, and given their momentum and the dedication of their donors, they feel that target is within reach.

“This is a group that was built and grown by women connecting to women through honest conversation, a willingness to grow and learn, and a commitment to making a difference. That combination is rare,” said Elizabeth Correll Richards, chair of the GWG executive committee.

“I plan to work diligently with the current members to identify more women interested in impacting the lives of students so our group can make a bigger difference each year. The larger our group, the larger our impact.”