When it comes to encouraging involvement from its widespread membership, the Northwestern University Gay and Lesbian Alumni (NUGALA) club doesn't have the luxury of scheduling spur-of-the-moment social outings. To tackle the challenges of distance, the club has found a socially conscious — and extremely effective — method of engagement: philanthropy.
"We try to be more than just a social club," says NUGALA president Marc McClellan (C81). "Obviously many people join for social and professional networking, but since we're a national club with people scattered all over the world, giving back is a great way to get people involved and bring them back into the University fold."
Along with NUGALA, the Northwestern University Black Alumni Association (NUBAA) and the Latino Alumni of Northwestern University (LANU) are also national clubs that seek to make a difference in the lives of undergraduate students by working to endow scholarships. Each of the clubs has found its ambitious philanthropic undertakings to be a rewarding experience.
For NUGALA the call to action came with one student's sobering story. In 2005 club members learned of a student who had to leave Northwestern because her parents withdrew financial support for her education upon learning she was "out."
"We were not in a position at that point to help her, but that was really the impetus for establishing this scholarship," McClellan says. "A lot of universities already have an LGBT scholarship in place, and we felt that it was important that Northwestern get with it."
The club hopes to endow a scholarship to serve two functions: to act as a safety net for students who lose financial support because of their orientation and to benefit students who volunteer their time to serve the lesbian, gay and transgender community.
So far NUGALA has focused most of its efforts on soliciting major gifts. As of spring, after a year and a half of fundraising, the fund was more than halfway to the initial $50,000 endowment level.
Meanwhile, NUBAA hopes its scholarship, which will benefit incoming freshmen, will help address the diminished percentage of African Americans in the undergraduate population.
"The African American undergraduate population has decreased considerably from when I was in school in the late '80s," says NUBAA vice president for programming P. Scott Montgomery (WCAS89). "We're trying to draw awareness [to the decrease] and make a statement that we're putting our money where our mouth is."
NUBAA hosts an annual 5K run/walk on the Evanston campus that has raised more than $30,000 for the club's scholarship. The fourth annual race took place in May, and the club is already planning to reach out to new volunteers and sponsors for next year.
So far the race has proved beneficial beyond just generating donations. NUBAA teams with the African American student organization For Members Only (FMO) to put on the event — a partnership that has forged closer ties between the two groups.
"We're building relationships, which is great," Montgomery adds. "We wanted to let FMO and the undergraduate students know we're here. … FMO students volunteer, they run and walk for free, and they help us promote it. It's really a great side benefit because it makes it more likely that these students are going to join NUBAA after graduation."
For the past three years LANU has awarded an annual $5,000 scholarship to current undergraduate students who have demonstrated financial need, performed with academic excellence and shown a commitment to strengthening the Latino community on campus. Five recipients split the scholarship when it was first awarded in 2006. Now LANU devotes the entire amount to one student each year.
The club continues to devise innovative methods to benefit the scholarship fund, which stood at nearly $105,000 at the end of June. In 2008 LANU began what it hopes will be an annual fundraising event — a gala to recognize the scholarship recipient.
"One of our major challenges has been keeping our members involved, and last year the gala brought a lot of alumni back," said LANU co-president Janice Mejia (McC04). "I think it provides a sense that they're doing something for a deserving student to whom they can relate. It makes them feel like they're part of something bigger."
Find out more about the Northwestern Alumni Association's national and regional clubs at http://www.alumni.northwestern.edu/clubs.