In 2001, Dean June Henton and staff and volunteers from the College of Human Sciences attended a conference in Texas about the convergence of women, money, and philanthropy. During the program, they learned that women were on track to become the primary wealth holders in the United States by 2010 for the very first time in the country’s history. This seismic shift was slated to occur for many reasons including women earning more money than ever; women inheriting money from parents; women divorcing or never marrying; and women outliving their spouses.
Sensing the need for women to become better educated, more enabled, and empowered about personal financial decision making, Dean Henton and the team, right in their Texas hotel room, outlined the very first version of what would become the Women’s Philanthropy Board.
Upon the team’s return to Auburn, plans for WPB were further refined. WPB’s mission was established with the goal to educate, enable, and inspire women to develop their full leadership potential, achieve independence as financial decision makers and donors, serve as mentors for future generations of philanthropists, and broaden the base of financial support for the College of Human Sciences.
An initial group of Auburn women were identified as potential members of WPB. The first members had something in common; they shared a desire to equip women for the important roles that most of them will likely serve in at some point in their lives as personal financial decision makers. They also knew that WPB would help women continue and excel in the roles that they were very familiar with, as philanthropists.
In the fall of 2002, WPB held its first educational program and featured noted philanthropist and athlete, Bo Jackson. By spring of 2003, WPB had started to grow. It was decided to hold a WPB Spring Symposium and Luncheon and to feature the renowned financial journalist and TV commentator, Jean Chatzky. Chatzky was so impressed with WPB’s efforts, that she returned her speaker’s fee as a donation to the organization. In addition, in 2003, WPB made a first step in its philanthropic footprint by awarding a $4,000 scholarship.
In subsequent years, WPB continued to expand its educational programs, mentoring initiatives, and philanthropic impact. Speakers such as financial journalist Knight Kiplinger, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, and professional golfer Nancy Lopez, shared their thoughts on leadership, entrepreneurship, financial responsibility, and philanthropy. Students began attending WPB programs and learning from national leaders on topics ranging from investing, retirement planning, taxes, insurance, corporate responsibility, and citizenship. WPB made additional steps to expand its philanthropic footprint by increasing its scholarship giving to $25,000 a year, providing faculty awards and funding grants in support of students, faculty, and staff in the College of Human Sciences. In 2005, a $100,000 endowment was established to provide permanent funding to WPB scholarships. In honor of Dean Henton’s retirement in 2019, the endowment was renamed the Dean June Henton-Women’s Philanthropy Board Scholarship Endowment.
In 2008, WPB adapted its mission to share financial and philanthropic education with children. Camp iCare was established to teach kids ages six to 12 about identifying their values and the causes they care about, how to be money smart, how to be a philanthropist, and how to develop a legacy. The camp grew from a one-week, small camp in Auburn to being a trademarked brand and has since held more than 80 camps in central Alabama, Chicago, and Maryland. In addition, WPB inspired the creation of REAL Cents, REAL Change, a teen program teaching money smarts, leadership, teamwork, legacy building, and philanthropy. A new program, iCare Kids, has evolved from both youth programs and will be offered statewide in 2023.
WPB’s mission later inspired another educational focus, the blending of financial and philanthropic study at the collegiate level. In 2010, WPB provided seed money to fund the course Gender, Wealth, and Philanthropy that would ultimately serve as the impetus for first, a minor in philanthropy and nonprofit studies (2011), and ultimately a bachelor’s degree at Auburn University (2018.)
With the addition of youth programming and the new academic curriculum, it was decided that a new center should be created that could support the growth and development of the new programs beyond the scope of WPB’s original mission. The Cary Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies was established in 2011 to accommodate the burgeoning programs with WPB serving as the flagship division.
By 2014, WPB was prepared to expand its membership and impact through the introduction of its men’s auxiliary, The Phils. In what is believed to be the first men’s auxiliary of a philanthropic organization in the United States, men members of The Phils had the opportunity to support the mission of WPB and thereby help their wives, daughters, mothers, and friends to become more empowered in their personal financial positions.
The same year, WPB expanded its mentoring initiatives by creating and sponsoring the Student Philanthropy Board (SPB.) SPB provided an opportunity for Auburn students to join a preprofessional, official Auburn University student organization designed to prepare them to work or volunteer in the nonprofit field. In addition to learning from local nonprofit leaders, SPB members learn by participating in community service projects, writing, and awarding mini-grants, and selecting an annual Nonprofit Employee of the Year award.
WPB received state-wide and national attention in 2016 when former First Lady Laura Bush served as the Spring Luncheon keynote speaker, and in 2018 when Dr. Jane Goodall selected the WPB Spring Luncheon as one of her only appearances in the United States and only appearance in the southern US that year. Both events attracted participants and media from all over the state and country, with both women speaking to completely sold-out audiences.
Today, WPB continues its original mission to educate, enable, and inspire individuals to be financially sustainable and philanthropically engaged. It carries on its commitment to practicing collective philanthropy and to developing the next generation of philanthropists. Because of the support of its members and partners throughout the last 20 years, WPB has been able to impact thousands of individuals including Auburn students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends.
To ensure its future, WPB has begun a campaign to secure endowed funds for excellence, including a special 20th Anniversary Fund in honor of this historic year. Because of people who believe in its mission and invest in its programs, WPB will make an even greater impact during its next 20 years.