Blog Home > Passion > Meet Biola University’s Ruby Women
August 29, 2014
Judy Lewis

When the story is told of the founding of Biola University in Los Angeles, somehow the “founding before the founding” is left behind. As it turns out, before Union Oil Company’s Lyman Stewart and pastor T.C. Horton initiated the Bible Institute in 1908, their wives Lula and Anna were pounding the pavement in Southern California. In one report, the ladies and their women leaders (at left) visited more than 6,000 homes, sharing the gospel and asking about interest in Biola. In essence, paving the way for a new Christian college.

“Everybody talks about 1908. We have shirts that say 1908,” says Greg Leith, director of strategic alliances. “But it all started in 1907–with women’s rallies and Bible classes in evangelism.”

AnnMore than 100 years later, Greg hired Women Doing Well’s Ann McKusick (at left) to help Biola focus on women during their $180 million capital campaign. They studied the women’s donors’ programs at nearby University of Southern California and Chapman University, two private schools within 30 minutes of Biola. They considered trends concerning women and finances:

  • Across America, women control 51.3%, or $14 trillion, in personal wealth, and that figure is expected to grow to $22 trillion within the next decade
  • 95% of women will be their family’s primary financial decision maker at some point in their life
  • 48% of all U.S. estates over $5 million are managed by women

And they studied their own donor profiles:

  • In a nine-year period, Biola saw $40 million given—40% of it given by women
  • Of the 40,000 donors on their list, 60% are women
  • Of the $3.5 million in estate giving, 65% is done by women

 “No matter where we looked,” says Greg, “we saw women.”

So, Biola joined in the first-ever survey on Christian women and giving. Biola donors participated in Women Doing Well’s research to bring the total surveyed to more than 7,000—the largest survey ever done in any field of philanthropy.
The results codified what many in development already believed: Christian women are generous. And they want to be more generous, but they face some common hurdles.

The key findings in the GIVING SURVEY suggest:

  • Christian women are significantly more generous than the average American
  • Discipleship plays a major role in her generosity
  • Women with a strong sense of purpose are more generous than those without
  • Debt is the most commonly cited challenge to generosity
  • Lack of clarity of personal purpose and financial planning are hurdles for “aspiring givers”
  • Christian women want to be much more included in the organizations they support
  • Traditional generosity resources are not reaching Christian women

Although Ann McKusick of Women Doing Well had worked with women’s philanthropy for two decades, the survey highlighted a tremendous opportunity to help women grow in generosity. “I hadn’t thought about the elements that contribute to a generous woman—knowing her purpose, passion and plan,” says Ann. “That’s the revelatory piece for me. These things are learnable and transferable. We have a real opportunity to develop tools that fit the hand of a woman.”

Gathering Leaders

In the fall of 2012, Greg and Biola’s Co-director of Ruby Women Kristen Hahn (at left) decided to hear more from their female donors and invited 22 of them to talk further. They presented the Women Doing Well findings and asked for the donors’ feedback. Eighteen of them were so ready to help that they agreed to design a plan based on their desires to engage with Biola. Led by Kristen, 12 joined a leadership team made up of alumnae, parents, board members, faculty and friends of the university. Together, they built a program around four pillars:

LEARN:Learn and grow in the area of your passions, purpose, gifts, strengths, biblical stewardship, practical finances, and giving decision-making.

SERVE:Serve and mentor students, join existing volunteer programs, provide for the needs of Biola students, host events in your home and assist international students.

GIVE:Give to young leaders so the cost of their education does not stop them from launching their dreams to reach the world for Jesus Christ.

TRAVEL To see what God is doing through effective Biola leaders locally and around the world.

And the key, they said, was they wanted to do it together. Was it a surprise that the Biola donors of all ages and experiences wanted to collaborate? “No,” says Kristen, “I am a woman. I know that together we can accomplish a lot more.”

This new, strategic and generous group named themselves “Ruby Women: A Ministry of Biola University” after Proverbs 31:10.

This new, strategic and generous group named themselves “Ruby Women: A Ministry of Biola University” after Proverbs 31:10, describing the value of a woman of noble character.

In the fall of 2012, co-directors Kristen, Maria Zalesky and the Ruby Women leadership team began to design engagement experiences around the four pillars. For the LEARN pillar, they hosted a half-day seminar on Faith, Family and Finances. One hundred fifty women came to hear about developing a family mission statement, estate planning, leaving a legacy, and preparing a financial foundation led by Women Doing Well.

Ruby Women also capitalized on partnerships. With Generous Giving, they hosted 14 leaders in a Journey of Generosity (JOG) weekend. And with Saddleback Church, 260 women joined them to learn about the inner lives of men, featuring best-selling author Shaunti Feldhan. Ruby Women has archived all these learning messages, now with well over 1,000 online viewings.

The 5 Pillars

The SERVE pillar projects include volunteering with local Los Angeles organizations to assist women in need, and mentoring women students during the Biola school year. “I believe strongly in the impact a mentoring relationship can have,” says Heather Hoerdemann, chairperson for the Mentoring Committee, “not only on students but also on those that invest the time in mentoring.”
Twenty-five Ruby Women now mentor women students.

The GIVE pillar encourages Ruby Women to help Biola students through 10 scholarships this year and an International Hospitality Fund that helped 10 international students and five graduate families get started at Biola with dorm and apartment necessities. “The Ruby Women Leadership Team shopped and personally selected the items,” says Maria. “They love the ‘hands-on’ exercise in generosity.”

The TRAVEL pillar was a surprise to some in the development office. “Who knew women wanted to travel together to see what God is doing around the world?” asks Greg. But he’s been thrilled that Ruby Women are coming along alumnae in boardrooms, classrooms and the mission field. Ruby Women’s first trip to Sri Lanka (see below) was led by first lady of Biola Paula Corey. “We went to an orphanage run by a Biola grad,” says Paula, “I like to bring women to participate, not just go and see. Women like that. They like being useful, not just touring around.” Another trip is planned for Denmark with Paula, as well as a few stateside trips.

People are taking notice of what is happening with Ruby Women. “Biola is a great example,” says Women Doing Well’s Pam Pugh, “of what can happen with intentional involvement with women donors. We want to live for something that will outlast us.” With less than two years in existence, Ruby Women was awarded the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s (CASE) Gold Award for fundraising. This secular award put Biola at the top where people take notice. “The CASE award is a validation for us that Biola is at the forefront of higher educational institutions’ programs for women,” says Maria.

And other Christian colleges want to learn from the early success of Ruby Women. At the recommendation of Women Doing Well, Colorado Christian University sent a team to Southern California to see first hand Biola’s success. “We really enjoyed the collaboration with our Colorado visitors,” says Kristen, “and are so happy to pass on our experiences and assist them in their [endeavor].” Now CCU is in process of creating their own program with the help of Women Doing Well.

Clearly, women are engaging in new ways and enthusiasm is burgeoning. But the question for some about bottom-line giving remains to be seen. Can you measure the worth and beauty of a ruby? Greg seems unconcerned: “Our renewed focus on women doesn’t have to prove itself, because when you look back at the data, it says that 40 % of our giving was already from women, 60% of our mailing list is women, 65% of estate giving is from women. The appropriate God-directed focus on women should have been here all along. And if we do it well, we will fan the flames to an even higher level.”

All you need to do is look at the history and infrastructure of Biola and it screams out, ‘Women!’”

“Look at the buildings on our campus” suggests Greg. “The Crowell School of Business, funded by Susie Crowell. The Moats Lecture hall, funded by Virginia Motes. The Fluor Fountain, funded by Marjorie Fluor Moore. All you need to do is look at the history and infrastructure of Biola and it screams out, ‘Women!’”


Women Doing Well shares the Learning Lessons from Ruby Women:

  • Realize the need exists. Biola’s First Lady Paula Corey affirms the hole: “I’ve been surprised how passionate the women have been, that they were looking for something like this. I didn’t know there were so many women out there who felt unfulfilled in their service or involvement in philanthropy.”
  • Glean from the voices of women. Use the Women Doing Well Women and Philanthropy survey as a launching point. The certified information gives you a standard from which you can draw out the thoughts of potential donors. “Women wanted to talk about their experiences,” says Kristen, “so we simply interviewed them about their thoughts regarding the survey. It made it so easy.”
  • Pray for a champion at a high level in your organization. “It’s really critical to have a strong advocate, preferably male, at a high level,” says Ann. “You really need a champion who could be a cross-cultural mediary. Greg had a vision for really involving women. He knew this was an unexplored frontier where women could be another role of influence with Biola.”
  • Invest in your volunteers. Include them early. Give them the ownership. “Ruby Women’s Leadership Team is made up of alumnae, parents, board members and faculty members of the university,” says Kristen. “They developed the plan and own it themselves. And they introduce us to their networks.”
  • Start small with great quality. Do a few key things each year. Then add to it.
  • Don’t wait for full finances and staff. A program can be started with practically no budget and part-time staff. At Biola, Greg says, “We used only ticket sales and sponsorship to launch our first events. We were building the plane in flight.” And now, Ruby Women will be a line-item budget, and there are three women giving part of their days to the effort. “All of a sudden we are seeing women we hadn’t seen before hanging out at Biola.”
  • Have a strategy document. “It adds validity to the program by showing a carefully planned path for engagement and philanthropic efforts with women,” says Maria, co-director of Ruby Women. “It also gives us parameters by which we may decide on additions to the program by asking, ‘Does this fit with the Strategic Plan?’” Make the strategy available to leaders and colleagues so they understand your plan.
  • Small shifts can lead to big results. Addressing invitations and letters with women-specific opportunities to include women can surface new friends. “When we send an invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jones,” says Greg, “it [misses] an executive woman’s place of expression or her felt needs. But once we invite her to a talk on working with men or a trip to Sri Lanka to visit a house for rescued girls, she has a place to join with us. Now, we’re not sitting around development meetings asking, ‘What’s happening with Mr. Jones?’ Now, we’re saying, ‘How’s it going with Mrs. Jones?’ As crazy obvious as that sounds, it’s a shift. I believe that there’s a tinge of Christian evangelical theology that says the guy’s the one, so pay attention to him. I think we need to move away from that.”
  • Take the long view. Realize that funding is a fair metric, but it’s not the only one. “For the first 10 years of Women of Vision,” says Ann who launched the program for World Vision 25 years ago, “We were considered an ‘advocacy group’ and not development directly.” Since then, they have raised more than $100 million for the ministry. “I get so emotional just thinking about it,” says Ann of the enormous resources they have provided, “but funding isn’t the whole story. Influencing their husbands, creating goodwill for World Vision, praying, involving their children, changing generations are also significant contributions to the mission that can’t always be measured.”

 How can you get involved?

  • Share this article with your alma mater and encourage them to start a women’s philanthropy program.
  • If you are a University, contact Women Doing Well for your equipping next step.
  • Attend an Inspiring Generous Joy (now WDW Signature Event) experience with your friends.

–Judy Nelson Lewis


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