Ginny Elwell ’77 Invests with Confidence
For Ginny Elwell ’77, philanthropy and volunteerism operate in concert. “If you’re going to be a good advocate, you have to demonstrate that you’ll invest your time, which is extremely valuable, and your money,” she explains. “The corollary question is, how can you be an effective advocate if you haven’t invested first?”
Her approach to philanthropy is equally straightforward. “Money is only worth what you do with it; it’s not a score card,” she says. “Hartwick is my number one and I like to let it show.” She has – through 38 years of consecutive giving to her alma mater and uninterrupted volunteer service.
Elwell keeps an open mind in supporting Hartwick initiatives. Last year, this international relations (ISP) major designated one gift to the Emerson Challenge for international internships and another to the Hartwick Fund. Regarding the latter, she says, “I have great confidence in making unrestricted gifts to Hartwick for purposes that the College leadership decides are most important. The world changes so fast, the best thing I can give Hartwick is flexibility.”
Another favorite designation of her philanthropy: the Dr. James J. Elting H’13 Memorial Scholarship. The former chair of Hartwick’s Board of Trustees had become a great friend. “One of the best surprises of being a trustee is getting to know the people around the Board table,” Elwell reflects. “Very wise people I wouldn’t have known otherwise; people like Jim.
“As a Board, we get into some important debates about extremely complex issues and we don’t always agree,” she adds. “The responsibility is huge, but you know you’re really shaping the future. Being a trustee is not only an honor, it is also the most rewarding volunteer experience I’ve ever had. It doesn’t get better than this.”
Calling her relationship with Hartwick “a continuous connection; an unbroken chain,” she ticks off her volunteer roles: class agent… admissions volunteer… alumni board member… College trustee. “There’s never been a break,” she says, “and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Elwell learned early how to lead a life of service. “Being a volunteer runs in our family veins,” she says, noting her parents were leaders in the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts despite having only daughters (her sister is Laurie Elwell ’75). “Our parents gave their time and money; it was always intertwined,” she explains. Outstanding mentors at Hartwick set further examples; professors who went beyond the job to form what she calls “my cheerleading squad of supporters.” Chief among them, Dr. Bryant Cureton, who was her principal advisor and a professor of political science before becoming dean and then provost of Hartwick College and president of Elmhurst College in Illinois. “I had a crowd around me that said: ‘You can make things happen.’” She has.
After earning an MBA in multinational business and marketing from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Elwell embarked on a 20-year career in corporate sales in the high-tech industry. She remembers “working for nimble companies, including two start-ups, and selling to large, conservative companies in the New York City area; that’s where you prove yourself.”
When the high-tech bubble burst, Elwell proved she, too, was nimble. She jump-started a new career in non-profit management, becoming a development officer for the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution, where “my background in international relations taught me a lot about working with sovereign nations.” She advanced to become director of development for the museum before taking on her current role as executive director of development for Arts and Sciences at the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, VA.
“Basically I reinvented myself in 2001 and turned my night job into my day job,” Elwell recalls, referring to her service on nonprofit boards throughout her corporate career. “I have not led a linear life. The zigs and zags teach us a lot. That’s the challenge, and the fun.”