Women For Madison

JMU women powering up

These Women for Madison challenges are leading somewhere big


SUMMARY: Beth McConnell Bliss (’84), above on left at a 2019 Women for Madison event, urges all JMU women to give. “I want women to step forward to become a significant philanthropic force for JMU into the future,” she says.

BACK IN 2020 - when Beth McConnell Bliss (’84) made the lead gift for the $25,000 Women for Madison Executive Advisory Council challenge, she was igniting a movement that will change the face of women's philantropy at JMU. 

“This is all about momentum,” says Bliss, who has consistently served as a Women for Madison spokesperson. “I want women to step forward to become a significant philanthropic force for JMU into the future,” she says.

Her vision is now a reality as Bliss joins 43 other amazing women in establishing The Amethyst Circle, the women-led scholarship mission to provide $1 million in scholarships for future Dukes and women-focused philanthropic programming for all.

“We can do this. We should do this,” Bliss says. “Think about it. Women are doing important work in the world. We are the CFOs and philanthropic decision-makers for our families. And traditionally we have come together, worked together, to improve our communities. So think about the impact we can have on our university when we give together.”

Building on the momentum

The Amethyst Circle Founder initiative builds on the waking women's philanthropy movement at JMU.

The 2020 advisory council challenge was a case in point, with all 30 volunteer and staff members contributing to the challenge. “That’s 100 percent participation,” says Women for Madison leader Cannie Campbell, who is JMU’s assistant vice president for Constituent Engagement. “The women of this council are bold for JMU and they practice what they preach.”

Traditionally the council leads JMU’s Giving Day advisory board challenges, collectively giving nearly $12,000 annually toward the Giving Day Challenge Fund. This year alone, the council contributed another $24,000 in challenge dollars that helped inspire the $759,000 Madison for Keeps emergency scholarship drive in May 2020. 

It’s this success that the council hopes to build upon. “We want all JMU women to understand that when they make a gift to JMU they are part of something bigger,” says council chair Wilma Cairns Bowers (’83). “Women who give to JMU are part of Women for Madison.”

The inspiration for accelerating women’s giving has emanated from council members, who, over the years, have invited women to intimate giving circles in their homes with ambitious fundraising goals. 

Women for Madison volunteers seek to replicate the precedent set with the Dolley Madison Dukes Pay It Forward Scholarship, which was established with $25,000 given by Bowers and a circle of donors who gathered in her home. Since then, the fund has been opened up to giving from all donors, and total giving to the fund stands at $33,272 with a market value of $59,321.

Today, JMU’s loyal women’s leadership giving stands at 662 donors giving $1,000 or more annually for 3-plus years consecutively and accounts for roughly 5 percent of all female alumni donors. 

“This amazing group of women has sparked a fire of philanthropy in me. It’s a diverse group of women who have a heart of service and of giving back,” says Angela Russell (’85), a newer member of the council. “I give to JMU because there are students who are in the same place I was—first-generation college attendees who have to find their own way and pay for their education. Scholarships will help them to achieve their dreams of graduating.”

Bliss, who has hosted several fundraising circles and a rally in Northern Virginia, wants to see this enthusiasm for loyalty leadership giving catch fire among women at large. As a past chair and a founding member of the council, she is in this for the long haul. 

“When Women for Madison first began about seven years ago,” she says, “we formed with the objective of philanthropy,” she says. “For JMU, it just seems like a perfect fit because we were founded as a women's university, and today 58 percent of our students are women.” 

She and her husband, Jarl (’84), have been deeply engaged with JMU over the years, from holding football season tickets, to hosting alumni events, supporting the College of Business and College of Science and Mathematics, and most recently, as Parents Council members and proud parents of COB graduate MacKenzie (’20), who is a master’s student in accounting this year.

“I never thought that we would be this engaged,” Beth says. “I think it’s just been wonderful and been really great to meet all different generations of graduates.”

The Blisses are now members of the steering committee for Unleashed: The Campaign for James Madison University. All gifts this week contribute to the comprehensive campaign, which has an ultimate goal of $200 million by 2022.

“We are a result of our JMU experiences and of the relationships that we had,” Beth says. “And I feel like that is something which is so important to my husband and me as we think about our current students and prospective students and how we can give back to the university. It's a special place. And the one piece that we're really trying to build on now is generosity of philanthropy.” 

“So,” she urges, “give now as you are able, and stay tuned for the future. The women of JMU are powering up.”

Bliss urges women to mark their calendars now for the May 21-22, 2021 Women for Madison Summit. “It's a great reason to come back to JMU and bring your girlfriends, meet new friends, get involved with our faculty and staff. The day is focused around women and special topics related to women. We highlight our own alumni and their successes as leaders, and I think women would be just really impressed and so proud to see the type of women that JMU has released into the world.”


Back to Top

Published: Sunday, August 30, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, August 4, 2022

Related Articles