DOWAGIAC — The director of the Southwestern Michigan College Foundation is resigning at the end of this week after seven years on the job.
And Eileen Toney said she’s not happy about what’s she’s been hearing from SMC President David Mathews and SMC Board Chairman Tom Jerdon.
“They communicated to the foundation board that they wanted the focus to be on pursuing gifts from single women without children because they consider them to be low-hanging fruit,” she said. “I don’t want to go that way. To me, that’s a sexist statement and not a strategic plan.
“I didn’t agree with that strategy, which was communicated at a foundation board meeting. It’s not a direction I think the foundation should take. There should be diversity and not just one way.”
Mathews did not respond directly to her concerns about the “low-hanging fruit” comment, but did say that the Chronicle of Philanthropy highlighted planned giving from an estate after someone dies as an important fundraising strategy. The organization said that’s especially true as childless baby boomers age.
He said that since women tend to live longer than men, it makes sense that more gifts would come from women.
“SMC has a track record of receiving generous gifts from the estates of individuals who had no children,” he said.
Toney said Mathews has told her a number of times her salary as foundation director could be used to fund scholarships, a statement she views as “almost a threat.”
“Did he mean it as a threat? I took it that way as he said they could use the money for my salary for scholarships,” she said. “There comes a point when you recognize your work is done and you move on to the next chapter.”
Mathews said that since the foundation spends all of its income directly for scholarships, about $328,000, the college pays all of the foundation’s administrative costs such as the salaries for Toney and her part-time assistant, who is also leaving. That amounts to $180,000 a year.
“The Foundation and the Board of Trustees have periodically discussed whether the college should continue this practice or use a portion of the expenses currently allocated to foundation administration to increase the direct scholarship aid to students,” he said.
“With the resignation of Eileen Toney, I expect these discussions between the Board of Trustees and foundation will continue. At the end of the day, both the college and the foundation want to make the most scholarship dollars available to our students.”
Toney raised questions about how the college is paying for the ongoing $9.6 million nursing building expansion on the Dowagiac campus. She said she was able to raise $1 million toward the $2.6 million the foundation was tasked to raise but doesn’t know where the rest of the money will come from.
Mathews called the nursing building project “one of the most important projects the college has undertaken.” He said the college received $4 million from the state and will take $4.5 million from college reserves along with $1.1 million in donations raised by the foundation.
College officials had initially put the amount to be taken from college reserves at $3 million and the amount raised by the foundation through fundraising at $2.6 million. Mathews said Thursday the college will still have a balance of over $3 million in the building and site fund after the project is done.