Born to Give

December 13, 2023

By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA

Rollins alum Jeannie Infante Sager ’94
Photo by Scott Cook.

Jeannie Infante Sager ’94 shares how a fortuitous topic at Rollins started an unexpected career journey into philanthropy.

Who says a research paper can’t change your life? When tracing the throughlines of her career in philanthropy, Jeannie Infante Sager ’94 starts with a pivotal decision in her final semester at Rollins. An international relations major, she wanted her senior honors thesis to explore what a maternal foreign policy might look like.

“I needed a woman from history who could model that,” says Sager, so her advisor, emeritus history professor Jack Lane ’06H, suggested she focus on Jane Addams, a Progressive Era social reformer and the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Working part-time for Rollins’ annual giving campaign, Sager regularly read the Chronicle of Philanthropy. One day, while perusing job ads, she discovered that Indiana University (IU) was seeking applicants for its Jane Addams Fellowship, a prestigious opportunity to study at what would later become IU’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Suffice to say, Sager had an especially relevant talking point on her resume.

“Those were different times, and I had no idea you could even have a career in fundraising,” she says. “But my experience at Rollins sort of set me on this trajectory, and I got my master’s degree in philanthropic studies from Indiana.”

Today, Sager is an instrumental part of the very institution that cultivated her professional development, serving as director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at IU’s Lilly Family School.

For her 25 years of nonprofit executive leadership—which includes starting an independent college prep school and launching a 16-hospital foundation for the Indiana University Health System—Sager won Rollins’ 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award. The honor recognizes alumni who have demonstrated outstanding success and achieved remarkable distinction through their professional accomplishments.

“It’s a very humbling experience to be among such an illustrious list of alumni,” says Sager. “In this year’s group, a thread of service and philanthropy ran through all our stories. It’s really inspiring to be in the same company with them.”

Jeannie Infante Sager
Photo by Scott Cook.

A globally recognized speaker who has been featured everywhere from Fortune to The New York Times, Sager devotes each day to creating a world where women donors understand and use their growing power and influence to support causes they care about.

In her current role since January 2020, she champions the “power and potential” of women’s philanthropy, pointing to research that shows women are more likely to give—and give more—than men.

“It’s not because one is better than the other,” explains Sager. “It’s just that they give differently. Yet so much of the current infrastructure around philanthropy is geared toward a white, 60-year-old, heterosexual male.”

To address this, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute educates fundraisers and nonprofit leaders to “take women seriously and approach them in ways that appeal to them.”

When reflecting on her time at Rollins, Sager fondly remembers living in Pinehurst her first year, joining Chi Omega, and serving on the RA judicial committee. She appreciates how Rollins’ grounding in the liberal arts helped her understand the intersectionality of our world, especially when it comes to tackling complicated issues.

“That ‘life is for service’ piece is really important,” she says. “We need to pay it forward, and it’s our responsibility to be public teachers, no matter what professional hat you wear.”

Over the years, Sager has returned home to visit her parents and spend time on campus, often bringing her son and daughter, who are now in college. Regardless of where she goes, the Tar network is never far away.

“I talk to someone every day who I knew or met at Rollins,” she says. “Philanthropy is a real people business, and for me Rollins was a people place. It’s those relationships and friends that I’ll always cherish most.”

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