A passion for art and philanthropy

By Krista Bremer

Last fall, the president of Vassar College and the chair of the school’s development committee identified a top priority: Find a major donor for the new drama and film center before the president’s retirement in June 2006.

Barbara Manfrey Vogelstein, committee chair, 1976 alumna and current trustee of the college, discussed the initiative with her husband, and they reached an unexpected conclusion – to make the gift themselves.

Their $10 million gift is one of the largest single contributions to Vassar in its history.

In recognition of the gift, the school’s 54,000 square-foot facility, designed by architect Cesar Pelli, this month will be renamed the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film.

Vogelstein has held numerous volunteer leadership positions at the school, and she and her husband, John L. Vogelstein, have consistently provided generous support to Vassar.

But this gift, Vogelstein says, is by far the most rewarding because it honors the school she loves and Fran Fergusson, the president who transformed it over the past 20 years.

“Our main motivation with this gift was to honor President Fergusson by helping her meet this important goal,” Vogelstein says. “After all she has done for Vassar, we did not want her to leave the school with unfinished business.”

Vogelstein says Fergusson’s strength lies in her ability to convey her bold vision and inspire alumni.

Barbara M. Vogelstein

Job: Founder and chairman, ShareGift USA, New York

Career: Associate and partner, Warburg Pincus, 1976-1992; partner, Apax Partners & Co. Ventures, London, 1992-2000.

Board appointments: Vassar College, Brooklyn Museum, New York Women’s Foundation, Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women

“When Fran became president, she knew what she had to do to attract the most talented students,” says Vogelstein.That included improving the buildings and grounds; expanding sports facilities; strengthening the library; and expanding Vassar’s offerings in the arts.“The new facilities added to the appeal of a high-quality Vassar education,” Vogelstein says.  “And as a result, today Vassar accepts a record number of applications each year, and has become far more selective.”

Fergusson also led a record-breaking capital campaign that raised $200 million for Vassar in 1996.

After graduating from the school with a degree in economics, Vogelstein joined Warburg Pincus, one of the world’s largest private equity firms.

Elected to partnership at age 30, she was the firm’s first female venture-capital partner, and over the course of her career has served as director of 15 public and private companies.

Eighteen months ago, Vogelstein started Sharegift USA, a charity that helps people and companies donate the proceeds of small amounts of corporate stock, which can be difficult to sell cost-effectively.

After collecting the shares, Sharegift USA aggregates them, sells them, and then donates the proceeds to charities, including the American Heart Association and the Sierra Club Foundation.

Modeled after Sharegift, a charity founded in England in 1996, Vogelstein brought the concept to the U.S.

“It’s a way to access found money and put it to good use,” she says.

Throughout her marriage, she says, she has been inspired by her husband’s commitment to philanthropy.

“My husband strongly believes that if one is in a position to give back, one should,” she says, adding that he has demonstrated his commitment time and again by being a major donor to many causes, particularly education.

This joint gift was an opportunity for the couple to combine their passion for the arts and their commitment to philanthropy, Vogelstein says.

“I am indebted to Vassar because it gave me a passion for learning,” said Vogelstein. “Vassar has given me so much that it’s important for me to give back, and I hope I can inspire other alumni to do the same.”

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