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Brandeis National Committee fundraises and engages with the community

By Sara McCrea

Section: Features

September 28, 2017

On your way into the Goldfarb library, take a moment to look at the glass panels inscribed with hundreds of names that line the walls immediately to your right. The panels surround a space known as the Brandeis National Committee Tribute Area, an area to honor donors without whose support the library would not exist at all.

The Brandeis National Committee (BNC) is an organization of 25,000 members divided into 41 chapters across the country, making it the largest university donor organization in the world. The BNC has contributed over $131 million to Brandeis’ libraries, neuroscience research and student scholarships.

The group states on their website that, “The BNC shares the vision of the university’s namesake, the late Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who once said of a great university: ‘The aim must be high and the vision broad; the goal seemingly attainable but beyond immediate reach.’”

When members of the American Jewish community founded Brandeis in 1948, the libraries that are now buzzing with students were nothing more than horse stables. Eight women from Boston began a campaign called “Books for Brandeis,” and within months they had established a membership organization that raised $300,000 for the library.

“There were some amazing women,” former Executive Director Janice Fineman said. “Many had not gone to college [but] had all of this terrific talent and drive and ideas, and they were able to mobilize their ideas to support the university.”

The BNC (formally known as the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee) has continued the legacy of the university’s founders by fundraising through promoting community, social justice and life-long learning. Despite their strong support and influence on the university, the majority of BNC members are not alumni but join because they are seeking to engage in the activities the organization offers.

“Most of our members are newly retired and looking for a way to keep stimulated and to keep their minds active,” BNC Executive Director Beth Bernstein said. “It’s more like a club than just a fundraising organization.”

In exchange for their donations, the members have opportunities to participate in lifelong learning programs. These programs are often based on Brandeis faculty-written study guides and include discussions on literature, current events and social issues.

The BNC also offers groups that follow along with the New Student Book Forum, where they can read and discuss the book the first-years read over the summer, as well as watch a video of the author’s book talk given at the university.

“The idea for the chapters is that we try to connect them to the university. We want them to feel a part of the Brandeis family,” Bernstein said.

The organization has recently recruited student ambassadors to connect the organization members with the students they are supporting. Because so many of the chapters are spread across the country, the ambassadors are given the opportunity to go visit the chapters during breaks. The BNC also flies Brandeis faculty out to the various chapters so the members can be as involved in the community as possible.

“I’m hoping that future generations will benefit from all of the work that we did and continue to do,” Fineman said.

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