Volunteering as CFD has led to classmate bonding for Jenny Ross ’83

November 8, 2023 — For Jenny Ross ’83, philanthropy is a family trait.

“I’ve been volunteering since I was a kid,” says Ross. She’s participated in walks for hunger,
picked up trash, and volunteered at abortion clinics. She says it was her grandfather who ensured she understood how valuable philanthropy can be – a viewpoint that has shaped how she approaches fundraising today.

Jenny Ross ’83
   Jenny Ross ’83

Having never graduated high school or had the chance to attend college, it was important to her grandfather that Ross and her brothers have more opportunities.

“He paid for my entire college experience,” says Ross. “He taught me that money is only good for what you can use it on.”

More than money, Ross’ grandfather taught her the importance of sharing all resources, especially your time. So when a classmate reached out to ask her to volunteer as a class fund director, Ross knew the position would be a valuable way for her to give back to Grinnell.

“Grinnell has a reputation, and it’s worth upholding,” Ross says about her decision to become a class fund director (CFD as it’s often called). 

Since 2016, Ross has worked as the CFD for the class of 1983. Janet Scannell ’83 joined her as co-CFD three years later. Much of Ross’ position is writing solicitation letters to her classmates, sending reminders about upcoming reunions, and helping with Scarlet & Give Back Day. But the trickiest part of Ross’ job – asking for donations – is also her favorite.

Ross acknowledges fundraising can be a bit awkward, but she isn’t deterred. Reaching out with fundraising requests and thanking her classmates for their donations is a cherished part of her position because she gets to talk to people she might have lost touch with otherwise.

Without making those calls, Ross wouldn’t get to know as much about her classmates’ lives after Grinnell, nor would she have the kind of bonds with many of them that she has now.

“I love the job,” says Ross, “because it keeps me in touch with people.”

Ross was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after her daughter was born. She says it doesn’t impact her volunteering work, but it is part of why she loves talking on the phone so much to people.

The class of 1983 gathered in June at Reunion 2023 for their 40th reunion as part of a cluster with the classes of 1981 and 1982. Ross and Scannell were instrumental in helping the class of 1983 raise $1.3 million in gifts and commitments. The class priorities were the Pioneer Fund along with scholarships and financial aid, though gifts and commitments also were made to a wide variety of funds.

Class of 1983 Class Photo taken at Reunion 2023.
The class of 1983 took part in a class photo during their 40th reunion in June. Ross served on the reunion planning committee and co-led fundraising efforts.

While at Reunion, Ross got the chance to see the new Humanities and Social Studies Center, commenting that it’s “quite the architectural feat.” But Ross’ favorite part of being back on campus was getting to see her old friends.

“I was having so much fun seeing all my old classmates,” says Ross. “When you’re old, all you have left is your stories, so you better make some good ones!”

She also cites the importance of practicing philanthropy herself. Not only is she more than generous with her time, she also contributes annually and has established a planned gift with the College. Ross’ bequest will be split between the Pioneer Fund and Scholarships and Financial Aid.

Beyond her affection for Grinnell, the planned gift has personal significance. Ross’ father, who went to Carleton College, was very active in coordinating reunions and activities there, and left Carleton a generous bequest upon his passing. Her father’s involvement at Carleton inspired similar beliefs about the value of philanthropy in Ross. She’s also grateful to him for introducing her to Grinnell.

One draw was that Grinnell College is between Minnesota, where Ross’ mother lived, and Nebraska, where her father lived. But it was the presence of a familiar face that prompted Ross to visit the campus.

Peter Connelly, a professor of English at Grinnell from 1970 to 2000, was roommates at Carleton College with none other than Ross’ father. They kept in close contact over the years, so when Ross was looking for colleges, checking out Grinnell was a no-brainer.

“I fell in love with it the moment I was here,” says Ross. 

Ross took full advantage of the lack of general education requirements at Grinnell, studying French and ultimately majoring in anthropology “because it made it all make sense. It explained all of the little parts of politics, science, religion, and civilization.”

Ross also took part in the Grinnell-in-London program, and she credits the love of art and literature that her parents inspired in her with motivating her to go. As her father was an artist and Ross was an avid reader, the desire to go to London for the literature, the poetry, and the art galleries was too good to pass up.

“I wanted to get everything out of it,” said Ross. “I wanted to wring it dry before I had to go home.”

Her stalwart support in advancing philanthropy at Grinnell has been invaluable, and her role as a CFD gives her the opportunity to inspire similar sentiments in her classmates.

“My mom taught me that when someone gives a gift to you, you should thank them for it,” says Ross. “I have to give back to Grinnell because it was the best gift ever given to me.”

—by Clara Bode ’26

For your information

Learn more about the responsibilities of a class fund director. Alums interested in volunteering for the position can contact Mary Zug, associate director of annual giving, at zugmary1@grinnell.edu or 641-269-4554.

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