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A Conversation on Philanthropy with Phyllis Nickerson Dotson '62 and George S. Dotson

Phyllis Nickerson Dotson '62 and her husband George S. Dotson of Tulsa, Okla., established a fund at Simmons to promote academic excellence through the Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program for student nurses. Their visionary support, totaling $4 million, has also transformed the nursing labs. Here are excerpts from a conversation with the Dotsons about their approach to philanthropy.

Phyllis and George DotsonPhyllis Nickerson Dotson '62 and her husband George S. Dotson of Tulsa, Okla.

What inspires you to give?

Phyllis: I grew up in a family that emphasized giving back. It's not always about money, but about love of mankind – that's what philanthropy really means. I heard lots of stories about what my parents were doing in the community, and stories make you want to give more, whether money, time, or talent. And later Simmons taught me that I could be empowered and make things happen.

George: As we look at life around us, we see many shortcomings in efforts to create a better life for all. Some of the shortcomings are about shortages of money, while others are about the difficulties of creating or repurposing organizations to be effective in creating possibilities for people. We like to do both.

What causes mean the most to you?

Phyllis: Locally, we support Tulsans who are heavily burdened in their lives. We're very active with Saint Simeon's Episcopal Home – an assisted living facility in Tulsa for which we have led fundraising, construction, and renovation campaigns. Another important cause is children's illnesses and supportive care. We felt very supported after our son died of cancer at a young age, and we ultimately led a citywide effort to build a Ronald McDonald House in Tulsa. Other causes important to us are mental health – including that of homeless people – domestic abuse, children living in poverty, and learning programs for children.

George: We want to support efforts to improve peoples' lives, and we start with education. Our collaboration with Simmons offers much leverage as it helps educate young women who will serve others – multiplying the beneficial impact. Health, social services, and early childhood development are interests for us as well. I've been involved in Saint Simeon's elder care for 25 years.

What's the most important quality you look for in an organization seeking your support?

Phyllis: Is it mission-driven?  Are we passionate about the organization's mission? Is the money spent on the mission? Financial stewardship is very important.

George: The group's vision and mission must interest us. And, the group must be effective in producing results.  

What do you most enjoy about being philanthropic?

Phyllis: For me it starts with a feeling of well being and happiness – the camaraderie of associating with like-minded people. It's very satisfying to help get people on board with an organization and mission. And it is especially rewarding to hear success stories. Simmons does that well, and we both enjoy our frequent trips back to Simmons.

George: Yes, good results provide a sense of satisfaction and closure. We think Simmons does a superb job of informing us on objectives, progress, and results.

What do you consider to be your most significant philanthropic achievements?

Phyllis: I have to name two: Building the Ronald McDonald House, and our collaboration with Simmons, which goes back to everything I am. Simmons continues to empower women. And it's so gratifying to hear students say, "Someday, we're going to do what you do." So it's a cycle of giving back.

George: Our Simmons involvement is significant for me. I got the best of a Simmons education when I married Phyllis. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to the College for the nursing education and social awareness that assisted her as a most effective catalyst for addressing the needs of disadvantaged Tulsans. Our work at Saint Simeon's has been significant as well.

Which living philanthropists do you most admire?

Phyllis: We tend to think of people who are doing wonderful things right here in Tulsa. We love working with a woman named Mary Ann Hille because everything she does is from her heart. 

George: I will mention someone from the past – Andrew Carnegie. I grew up in a small Oklahoma town with a Carnegie Library, and I burrowed in and read for hours on end. The libraries he established really helped move this country from the 19th into the 20th century.

Any recommended reading for people who want to "give back"?

Phyllis: One is The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. Her philosophy is our philosophy. It's about transforming your relationship with money. Spread it around. Open up opportunities. Our legacy is what we live, not what we leave. I'd also recommend Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable Times by Kim Kline.

George: I recommend Washington by Ron Chernow. Although we all know his life story, I had no idea how much of his life Washington dedicated to the country and the incredible scope of what he did.

What should everyone who aspires to be philanthropic know?

Phyllis: You get back far more than you give. It's the feeling you have that's important. If you have passion, you can always get access to the dollars needed to make things happen. It is very rewarding to be a voice for the voiceless.

George: The world of assistance to others is full of possibilities, and your passion can make a difference in delivering on one or more of those possibilities.

More on the Dotsons:

 

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