Elbowing Your Way Through

Five Questions with Dolores McKeever Donahue ’52

by Sara Rinaldi, Office of Development Communications

Dolores McKeever Donahue ‘52 has taken many leadership roles at the University of San Francisco: Lone Mountain College board member, then as a member of the Board of Trustees, and more recently as a Women in Leadership & Philanthropy advisory board member. Donahue, a Lo Schiavo Legacy Society member, gets involved with the decision making, and knows that her perspective, a woman’s perspective, offers something unique.

How have your family values shaped your approach to philanthropy?
Both of my parents set an example by instilling in me the importance of giving back and helping others. My father was a generous supporter of his alma mater, St. Mary’s College, in the East Bay. During the Depression era, when many students and prospective students could no longer afford tuition, the President of the College sought my mother’s help in establishing a Women’s Guild with the purpose of raising funds for college scholarships. The guild was very successful in this endeavor and has continued to contribute financial resources to the college for decades. Seeing my mother in this position, organizing with women, left a mark on how women make a difference.

How have you used your skills and background in business and in philanthropy?
I graduated from Lone Mountain College, formerly known as San Francisco in College for Women in 1952 with a degree in sociology and economics and then taught in elementary school. In the 1970’s I went into real estate and then in 2000 assumed the presidency of The O’Shea Foundation. I found both my education and the skills developed as a businesswoman were exactly what was needed to lead The O’Shea Foundation into the next century.

What are your priorities when it comes to philanthropy and how do you make the decisions on what to support?
My priorities are very much those of my parents: education and social outreach. Helping young people receive a good education so they can become happy successful adults and helping those in underserved communities where there is need. We concentrate our efforts in the Bay Area, this enables us to better monitor our impact, make sure the organizations live up to their mission, do site visits, and evaluate their financials to make certain they are using their funds prudently.

Are women involved in the decision making process at the foundation and is their approach to philanthropy different from men?
Yes, three generations of O’Shea women, my daughters, and granddaughters, are involved in decision making. These are professionals whose backgrounds are in law, medicine, tech, accounting, and real estate. These women offer a unique perspective and are empowered to make spending decisions. At one time, spending decisions were only made by men. I feel women often see things from a different light, they understand needs differently, so they approach philanthropy from a different perspective. Women want to foster women in the same ways, men have fostered men.

In years past, it was the unusual woman who became a lawyer, doctor, or CPA. If a woman did enter the corporate world, it was very difficult for her to work her way up. At a meeting it was always the woman who was handed the notebook to take notes. There was an expectation that women were not to be acknowledged as being equal; they were looked upon as having a certain skill set.

This generation’s young women have seen what the previous generations of women had to do to get to where we are now. Being a woman in the business world, even with outstanding leadership skills, you were just trying to elbow your way through. So, it makes them more sensitive to the needs of women and they make sure to further the advancement of progress. I am delighted to see the change.

You’ve been with Women in Leadership & Philanthropy since the beginning. How have you seen it grow? In what areas are you excited to see Women in Leadership & Philanthropy grow?
It’s been very rewarding to see it grow to what It is today. I remember it was such a small advisory board when we started it with Leslie Wetzel, former USF associate vice president. The Symposium this year was amazing, and the virtual symposium last year was excellent. The presenters both years provided good insightful information. The circle is expanding, and women are being recognized as leaders and philanthropists. They are giving and hopefully will continue to give and give more to the university.

I am excited to see the many graduation years represented on the advisory board. Younger women are participating in the symposium and younger women are leading. They bring so much to the table, they bring a new perspective, and are often more forward-thinking, they articulate in a different manner than more senior women. I am excited to see how Women in Leadership and Philanthropy will grow from here.

Ready to use your leadership skills to advance women’s philanthropy? Learn more about how you can get involved with Women in Leadership & Philanthropy.