It’s no surprise that Donna Winbon drives a bright blue BMW Z4 roadster. They’re both sporty and fun, and in BMW’s words: an irresistible force that provides maximum excitement. (Sounds like Winbon, doesn’t it?)
No wonder then that this 1980 graduate of Western Carolina University—the July alumna of the month—was tapped to chair the university’s record-setting Lead the Way campaign, which raised more than $60 million for student scholarships and fulfilled the late Chancellor David O. Belcher’s dream of increasing financial support for WCU’s students.
“I believe that my insight on money and the transfer of money through philanthropic goals because of my career at Edward Jones gave me the credentials to lead that committee,” said Winbon, who works as a financial adviser in Raleigh. “I enjoyed spending time with the Advancement staff and helping them understand how people think about philanthropic goals and how you cannot only gift in an annual way, through establishing scholarships, but also estate gifts and the many ways to gift via your estate.”
You might say Winbon, a Fremont native, was brilliantly engineered to lead such a campaign. She graduated with a degree in home economics, with an emphasis in clothing, textiles and merchandising, and a plan to work as a buyer. But her summer internship with Belk persuaded her to switch goals. After graduating from WCU, she started working for Wrangler Ranch as a manager, then left the company to follow her former regional manager to Things Remembered, a gift store, where she spent 15 years moving up the company ladder, eventually managing at one time more than 30 stores and supervising more than 200 employees.
Double-teamed by an urge to be closer to her aging parents and a nudge by her own financial adviser to consider a career change, Winbon left retail for Edward Jones Investments. “I always knew that if I could land somewhere where I could be compensated for how hard I worked, then I would never want for anything,” Winbon said. “At Edward Jones, it is like owning your own business, but you have the backing of a phenomenal company that gives you the ability to create and build your own business by building relationships because it’s all about relationships.”
As a result, Winbon’s skills and high-performance record are once again in demand at WCU. She recently took over as chair of the Foundation Board of Directors, where one of its many efforts is to create scholarships and endowments that provide supplemental funds for students and faculty, a purpose near to Winbon’s heart.
“I believe that educating our kids is one of the absolutely most important things we as a society can do,” Winbon said. “And to be able to help Western, where it makes such an impact, I can’t tell you how proud I am to be a part of it.”
Not only has Winbon helped raise scholarship money, she has created a scholarship in her name, the Donna Winbon Scholarship, which is given annually to a WCU student. She loves the annual scholarship luncheon, where scholarship recipients meet their donors.
“The first time I met my first scholarship recipient, I just had goosebumps,” she said. “It was crazy, just a lump in my throat. He came up to me with his little name tag and said, ‘I’m your scholarship recipient.’ That’s a thrill you just don’t get from writing a check.”
Winbon has also created the Winbon Family Scholarship to honor her family who all worked in the field of emergency services. She believes that as WCU’s profile continues to rise, so will the gifts by donors who understand they can take care of their families and be a contributor to their alma mater, too.
“I think there are many, many, many more larger gifts out there that will be considered for the university in an estate way when people pass away,” Winbon said. “If they work with a good financial adviser, it can be a part of their philanthropic goal at their death and not take away from what they want to do to take care of their family.”
Winbon is grateful for the opportunities to return to Cullowhee, where she relishes the serenity of the mountains and the Tuckasegee River, both old haunts when she was a student years ago. She appreciates the changes on campus and the university’s increasing impact on the region; it’s exciting to see, she said. “Things are changing. It’s not stagnant.”
Nor is Winbon. She’s blessed, she said, with “high energy” and never sees the cup half full or empty. “My cup is always running over. I’m just built that way,” she said. “The good Lord gave me those characteristics and I understand it, and a goal of mine is to pay it forward.”
She plans to help WCU for as long as she can. “I love what I do because it’s through the relationships with people where you can make an impact on their lives, and I can’t tell you how fulfilling that is,” she said.
So how did the 6-foot Winbon end up with such a sporty little car? Just like her career choices, it was all about the fit. “The Z4 was tall enough for me,” she said.