“Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”: Denise Nelson Nash ’76 on Why She’s Giving to Scripps

By Emily Glory Peters

Denise Nelson Nash '76 headshot

Denise Nelson Nash ’76’s heart for women’s education and commitment to giving back share the same root: her mother.

“My mother was an educator and active in women’s rights at a time before people were using the term  ‘feminism’ in the Black community. Her desire was for me to have boundless exploration and development opportunities and thought that could best be achieved at a women’s college,” says Nelson Nash. “It was a seed she planted early on.”

Nelson Nash is likewise planting seeds for others. She belongs to Scripps’ Elm Tree Society, a community of donors who plan to leave a gift to the College to advance Scripps’ mission after they’re gone.

Giving back is a deeply personal matter for her as an alumna, noting how Scripps not only opened new perspectives on the world, but also fostered her courage to experience it. Today, as the College’s vice president, secretary of the Board of Trustees, and convener of the racial justice-focused IDEA initiative, she’s also had a direct hand in shaping Scripps’ future. Leaving a planned gift is a way she can offer the same “boundless exploration” to future students who want to spark progress in their communities—a value Nelson Nash also learned from her family.

“Volunteering, giving, and receiving has long been rooted in Black culture,” she says, sharing that some of her earliest memories were watching family members volunteer at church, take in and care for the children of others, and advocate for civil and educational rights. “These were not one-offs, but sustained commitments. Planned giving is part of that whole circle of giving.”

Planning for the Success of Future Scripps College Students

In addition to an open-ended planned bequest which will be used to meet the College’s needs, Nelson Nash has a charitable gift annuity (CGA), a donation that Scripps invests on her behalf. As a CGA investment earns revenue, Scripps pays a portion to the donor each year, with the remaining funds going back to the College after the donor passes.

She’s slated her CGA to be used for the Samella Lewis Scholarship, a fund established by Nelson Nash along with fellow alumnae in honor of the iconic artist, civil rights activist, and professor emerita of art history at Scripps. The scholarship, which recognizes an exceptional Black student each year, mirrors Nelson Nash’s devotion to advancing racial equity and access—a cause she’s promoted through the IDEA initiative and one she’s eager to see championed by others. As a women’s college, she says, Scripps and its community are uniquely positioned to make it happen.

“Having a women-centered institution where students can explore and submit their voices is vitally important, especially as we look at shifts in demographics and lingering inequities,” she says. This is where Scripps’ supporters come in—ensuring that the College’s original aim to give women opportunities expands to include a new generation of diverse young leaders.

At Scripps, what really matters is what we build together—not what we possess individually, but what we share. Planned giving is my chance to be part of that community of care.

“It’s such an important reinforcement to give to our students,” says Nelson Nash. “I’m so proud to be part of Scripps at this moment.”

For Nelson Nash, that reinforcement involves her personal philanthropy. But she also finds a tried-and-true alliteration important for anyone looking to give back: time, talent, and treasure. Each one impacts students directly, she says, and when the Scripps community collectively gives all three, lives are changed for the better. That’s what Nelson Nash received from her family and from faculty and friends at Scripps. It’s what she’s passing on to others.

“You know that phrase, ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’? If I adapted that to planned giving, I would think about who enabled me to be in this moment in my life with the intellectual gains I’ve been able to achieve,” she says. “At Scripps, what really matters is what we build together—not what we possess individually, but what we share. Planned giving is my chance to be part of that community of care.”

To learn more about how you can impact Scripps students through planned giving, please visit our Planned Giving site here or contact us at [email protected].