September 24, 2017
 
Evolving into a Giving Circle Proved Critical for Womenade Boston

By Christine Swistro

Within a year of its 2008 launch, Womenade Boston, organized to prompt women to support important community needs, had built a mailing list of 1,000 women, many of whom attended quarterly events, but fundraising had stalled.

We realized we needed to go beyond creating a sense of community among our members to creating a focus on philanthropy. So, in 2010 Womenade Boston embarked on a path to become a giving circle—an organization that pools contributions from individuals into significant grants to charitable organizations—a process that spanned a year.

Twenty-five of our members invested their time in a series of strategic planning sessions to establish the foundation elements for the giving circle and set the parameters for our structured grant-making process. At that time, there were few giving circles in the Boston area (the Hestia Fund being the most notable), and none with a mid-tier (about $1,000) giving level.

We learned that women simply think differently about giving, and to grow our circle and have meaningful impact in the community, we knew we needed to create an environment in which women could discover, learn about, and actively participate in philanthropy, and experience the exponential power of collective giving.

Planning Session Led to Closing of Two Gaps

Through that series of planning sessions, we determined to fix our focus on closing two gaps: 1) the opportunity gap experienced by teen girls and women in need in the Boston area, and 2) the gap women experience between their capacity to give and their self-confidence in their ability to make large gift decisions.

This linkage in mission elements, where Womenade Boston giving circle members experience their own empowerment as budding philanthropists as they help to empower other women and girls with our grants, has had a profound impact on our members and on our grantees.

When we first started, members were asked to listen and learn – and take their own initiative to support worthy causes. Following our refocus as a giving circle, members annually contribute at one of two levels: $1,100 for Standard members, and $600 for Young Philanthropists (under 30 years). Womenade pools these contributions and members vote to make grants.

Now, each year, Womenade Boston undertakes a six month long, competitive grant-making process during which a committee of members reviews grant applications, makes site visits to applicants, and narrows the pool to a set of finalists, which is presented to the full giving circle membership. In June, members hear presentations from finalists and then vote to award the year’s grants.

Women who may never have written more than a $100 check to a cause are now part of making $25,000 gifts. And grantee organizations must think “outside the box” to utilize a gift larger than they customarily receive.

Womenade embraces hands-on experience, fellowship, and interaction with and learning from role models, while rewarding these same characteristics in the organizations we fund.

$10K Annual Budget and Part-Time Virtual Assistant

Today, Womenade operates with a $10,000 annual budget, all-volunteer committees, and a part-time virtual assistant.

We have made grants totaling $300,000 to 10 Boston-area organizations serving teen girls and women, including My Life, My Choice, GRLZ Radio, Science Club for Girls, Web of Benefit, G-Row at Community Rowing, Found in Translation and Compass Working Capital.

Inasmuch as Womenade Boston giving circle membership has been the “on ramp” to philanthropy for our members and a gateway to considering larger personal giving, our grantees report that our grants have positioned them for growth and even larger gifts from other charitable organizations.

We’re working to foster younger givers, launching a Young Philanthropist membership level, and welcome all women with an instinct to give but who may be hesitant to get started alone.

Last year, collective giving organizations across the United States made $16 million in grants, and the capacity to grow this impact is largely unexplored. Womenade Boston is committed to making a difference for teens girls and women in need in the Boston area. In addition, we are passionate about the increasingly powerful role women are playing in philanthropy and the unique opportunities for participation and inclusion that giving circles afford, and are working to advance the conversation around collective giving and how we might welcome more and more women into the circle of circles.

Christine Swistro is president of Womenade Boston, which supports women and teen girls in metropolitan Boston.

December 2014

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