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Chair Talk

Thursday, April 6, 2017 | The BWGC

By Vivian Manekin and Jodi Dunn

Imagine walking into a room of 200 women and feeling as if each one of them could become your new best friend. That’s how we and recent Co-Chair Peggy Schapiro felt as we met our fellow philanthropists at the national leadership forum sponsored by the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmaking Network (WCGN) the weekend of March 12-14.  Since we became Circle Co-Chairs we have been speaking about the importance of connections with our members, our grantees and our community. At the conference we experienced the power of connection at an entirely different level. 

The WCGN is a national membership organization whose mission is to support the creation, development and expansion of women-powered philanthropy.  Founded in 1995, it includes 48 organizations in 24 states in the US and one in Melbourne, Australia. With a membership representing over 13,000 women, a total of $80 million has been granted by member organizations.

The event, “Women Together, Making Waves,” was hosted by the Women’s Giving Alliance of Northeastern Florida and featured several outstanding speakers from the world of philanthropy.  Jackie Bezos of the Bezos Foundation spoke about how one individual with a big idea can start a movement. Teresa Younger, President of the Ms. Foundation, encouraged us to magnify the power of our voices by reaching out beyond our comfort zones and connecting with other like-minded women.

Our objective was to learn as much as we could from WCGN member organizations in the workshops which focused on grantmaking, communications, governance and membership   We were honored to have the opportunity to share some of the amazing work of our Circle members as part of two workshops – one on how our membership committee has had incredible success encouraging prospective members to join us by introducing them to the member and grantee experience, and a second about the ripple effect of our grant and post-grant evaluation process that  motivates members to become volunteers, donors and board members for non-profits in our community.

It was fascinating to see the variety of ways in which member organizations organize themselves to do the work of philanthropy. Whether they were big and sophisticated or just beginning, each demonstrated real passion to improve their communities.  We learned a lot and came back with some ideas to explore.

We believe that there is opportunity to improve the impact of what our Circle does by educating members on the power of philanthropy and how we might be more strategic by using our values to inform giving. We also believe there is opportunity to more effectively leverage our voices to advocate for issues that we care about as individuals and collectively by considering partnerships. We will try to incorporate these ideas into some programming next year for our membership.

Today, we are deeply involved in our grant-making mission. Our grant readers have completed 53 site visits and submitted their summary paragraphs to advocate for the applications that their teams are recommending for one-year grants. This year, for the first time, any member who preregisters and attends the meeting on April 19 at Loyola University in Timonium from 9:30-1:30 will be able to vote on one-year grant awards. After that vote, representatives of organizations that received the most support, and who applied for a two-year grant, will be asked to present their programs at our May 17th Full Circle Meeting. After the meeting, those members who were in attendance, will have the opportunity to vote and the top two vote getters will be awarded our two-year $50,000 grants.

We continue to provide extraordinary educational programming to our members. Our March Full Circle meeting featured Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelesis, who provided us with a deep insight into the challenges and opportunities of our city schools.  Her highly informative speech gave us a new baseline of common knowledge about her goals for the City schools.

As we look forward to the completion of our Circle year, we are pleased to report that our new website is taking form. The website will be one of the most important ways in which Circle members will be able visibly to see how we are connecting women and improving lives.  Janice Williams and Cathy Neuman, Co-Chairs of the implementation team, have expertly led us through the development and design phase. The site will include a new Home Page that will make it easy to find the information you need, a calendar that allows your RSVP to an event to show up on your personal calendar, more stories about our grantees and educational events, a feed directly from our Facebook page, and a quick link to information about organizations in our community that advocate on issues that we care about. We hope to launch the website in June.

We are so proud of the wonderful work that our members are doing each day to help us with our mission and to stay connected to each other and to our community.  Thank you all so much!