Women’s Giving Circle of Harford County
Most Americans are aware of the charitable endeavors of philanthropic titans such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, two business leaders who have made charitable giving a priority in their lives. And while these deeds by the super wealthy have had an amazing impact around the globe, it’s safe to say that most business people do not have millions of dollars at their disposal to donate. However, a much more doable option is available through an innovative concept called collaborative giving, a concept embraced by the Women’s Giving Circle of Harford County, which has made a profound impact in the mere five years since its inception.
Jodi M. Davis, president of the organization and a financial advisor with The Kelly Group, notes that collaborative giving provides a lower entry point to individuals to give, while still making a significant impact. This is accomplished as members pool their contributions together in order to provide grants to community organizations in need of funding. Members of the Women’s Giving Circle of Harford County (WGC) each donate $550 a year, and with over 120 members, it’s easy to see how the group can build a noteworthy grant pool. In fact, in just five years, the WGC has provided 52 grants totaling over $150,000 to 24 non-profits serving women and their families. Davis notes that the organization has a successful women’s donor fund that supports non-profits today, and also promises future support through a legacy endowment fund.
|“It’s pretty amazing that we have been able to give over $150,000 in grants to non-profits serving women and their families, in just five years. It’s the power of the purse.” – Jodi Davis|
Davis says the collaborative giving model was immediately attractive to her, which is why she was one of the group’s 16 founding members. “I used to be part of a group in Baltimore City, and the annual fee for membership was $1,000. Some years that $1,000 was tough for members to come up with, so the $550 model was much easier,” she says. Davis says that another benefit of the WGC is that members can be involved as much or as little as they want. There are no fundraising events like bull roasts or other activities that take up a lot of time. Members are often busy professionals with children, so they can simply write their check, while others may have more time to serve on the grants or membership committees, or help organize cocktail receptions to attract new members.
Jayne Klein, original president of the WGC, recalls fondly on the organization’s genesis. “I started the Women’s Giving Circle with Marlene Lieb to give the women in Harford County an opportunity to participate in a philanthropic endeavor that would make our community stronger, and help meet the needs of women and their children in our county. This organization is so special as it demonstrates that when women work together towards a common goal they can be very powerful. It has also allowed me to meet and work with some amazing and talented women. Our vision when we began was to empower the women in our community as well as mentor others to develop as community leaders. We had no idea how quickly this idea would grow into the organization we have today. It’s so gratifying to see the impact a single idea has had on the community.
Terri Garland, who served as president of the WGC in 2013-2014, recalls the dinner she attended that was organized by Klein and Lieb to introduce the concept of a Women’s Giving Circle for Harford County. “At the dinner when they explained the concept of community giving and fund-pooling to benefit women and families right in our own backyards, I knew I had to be a part of this movement. I wrote my check that evening, along with 15 other ‘Founding Members’ and we took off,” Garland says. “The past five years have been immensely rewarding for me personally. I have witnessed the growth of this wonderful organization and its impact on our community. As I reflect on my decision to be a part of the WGC in December 2010, it is unthinkable that I would have done otherwise.”
|“…These non-profits are assisting people in our neighborhoods and that sense of community is what drives women to want to be a part of the WGC.” – Terri Garland|
Davis says that being involved also strengthens her bond with the Harford County community. “I moved to Harford County in 1990, and I thought I knew all the nonprofits and their needs. The WGC opened my eyes to all the various projects that nonprofits do here and the need for funding the emotional and physical needs of my community. Joining a Giving Circle educates you about your community and raises awareness of those in need.”
Davis explains that there are four central benefits to Giving Circles: they provide grant making to the community; they allow donors to learn about their community; they build a better community; and they cultivate philanthropists. She notes that cultivating philanthropists is especially important as knowledge is shared by more experienced businesswomen to the next generation. “This year we are moving forward with our ‘Women’s Giving Circle Next Generation’ program where those 35 years of age or younger can join at the $350 rate and pay that amount for three years or until they turn 35, whichever comes first. We will also team younger members with more experienced givers to learn concepts such as strategic philanthropy to better impact the lives of women and children in the community.”
Davis adds that women today give differently – women philanthropists want to be involved, want to know where the money goes, want to know how it is distributed and see the impact it is making in their own community.
Garland agrees. “I think members want to participate in the granting process, to see and feel how their yearly contribution impacts the world around them and to know how even a small grant can buoy a local non-profit,” she says. “Through a competitive grant process, our members are directly involved with choosing which non-profits to recommend for grants. This hands-on experience instills in all of us a sense of pride, accomplishment and gratitude that cannot be experienced with just writing a check.”
One example of having an impact on local women and children is illustrated by a grant by the WGC to The Highlands School in Bel Air that allowed the school to purchase specialized keyboards for children who are learning disabled or have dyslexia. Other examples include a grant so that Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding could buy a mechanical horse for therapeutic needs for the severely disabled, or helping provide parenting programs to women inmates reunifying with their families. “Sometimes it’s something simple that can have a great impact,” Davis says. “For example, the Village at Lakewood Neighborhood Network wanted to serve meals to children before and after school, but they needed a new sink and plumbing in order to pass inspection by the health department. For less than $2,000 we were able to grant them those funds to help feed kids.”
Garland adds, “I think it is impactful that these non-profits are assisting people in our neighborhoods and that sense of community is what drives women to want to be a part of the WGC. These are real faces and real people with real needs. It is a tangible reward.”
|“Women working together can accomplish great things. Because of our connections, our circle is able to achieve collectively what we could not accomplish alone.” – Jayne Klein|
The WGC’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. The Harford County Celebration of Philanthropy committee selected the Women’s Giving Circle of Harford County as the 2016 Philanthropists of the Year, in recognition of the Giving Circle’s fifth anniversary, and all that the Circle and its members have done for Harford County.
According to Davis, the organization, which is a donor fund under the auspices of the Community Foundation of Harford County (CFHC), receives about 25-30 grant applications each year from local nonprofits. The WGC deliberately keeps the application short and straightforward so that organizations don’t feel compelled to hire a grant writer, for example; however, all expenses must be listed in detail and include invoices so that there is no confusion as to where the money will go. The grants committee at the WGC has a scoring method it uses, and the CFHC performs necessary tests to ensure applicants are a legal 501(c)(3). To help broaden the access to grants, organizations are allowed to receive grants three years in a row and then must take a year off.
Klein says, “Women working together can accomplish great things. Because of our connections, our circle is able to achieve collectively what we could not accomplish alone. We believe in the power of collaboration and the impact working together can have to help the nonprofits in Harford County.
“It’s pretty amazing that we have been able to give over $150,000 in grants to non-profits serving women and their families, in just five years. It’s the power of the purse,” Davis adds. I95