Twice a year, more than 200 women gather at the Kensington Hotel, checkbooks in hand.
by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
From the October, 2019 issue
They're members of "100+ Women of Washtenaw County" (100+WWC). As members of a "giving circle," they've committed one hour per meeting and a minimum of $100 to demonstrate, according to its organizational materials, "what a dedicated group of women can accomplish."
Last fall, the group gave $13,150 to Hope Dental Clinic. In May, they donated $20,050 to the local chapter of Families Against Narcotics. Past 100+WWC beneficiaries include Ele's Place, Arbor Hospice, Ozone House, SafeHouse, and the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) of Washtenaw County. Since 2011, the organization has poured $167,500 into local nonprofits.
"Giving circles are changing the face of community philanthropy," says Shelley Strickland, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation's vice president for philanthropy. Strickland says the foundation supports three giving circles, all of them relatively small organizations that began with a circle of friends. None takes grant requests; they focus on a relatively narrow area of concern, conduct their own research into appropriate local organizations with the aid of the AAACF, and choose the beneficiaries.
Members of the Ann Arbor Social Capital Fund, organized in 2008 by families in the Burns Park area, are primarily young families interested in benefiting children. "It's a really fun, interesting group of people who might not have crossed paths otherwise," says copresident Laura Hayden, who was invited to join soon after moving to Ann Arbor in 2013. "What we originally had in common were the ages of our children. We keep our numbers to about twenty or so families, which is living-room capacity."
They meet twice a year, child care included, to hear presentations by the AAACF. Members study the data and vote on one or two nonprofits, then each couple writes a check for at least $1,000. In the spring, they meet with representatives from the beneficiaries to hear not only about how their funds were used but also about volunteer opportunities. "Many of us now volunteer in the organizations and serve on nonprofit boards," Hayden
Two years ago, they decided to include the whole family in philanthropic
decision-making. "We started a Kids Philanthropy for our third- through sixth-graders," Hayden says. Like their parents, the children work with the Community Foundation to learn about children's needs within the county. They ask questions, do their research, discuss which organizations they want to support and why, and often volunteer their time. Each family decides for itself how the children make their contributions. As the children age, their parents have begun planning for a similar group for seventh- through twelfth-graders.
The AAACF's latest giving circle, Tree Town, was founded in 2017; its members "skew a little older," Strickland says. "Much of their focus is on the basic needs of youth and families, especially in the neighborhood of Pattengill Elementary School."
"The AAACF has the pulse of the community and its needs," Hayden says. "We've found their expertise and knowledge immensely valuable in determining the best way for us to make a positive impact on our community."
100+ Women does everything itself. Member Sara Martens says the local group was launched in 2011 by Debbie Zahn and Marge Farrand based on a model created five years earlier by Karen Dunigan in Jackson.
Learning that many young mothers in her area lacked safe portable baby cribs, Dunigan set out to raise $10,000 to supply them. "She knew she could call ten people and ask each of them to write $1,000 checks," Martens says. "But she also figured she knew 100 women who would each give $100 to make a difference in their community."
Dunigan began making phone calls and organized a one-hour meeting where members heard about the project and wrote checks amounting to $12,800. Thus, the first 100+ Women Who Care was launched. The Washtenaw chapter is now one of more than 750.
"We have chapters all over the U.S. and in Canada, the Grand Cayman Islands, Pakistan, Singapore, and Mexico," Martens says. And there's "now a brother organization called '100 Men Who Give a Damn'" with a southeast Michigan chapter.
100+WWC grew by personal invitations and word-of-mouth from a handful of friends to its current membership of 240. According to Martens, they hope to grow to 300 by next spring and "I feel a membership of 500 is possible."
"One hundred percent of our donations go to a local charity with 501(c) (3) status," Martens adds. "We have no contracts, membership dues, meeting notes, bank accounts, administrators, or wasted minutes."
When members register for a meeting, they submit the name of a worthy nonprofit agency. Three are randomly selected, and the members who proposed them make a five-minutes pitch about the agency and the value of its services. Members then vote to select one.
While the votes are tallied, the women hear a brief presentation about the ways their previous contribution was put to work. Then they write a check for $100 (or more) to the nonprofit the group selected. The meeting ends promptly in one hour. "We watch the clock closely. These are busy women leading busy lives," Martens says.
On October 13, the process will begin again at the Kensington Hotel. "We not only want to give back," says Martens, "we want to give better."
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