(Photo by Julie Zeglen)
Giving circles are no new thing, and show no sign of slowing in popularity. Philadelphia’s own sustainability queen, Judy Wicks, launched one herself a few months ago. And there’s another new, all-women group of friends on the scene.
The Philadelphia chapter of a national organization that uses a collective giving model to benefit local nonprofits is growing rapidly. The group, called 100 Women, was started a year ago by schoolteacher Elizabeth Zack after she learned about the concept from her mother-in-law, who participates in the Michigan chapter.
“I thought, ‘What an amazing thing?’” Zack said. “It seems really simple, but you can have a big impact.”
Zack sent an email to about 30 women she knew to inquire about their interest in joining such a group. Within minutes, she said, she heard back from several enthusiastic wannabe-philanthropists. Fifty-two women came to the first meeting. One hundred eighteen are now official members.
Here’s how it works:
- Every chapter member comes to the quarterly meeting with the name of a deserving nonprofit and her checkbook.
- The nonprofit names go on cards, which are then dropped into a basket with the others.
- Three are randomly chosen.
- Those who wrote their names give presentations on the merits of the organizations — why they deserve funding and what impact that funding would have.
- Everyone votes on which organization they think most deserves their money.
- Each attendee writes a $100 check to the winner.
“All the organizations are worthy,” Zack said. “It’s hard to pick.”
I visited the group’s most recent meeting last Monday night on the 19th floor of Two Commerce Square. It was the fourth since the group’s inception. To date, this local 100 Women has donated over $30,000 to local nonprofits — plus the $11,000 or so from this meeting — according to Zack.
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Even chapter members who don’t attend each meeting commit to donating $400 per year through the organization. Zack also follows each meeting with an email to all members describing all the organizations recommended for voting.
“Not only are we donating money, but people are becoming more aware of nonprofits or worthy causes that they just didn’t know about,” she said.
That awareness has a practical result: Several women in the group are now volunteering with refugees through Nationalities Services Center, the recipient of the group’s second donation, according to Zack. It works in the opposite direction, too — after substance abuse treatment center Interim House received the group’s donation at its third meeting, its director, Kathy Wellbank, joined.
The meetings are both a networking opportunity and the hub of “a cool sisterhood,” Zack said. Indeed, at Monday’s meeting, most attendees seemed to know each other; it’s a social gathering as well as a philanthropic meetup. Members come from “all over Philadelphia” and are doctors, stay-at-home moms, pilates studio owners, lawyers, nonprofit leaders. Many know each other from The Philadelphia School, a private, independent elementary school, where they are either Zack’s fellow teachers or parents of children who go there.
(Truthfully, what strikes me most about the collection of women, ages seemingly ranging from the 30s to the 70s, is how many are wearing Converse sneakers, in addition to how many are wearing stilettos. Loafers. Flats. Perhaps you can’t judge a person by their shoes, but I think it’s safe to say that I’m in the midst a diverse group.)
"Not only are we donating money, but people are becoming more aware of nonprofits or worthy causes that they just didn’t know about."
“I was just attracted to the idea of being part of an economic force with a group where you could actually make a real, viable difference for an organization,” said Sue Snedden, who heard about the group from Zack, a friend of hers.
That impact is part of the reason Maureen Pellegrini was interested in joining 100 Women, too. This meeting was her first; she learned about the group via an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“I just fell in love with it,” she said. “I thought it was such a great idea for women helping women.”
Her daughter, Erin Pellegrini, came along, too.
“I’ve worked with a couple different nonprofits [before],” Erin said. “But to be able to contribute and donate to different organizations, and then to learn about different organizations — our community is so rich in the nonprofit world, so it’s interesting to learn about them and see what sort of things are going on and benefits are happening.”
Such as at Interim House. At the beginning of the meeting, Wellbank gave an update about how the money from the previous meeting had been used to improve the lives of the organization’s program participants.
“I work at a local hospital, and I was just saying, ‘Wow, so many women that come in with drug issues, and they could really benefit from an organization [like that], and now I know,” Erin said.
At this meeting, it was Read by 4th, a public-private partnership dedicated to increasing young students’ literacy, selected for the $10,000 prize, and the room erupted in cheers when the vote was announced. Jenny Bogoni, the program’s director who also nominated it, told the group that their money will help 400 kids increase their literacy skills at summer camps this year.
The circle of giving continues.
Those interested in participating are invited to email firstname.lastname@example.org.-30-
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