Fund engages women in giving

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Based on a women’s “giving circle” in Seattle they had learned about, community volunteer Mary Lou Babb and Claire Tate, executive director of Partners in Out-of-School Time, or POST, approached the Foundation for the Carolinas in 2003 about creating a donor-advised fund for women.

The result was the Women’s Impact Fund, a vehicle for women to pool donations, make grants to local charities and learn about and get involved in philanthropy and community issues.

“There is a lot of value in collective giving through interactivity with other women, through becoming more educated about philanthropy,” says Robin Branstrom, a real estate investor with Branstrom & Associates who chairs the fund’s board.

In its first year, the fund set a goal of enlisting 100 women, each donating $1,000 to the fund and $100 more to cover operating costs.

The fund actually enlisted 158 donors its first year and made two grants, including $100,000 for Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center and $58,000 for Gang of One, a resource network created by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department to serve young people pressured to join gangs or needing help to quit gangs.

In its second year, the fund increased its membership to 186 women and made three grants, including $84,000 for the Ada Jenkins Center to buy a mobile community dental clinic; $62,000 for the Jacobs Ladder Job Center; and $40,000 for BRIDGE Jobs for a literacy enrichment program for women with children in high-risk and fragile neighborhoods.

And this year, the fund aims to increase its membership to 230 from its current 207, growth that would allow it to make $230,000 in grants next spring.

A 44-member grants committee screens letters of inquiry from groups wanting grants, with smaller work teams focusing on grants in program areas ranging from arts and culture, education and the environment to health and human services.

Based on their review of those letters, which totaled 74 last year, each team sends requests for proposals to three groups, visits groups that submit proposals, and recommends two proposals each to the grants committee, which recommends one proposal in each program area to the full membership.

Members vote on those recommendations, and grants are made based on available funds.

Aiming to make “high-impact” grants of at least $40,000, Branstrom says, the fund hopes to make grants in each program area as it increases its membership.

The fund also has had a ripple effect, Jones says.

After the fund made a grant to Pat’s Place, for example, fund member Sarah Salton joined the board of the center, which supports children who are victims of sexual abuse and their families.

And after the fund declined to make a grant to help Chapel Hill-based All Kinds of Minds open a Charlotte operation to serve students struggling in school, fund members Sarah Belk, Sandra Conway and Kathy Izard co-chaired two events to help the nonprofit develop its Charlotte plans.

“These women are so inspired to help the community,” she says, “even if an agency isn’t selected, they may find a means to assist.”

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