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Women’s giving takes off

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By Rick McDaniel

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – More than ever before, women are using their ability to network and organize to make an impact through philanthropy.

That was one of the messages women from across North Carolina took away from the first North Carolina Network of Women Givers conference held recently in Asheville.

The aim of the conference was to advocate for giving by women, provide an opportunity for networking and share ideas on building funding solutions.

“We’re trying to bring together women from across the state who are involved in the same type of philanthropy,” say Eleanor Owen, chair of the board of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. “We want to give these women the tools to go back to their own communities and organize.”

Across the state, women are coming together to look for new avenues to bring about change, says Beth Briggs, president of Raleigh-based Creative Philanthropy and organizer of the conference.

“Women with a passion for giving are developing programs to allow women in their part of the state to give,” Briggs says. “There was a commitment from everyone there to connect and form a North Carolina network of women givers.”

Within the next six months, Briggs expects there will be 10 women’s funds in operation across the state.

Keynote speakers for the conference, attended by 75 women, were Chris Kwak, a program director for philanthropy and volunteerism at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., and Sharon Steele, president of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio.

Both focused on the power of networking and women’s leadership in giving, and a recurring theme throughout the day was that women are creating a new culture of giving through their involvement in different types of philanthropy.

“Women give differently than men,” says Owen. “Women get more emotionally attached to the causes than men do. Women tend to write the check and give a little piece of their hearts. They tend follow the organizations they give to and see what they do.”

Briggs says one way to get more women involved with giving is to start giving circles, which are small groups that pool resources to donate toward a common goal.

“Women’s funds require a larger network of women to be involved, but a giving circle needs only six or eight friends that come together,” she says.

One such group is Raleigh’s Having Our say Circle, a year-old group comprised of nine women, including two nurses, a homemaker and several who have worked in university settings.

“We define philanthropy in broad terms,” says Arlene Ugbaja, a staff member at Raleigh-based NCGives and one of the circle members. “We define it as the giving of time and talent as well as treasure.”

To date, the group has given a donation to a family that survived Hurricane Katrina.

And because several of the women have served as admissions or financial aid directors, the circle is offering college financial aid workshops for disadvantaged youth.

“A giving circle is an attractive way to pull money together,” Ugbaja says. “It’s a grassroots initiative: You get to see where your money goes.”

One of the state’s largest and most successful women’s funds, called Women for Women, was created two years ago with seed money from the Kellogg Foundation and aims to address the unmet needs of women in an 18-county region in Western North Carolina.

Housed at the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, over 200 women have joined the circle, each pledging $1,000 a year for three years, Owen said.

This year, the circle awarded three grants totaling $213,000 to help women rebuild their lives.

Briggs says structured giving often is a comfortable progression for women.

“Women have always been involved with schools, hospitals and churches – it comes naturally,” she says. “They have always been comfortable at the grassroots level, and now they are more comfortable at a higher level because they have a greater voice and more financial resources than ever before.”

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