By Liza Roberts
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Women’s Impact Fund of Charlotte may be only three years old, but as one of the fastest growing collective-giving groups in North Carolina, it’s widely considered a bellwether of the trend.
Nearly 400 members strong, the fund has granted nearly $1 million to Mecklenburg County charities in its short lifespan, and thanks to the group’s detailed due-diligence process, those funds are deemed “smart money” by the area’s nonprofit sector.
That’s no accident.
The Women’s Impact Fund has a roster of smart members, and founding board member Dianne Chipps Bailey is one of them.
An attorney with Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson, Bailey’s practice is dedicated to nonprofit organizations, foundations and philanthropists.
That means she knows both sides of the grantmaking equation, and has used her professional expertise to help launch the fund, steer its growth, and now plan for its transition to 501(c)3 status.
“The opportunity to empower women in philanthropy is what inspires me,” Bailey says.
As a busy lawyer and mother of two young children, and an active participant on other community boards, including those of the Presbyterian Hospital Foundation and Girls on the Run of Charlotte, the obvious question is: How does she find the time?
“It’s difficult,” Bailey says. “I work it into the nooks and crannies of my day.”
She says she finds the time because it’s a labor of love to be involved in her community.
“I’ve always had that bug,” she says. “It’s really just modeling my parents, who were always so involved.”
Being part of a group like the Women’s Impact Fund, which is capable of making significant grants, from $40,000 to $100,000, and therefore has the power to change lives, is an exciting opportunity, she says.
Bailey cites Pat’s Place, one of the group’s first grantees, as one of the projects that has meant the most to her personally.
The center, which supports sexually abused children, was able to hire a case worker and other necessary staff with the fund’s $100,000 grant.
“We were the tipping point for them,” she says, inspiring further donations that have continued to support the center.
As the fund continues to grow – and it does every month, mostly by word – the group is likely to add a sixth area of charitable interest to its current list of five, which comprise arts and culture, education, environment, health, and human services.
“One possibility is women and girls,” Bailey says. “It would be a great fit for us. There are so many great projects that fit into this area.”
Another possibility as the fund’s resources grow is the addition of a venture fund that would give new organizations a shot at one of the fund’s sizable grants.
Whichever new areas the group decides to explore, one thing is sure: The state’s smaller and younger collective giving circles can learn from the fund’s continuing example.
To those groups just starting out, Bailey’s advice is straightforward and demystifying.
“Just get started,” she says. “Get your money together. Dig into the nuts and bolts of the grantmaking process, and the structure will organize itself organically around that.”
She also recommends that new groups take advantage of community foundations whenever possible.
North Carolina’s community foundations “have extraordinary expertise and knowledge,” she says. “You will be able to leverage that and get a jump start.”