Turning $100 Into $10,000 In 60 Minutes

Four times a year, more than 100 women gather in space provided by the Traverse City Golf & Country Club for a single purpose.
In one hour, they’ll raise more than $10,000. And they’ll direct it to a local charity, program or nonprofit they collectively select – a “giving circle” fueled by individuals’ $100 checks and a desire to help community members in need.

“It’s a very empowering thing to know that your $100 combines with so many others’ $100, and it becomes a huge impact,” said Kristin Marinoff, who with mother Renie Cutler in 2011 began 100+ Women Who Care Grand Traverse and Leelanau County, a local chapter of a model founded in Jackson.

In Michigan and nationally, such networks are helping women be strategic in their giving and involved in making a difference in their communities, beyond the traditional giving of their time.

HardyGiving circles, said national expert Sondra Shaw-Hardy of Traverse City, “are growing women as philanthropists.”

And they’re an example of how women’s philanthropy overall has evolved.

“I think that women are increasingly stepping up as powerful voices in philanthropy,” said Jason Franklin, W.K. Kellogg community philanthropy chair at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.

“You see more women accumulating wealth themselves and being independent donors. You see the gender roles in couples changing, where women are seen as full partners – and you see women stepping into public leadership roles as philanthropists and donors.”

A Woman’s Touch

Women can approach giving differently from men.

SteeleFor example, “women are very tied to outcomes, very tied to solutions. Women typically will write a check because they want to see a certain solution, they want an end to something,” said Traverse City’s Wendy Steele, founder of a nationally replicated model of women’s pooled giving, an organization called Impact 100 Inc. “Men might give more based on the organization, or who asks them to give.”

Men may also be more likely to concentrate their donations among a few charities while women may give more widely, research suggests. A 2010 study examining giving in households led by male and female singles found female-headed households significantly more likely to support international, community, religious, health care, and youth and family areas, than their male counterparts.

The study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University said women and men “are equally and deeply engaged in the community,” but certain areas “resonate more deeply with women,” including those to which they are connected in some way, or can relate.

The Power Of The Giving Circle

Giving circles are one way of translating that interest to impact.

When Steele formed her organization in 2001 in Cincinnati, Ohio, her idea was to bring together at least 100 women who would each donate $1,000, and pool the money to make a $100,000 “transformational” grant to a charity. Steele gave women a new way to engage with their community and at a level that she wanted to be meaningful, both in the size of the individual donation and the grants that would target five areas: culture, education, environment, family, and health and wellness.

“I wanted them to be connected to that thousand, because then they are connected to the $100,000 that goes out in that community. And that’s what changes lives,” Steele said.

The model has expanded to locations around the country and Australia, and Impact 100 organizations have collectively given more than $30 million, Steele said. She is no longer president of Impact 100 but is a member of several Impact organizations, a national speaker, and 2013 founder of a Traverse City-based consulting business called Generosity Matters.

Giving circles can bring together both experienced donors and those new to giving, and collect individual donations large or small.
“Giving circles have been a really powerful and increasing way for people at all financial levels to give together, and be more intentional with their giving,” said Grand Valley’s Franklin.

The giving model has also grown as women have gained control of their finances and the ability to be philanthropic, said Shaw-Hardy, who in Traverse City co-founded one of the first giving circles in the country, the Three Generations Circle of Women Givers.

“More women are having careers, and they’re making more money, and there’s a concept of sharing that,” she said. Shaw-Hardy is co-founder of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and author or co-author of several books on women and philanthropy.

She said giving circles are a collaborative, social approach to giving that women enjoy. And in the Traverse region, they’re making a difference.

The Three Generations Circle, begun in 1999 when Shaw-Hardy was president of the Women’s Resource Center board along with friends and community leaders Susie Janis and Jean Howard, started with 16 members giving $1,000 each. It made its first grants in 2001, with $8,000 going to the WRC’s Helen’s House shelter and $8,000 to three community projects.

The circle has raised nearly $450,000 since it began and now dedicates its efforts solely to the WRC, where funds have been used to renovate Helen’s House, to provide professional advice, legal services and information to domestic violence victims, to fund college scholarships, and other causes.

Another local giving circle, initially founded in 2008 by Shaw-Hardy and community leader and philanthropist Brenda Biederman, is mAIDens of Michigan. Through potluck dinners held twice a year at Biederman’s home, the group raises money awarded to individual women in need who have been identified by community agencies, schools, churches and other organizations, and selected to receive funds by a mAIDens committee.

“We want the story of a particular woman who needs this money, because it’s the stories that make the difference,” said Shaw-Hardy. “We give the money to the agency and they give it to the person.”

Biederman said usually about 40 women attend the potlucks, each bringing $100 and a dish to pass. The mission is to help women in difficult straits, making a difference at critical points in their lives, she said. “And it’s personal with all of us.”

Over the past seven years, the circle has raised and awarded more than $90,000, helping some 150 women in areas ranging from dental care, emergency heating and phone service, to transportation and assistance helping them advance in education or employment.
“The needs are so great,” Biederman said. “And when something fits within the confines of what we can do, with our limited amounts of money, we can make a huge difference.”

Donors As Recipients

Donors also benefit from giving circles, in ways that include a deeper understanding of their communities. Becki Bigelow, executive director of nonprofit Reining Liberty Ranch, said her membership in 100+ Women Who Care “allows someone like me that wants to make a difference in the community, to get familiar with what nonprofits are out there” and their visions and missions, as well as make connections that can benefit her own equine programs and veterans the ranch serves.

“I work with veterans, and no one program is enough to fit every need. But if you know of another nonprofit that you’re able to meet and support in the community … now I can better serve my own people,” Bigelow said.

Located just south of Traverse City, the ranch offers programs centered around the horse-human relationship to promote physical, relational and emotional health and healing.

The ranch is also a recipient of 100+ Women Who Care’s giving; awarded $10,300 from the July meeting. Bigelow said the money will help her expand programs, including hiring more instructors who work with small groups of veterans and possibly adding equine offerings specifically for veteran women.

As of early October, the 100+ Women circle had given just under $200,000 since inception, to organizations and causes encompassing mental health, environment, health care, food and nutrition, animal rescue, and other areas.

Members are asked to commit to four meetings and pledge $100 per meeting. At meetings, members can put their name and an organization’s name into a hat. The three people drawn can make five-minute presentations and answer questions, after which members vote and write individual checks to the winning organization.

“It’s done in one hour,” Marinoff said. “People are busy, so they appreciate that it’s a very efficient hour.”

Amy Lane is a former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered business, state government, energy and utilities for nearly 25 years.