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GivingCircles

Giving back

Women pool money to serve a cause in Giving Circles

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Penny Wald lived in Alexandria, Va. for 40 years, but in 2006, she moved to Baltimore.

“I wasn’t very good at knowing how to move to a new place,” she said. Wanting to get involved with the community, she decided to look into a Women’s Giving Circle — a philanthropic all-volunteer group that pools its money to donate to nonprofits in their county.

“What better way to meet new women friends and find out about what the needs of the community are and what’s going on to address those needs than to join the Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle,” she said.

Today, Wald serves as group co-chair with Peggy Schapiro, who joined a year after the organization was founded in 2001. Last year, the group gave out grants to several organizations designed to go to specific programs. Turnaround Inc. was awarded a two-year $50,000 grant to aid a job readiness program for sex trafficking victims.

The St. Francis Neighborhood Center received a $20,000 grant to continue its Power Project — a year-round afterschool program for children between ages 5 and 14.

“There is such power in pooling our money together to serve a cause,” said Megan Bruno, Howard County Giving Circle chair. “I, as an individual, am not in a position financially to make a tremendous dent in an organization; but when I, and a group of women or people with the same ideas, pool our money together, [we can] make a great impact. That’s huge. That’s an opportunity that doesn’t come around with a lot of organizations. With all circles, that’s the philosophy behind them. You create a community in a community with the same vision, and you have such power when you pool your money together and your minds really.”

This year, Howard County’s group gave out its largest grant yet — $80,000 over a three-year period to Junior Achievement of Central Maryland to create a new entrepreneur afterschool program for girls.

Nonprofits serving women and families are eligible for grants through their local circle group. Selection of winners varies for each group but usually includes site visits and a membership vote.

Some Giving Circles, including those in Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties, get their funding solely through annual membership fees.

“The more members we have to put money into that pot, the more grants we have to give out for the year,” said Jodi Davis, Harford County Giving Circle president. “One of the things we have learned over the last five years is organized philanthropy was traditionally [thought of only] for the wealthy, but collaborative giving in a women’s circle allows lower entry points to giving, and I think that was a big deal for women.”

Other groups, like that in Howard County, were formed with an endowment and do fundraisers throughout the year to raise money for grants.

“We believe in philanthropy, and we believe that everyone can be a philanthropist no matter what the level,” Bruno said. “It’s very important to us that we don’t have dues because we want to encourage the philosophy and the way of life of philanthropy.”

Giving Circles are a great way for women to create change and make an impact in their community, according to Maureen Cavaiola, president of Anne Arundel County’s Women Giving Togethe. “Giving Circles are relatively new, and they are one of the neatest tools where women are not only in charge of their money but the collective impact they wish to make in their communities.”

AAWGT awarded just over $100,000 to nine area organizations this year including $10,000 to the Anne Arundel Community Action Agency’s Green Summer Works program, which gives low-income students paid work experience at environmental organizations.

Harford County’s Giving Circle began in 2010, yet already has 140 members. Some of their recipients include a $4,000 grant to the Arrow Child and Family Ministries for their Arrow Crossroads Community Equine Assisted Therapy Program and a $5,000 grant to CASA of Harford County to help their Transition Aged Youth Initiative.

“You don’t think $3,000 or $4,000 or $5,000 is going to make a difference to some of the nonprofits but it does,” Davis said.

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.