Collisions of Light, Love Define Philanthropy’s Impact

By Marty Wiggins

Guest Columnist

EDITOR'S NOTE: “Give Well” is a weekly column written by Dawn Franks of Your Philanthropy, Kyle Penney of the East Texas Communities Foundation and representatives of The Women's Fund of Smith County.

Impact — the force of two things colliding — is strikingly illustrated in the solar system. Any star might be involved in a “stellar collision” which occurs when the force of gravity pulls two stars together into one larger unit. Through dramatic images captured in space, we can now see these astronomical mergers and the resulting impact, such as a brilliant supernova explosion.

The Women’s Fund of Smith County is looking for similar dramatic impact through its grant-making process. Over the past seven years, The Women’s Fund has relayed the message that its members are collectively giving of their personal resources to the mission of awarding high-impact grants in Smith County. More than $800,000 has been distributed to specific programs that benefit the lives of women and children — an impressive number.

But as the 2016 grants process begins, it’s an important time to reflect on past Women’s Fund grants and the meaning of high impact. One shining example is illustrated by past grantee CASA for Kids of East Texas, which received a grant of $32,250 in 2010. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) places volunteer advocates who assist abused children throughout the daunting legal process. The Women’s Fund grant allowed for the development of a web-based volunteer training program, so that more Smith County community members could become CASA volunteers. This software program proved so successful that it is now being utilized by CASA chapters through the country! As the CASA program shows, grants designed for high impact have the potential to change lives, families and communities.

But once a grant is made, how do we measure the project’s progress and long-term results? The answers will come through The Women’s Fund’s new Impact Committee — a best practice idea being incorporated by many collective giving circles across the country. Under the Impact Committee, Women’s Fund liaisons are working with current grantee agencies as well as touching base with past grantees about the ongoing impact of their funded programs.

“This is an exciting opportunity for The Women’s Fund to develop evaluation strategies that determine whether our grants truly meet the definition of high impact,” said Dr. Mary Fischer, chair of the new committee. “Impact Committee members will strengthen our ongoing partnerships with local agencies and help provide updates to all Women’s Fund members and the community-at-large.”

Winnie, a widow living in rural Smith County, literally feels the impact of The Women’s Fund grant awarded to Habitat for Humanity of Smith County in February 2015. This landmark grant of $100,000 — our highest to date — is providing badly-needed repairs to houses of women homeowners in rural Smith County. Winnie’s home was the first on the list, as her antique wood-burning stove was replaced with central heat and air. She conveyed her gratitude, noting, “I don’t have to worry about wood anymore!” in winter, plus the fact that she could enjoy cooking this summer in her cooled kitchen.

Like the forceful supernova that opened this column, the major funding to Rural ReHabitat represents a “supergrant” of impact. But it doesn’t take huge dollars to have huge effects.

This spring The Women’s Fund’s GIVE (Girls Invested in Volunteer Efforts) members selected The Magdalene Home — a new organization assisting unwed mothers in Tyler/Smith County — for its 2015 grant award. The Women’s Fund itself added matching dollars, making the GIVE grant $4,000, a significant and heartfelt gift from the high school juniors and seniors.

The impact of this grant was a brought home a few days ago within a conversation among a small group of Women’s Fund members and guests. As one of these women showed a photo of her new granddaughter, she mentioned emotionally that this was the first baby adopted from The Magdalene Home. In an instant, the group of women collectively melted. The scene captured the astounding beauty of this new baby girl, the tangible joy of her grandmother and the immediate, visceral connection we — as Women’s Fund members — felt at that shining moment.

One baby girl, safe in her new home, is a shining star of impact. The big numbers and big moments in giving are important, but maybe it’s the little collisions of light and love that truly define philanthropy.

Marty Wiggins serves as Director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2015 Chair of The Women’s Fund of Smith County. The application process is now open for 2016 grants from The Women’s Fund. Visit www.womensfundsc.org for full details, as well as information on Women’s Fund programs and membership.

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