Finding a focus advances giving, serving well

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.

C. S. Lewis reminded us: “We can’t love the whole world. But we should remember that God placed us in a specific community at a particular time.  We’re called to love those around us.  Loving them means serving them, and in doing so, we become the best of citizens.”

Lewis, the late British writer and lay theologian, was surely adept in defining what today we call “best practices” in giving.  While we would like to help the entire world, for most people that is just not possible.  Instead, we must find our place to serve – usually, as Lewis stated – within the specific community in which we live.

When The Women’s Fund of Smith County was created in 2007, its founding members knew that focus was essential to the organization’s success.  Women were being invited to join a collective giving and grant-making circle:  a growing concept of giving in the United States.  The Women’s Fund leadership made the decision to “love those around us” by setting the parameters of its grants program for agencies existing in Smith County with local governance.

In addition, the area of grants funding needed focus.  Causes supporting women and children were chosen due to the tremendous needs in Smith County and the strong appeal for this outreach.  It’s known that if you can change a women’s life for the better, you also impact the lives of her children, her family and ultimately the community-at-large.

In other cities across our country, grant categories vary in women’s giving circles.  Projects regarding the environment and social justice programs may be considered, as just two examples.  All of us as collective giving and grant-making organizations define our own best practices, missions and outreach.

This reminds me of a small food bank in another part of the country that decided its mission was “to end world hunger.”  While a noble cause, it was obviously an impossible goal for this agency to even attempt.  As you examine opportunities for personal giving, it’s important to examine a nonprofit’s mission to see if it is truly a realistic, guiding compass for the organization.  Find your personal giving focus, as you look for causes that match your heart and how you might best serve your community.

The Women’s Fund is in the midst of its grant funding cycle for 2016.  Numerous agencies submitted applications outlining new or expanded projects that will benefit women and/or children in Smith County.  The Grants Committee reviewed these applications at length, then selected finalists based on the merit of their proposed projects, along with their organizational capacity to handle a high-impact grant from The Women’s Fund.  Members of the Grants Committee also made site visits to these nonprofits, while the agency representatives gave verbal presentations to the full committee.

As of this week, The Women’s Fund members completed voting on the potential 2016 grant projects based on the hard work and recommendations of the Grants Committee.  Step three will take place in the weeks ahead as The Women’s Fund board determines the allotment of grant monies based on the applications and member votes.

Last February The Women’s Fund awarded its first $100,000 grant, along with a second grant of $44,100.  That $100,000 milestone naturally was exciting for our members.  Equally as important, it caught the community’s attention, reflecting that The Women’s Fund is doing something good and something right!

As we prepare for the 2016 grants announcement next February, it’s meaningful to reflect back on C. S. Lewis’s words that we are “placed in a specific community at a particular time” to love those around us. “Loving them means serving them, and in doing so, we become the best of citizens.”  What beautiful words that inspire The Women’s Fund:  our mission, our members and our remarkable opportunity to make a difference in Smith County.

I hope that these words also shine for you, as every individual and family finds its focus to love, give and serve those around us.

Marty Wiggins serves as Director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2015 Chair of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.  Membership in The Women’s Fund is open to any women who would like to be a part of this collective giving circle that leverages women’s philanthropy as a catalyst for positive change.  Visit www.womensfundsc.org for information that includes our outreach, membership application and additional ways to give.

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