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.

What breaks your heart?”

That was the question posed by Andy Stan-ley during the opening session of “Leadercast,” a one-day leadership event that was broadcast live on May 8 to a worldwide audience. Stanley, a communicator, author and pastor, used the Old Testament account of Nehemiah to show that there’s a direct connection between a broken heart and the motivation to enact change.

Stanley’s message hit home for all of us who struggle to know where to give of our time and resources. From disaster relief to disease research to world poverty, there are endless important causes from our own backyard to far distant lands. The calls for much-needed assistance can all too easily lead to a shotgun approach in giving, whereby you are helping others but don’t really know how or why.

 “What breaks your heart?” can become the guiding star for each of us who wish to be meaningful givers. The answer to that question can inspire us to focus our giving on the few causes that really tug at our heartstrings. That kind of focus leads to hands-on philanthropy, where you investigate the problem, the opportunities for change and how you personally can be a leader in making a difference. We all can’t change the world, but we all can change something.


When The Women’s Fund of Smith County was initiated in 2007, the charter members knew that they needed to set a philanthropic focus for the organization. After discussion and research on other women’s giving circles, they selected causes that support women and children in Smith County. It was a good decision — one based on enormous need, the fact that changing a woman’s life impacts generations and the simple connectivity based on issues that break our hearts.

Today the 250 women composing The Women’s Fund of Smith County are actively participating in the mission of “leveraging the capacity of women’s philanthropy as a catalyst for positive change.” In other words, we strive to think big and reach for the stars in our collective giving and grant making. That “positive change” is reflected in the programs that have been supported by Women’s Fund grants totaling more than $800,000 over the past seven years.


The February grants announcement really caught the community’s attention because it included The Women’s Fund’s first $100,000 grant! This landmark grant is supporting Habitat for Humanity of Smith County’s Rural Re-Habitat program, specifically as it refurbishes 24 houses of women homeowners within rural Smith County. Many of these homes are in desperate, unsafe condition — but lived in by elderly women, single moms and other women who cannot handle the burden of essential repairs.

Does it break our hearts to know that there are women in our county who are living with a ceiling falling on their heads as they sleep, no heat within the home or a non-functioning toilet that has dropped through the floor? Absolutely. Rural ReHabitat is a godsend for these women homeowners, and The Women’s Fund is so pleased to be supporting the program and those it serves.


The 24 high-impact grants provided by The Women’s Fund since its inception have funded a diverse group of projects that impact women and children. These range from assistance to women caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients to the establishment of a forensic interview room for children who have suffered abuse to life skills training for teenage boys in the foster care system. These programs, like all worthy causes, are connected by the fact that the root circumstances are heartbreaking and merit action.

This summer, area not-for-profit organizations have the opportunity to apply for 2016 grants from The Women’s Fund of Smith County. The criteria include the opportunity to make high-impact change, budget considerations, local governance and project sustainability. But perhaps the most important standard is “does this situation break your heart?”

For members of The Women’s Fund, we have the dynamic ability to act on heartbreaking concerns through collective giving and a grants process that ultimately impacts women, children and our community as a whole. For all of us as individuals in this world, let’s think about what really breaks our hearts — using that question as a personal directive for great giving.

Special thanks go to the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Tyler for bringing Leadercast 2015 to Tyler, one of hundreds of locations throughout the world that participated in the day-long live broadcast.

Marty Wiggins serves as director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2015 chair of The Women’s Fund of Smith County. Please consider joining our organization. Go to for membership and additional information.