By Marty Wiggins
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 word has several definitions and a host of synonyms. From “collision” and “contact” to “impression” “significance,” the meaning varies depending on its context. For the Women’s Fund of Smith County, “impact” has been at the heart of our mission since the organization’s creation in 2008. In this context, I see “impact” as the “power of lift,” in reflection of Melinda Gates’ book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.
Anyone who has traveled by air knows the final seconds of waiting (even of anxiety) before liftoff, as you rely on the forces pulling the plane up. We all want to soar. Ms. Gates uses this analogy to question, “How can we summon a moment of lift for human beings – and especially for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.”
The Women’s Fund generates lift by bringing together women with caring hearts. Our mission: Through collective giving, we transform our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children. Our method: Through the funds garnered each year by our giving circle, the Women’s Fund awards “high impact” grants designed to help area nonprofits reach greater heights in services to women and children. Whether you view these grants as “rocket fuel,” “seed money,” or “transformational giving,” the goal remains the same: impact.
So how do you measure impact? It’s certainly not in dollars and cents. Instead, it’s about evaluating and understanding each grant’s significance – what were the consequences of this funding during the year it was awarded and beyond. In 2021 it’s been my honor to serve as chair of the Women’s Fund’s Community Impact committee. This committee focuses on evaluating the short- and long-term impact of past Women’s
Fund grants to see if they met expectations and overall exemplified the Women’s Fund’s mission.
Over the past few months, members of the Community Impact committee met with 17 nonprofit partners – agencies that have been awarded one or more Women’s Fund grants since 2009. Through structured interviews and site visits, we studied the grant investment outcomes for the women and children served, the agencies themselves, and the community-at-large. In short, we researched whether a grant generated “lift” – did it ultimately provide hope, produce positive results, and help women and children soar?
I’m pleased to report that our initial impact findings are highly positive. Of the 20 grant projects we studied, 50 percent met expectations and 50 percent exceeded expectations. In 70 percent of the cases, the grant programs are still active. That number is phenomenal, especially when you remember that Women’s Fund grants primarily fund new or expanded programs, as nonprofit organizations venture to turn possibilities into realities.
The Community Impact surveys also served to take the pulse of our community by asking nonprofit leaders about the challenges currently faced by the people they serve, and by the organizations themselves. As you can well imagine, the effects of COVID-19 are taking their toll in the still-fading global pandemic. From the loss of charitable funding to the loss of staff members and volunteers, area agencies are suffering. Their clients are, too, as COVID-19 produced job loss, hunger, uncertainty, and depression among both children and adults. These deep truths are sometimes heartbreaking . . . but broken hearts open us to understanding and actions that can make a profound difference.
The work of the Community Impact committee has just begun, with 2022 slated as another key year in measuring the impact of the Women’s Fund’s grant-making focus. By maintaining close relationships with our nonprofit grant partners, we can listen, we can learn, and we can respond. We can generate lift.
As Ms. Gates wisely notes, love is what ultimately lifts us up. It allows everyone (men, women, and children across the world) to be connected and everyone to belong. She concludes, “No one should be left out. Everyone should be brought in. Our call is to lift women up – and when we come together in this cause, we are the lift.”
In this season of thanksgiving, the Women’s Fund of Smith County extends heartfelt wishes in honor of all those who serve our community. We are a giving circle of nearly 300 women, who collectively provide high-impact grants that benefit women and children. For information on membership, please call 903-509-1771 or visit www.womensfundsc.org. Marty Wiggins is a Past Chair of the Women’s Fund and professionally provides fundraising counsel to charitable organizations.