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.

The simplicity of a circle has endlessly fascinated mankind.  A circle is actually a line that never ends, making it a symbol of infinity.  Circles also are efficient:  they cover the maximum or minimum possible area for a given perimeter.  The word “encyclopedia” literally means a “circle of learning,” and up until the 17th century was used to indicate a well-rounded education (not a book title).

These facts about circles connect to the definition of The Women’s Fund of Smith County as a collective giving circle.  The organization is comprised of area women who collectively give of their personal resources to fund high-impact grants that benefit women and children in Smith County.  In addition to being a circle of giving, we are a “circle of learning” (or encyclopedia) about philanthropy.

As with any circle, The Women’s Fund has the opportunity to continuously grow in size.  With the start of the New Year, please accept our open invitation to join the more than 200 women in Smith County who are already a part of this collective giving and grant-making organization.  Our members are educators, attorneys, homemakers, community volunteers, CPAs, healthcare providers, bankers and others from all walks of life.  Yet we come together with the common goal of wanting to see positive, lasting change in our community.

Studies have found that collective giving is especially appealing to women.  Why?  According to Virginia Mills, board chair of the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network (WCGN), “The collective giving model changes the paradigm of women’s giving.  It pools individual dollars to make significantly larger grants, allowing women of all levels of wealth to participate in big gifts.”

Historically, women donors supported organizations with small, individual donations.  Yet there is a significant difference between providing an individual $100 gift and being part of a $25,000 or $100,000 grant to a nonprofit cause.  “These larger grants move the needle on issues,” adds Ms. Mills.  “And women are creating these organizations (giving circles) in order to transform their communities.”

The Women’s Fund of Smith County was organized in 2007, as a group of women responded to an invitation for dialogue.  The enthusiasm for a giving circle was immediate, and The Women’s Fund first started as a program of the East Texas Communities Foundation and then Fourth Partner.  Today, we are a stand-alone 501(c)(3) not-for-profit with a mission of “leveraging the philanthropic capacity of women as a catalyst for positive change.”

Since 2009, The Women’s Fund has awarded more than $800,000 to nonprofit organizations in Smith County for programs that specifically benefit women and children through four areas of emphasis:  arts and culture, health, human services and education.  Through an extensive grants application, analysis and voting process, each member casts her vote annually for the coming year’s grants – meaning that grant award decisions are shared by every member.

The Women’s Fund of Smith County is just one organization associated with WCGN, as part of 47 independent collective giving groups.  WCGN is 10,000 women strong, with members who have given nearly $70 million to nonprofit organizations throughout the country.  As part of the philanthropic learning process, WCGN and The Women’s Fund educate women to be good financial stewards – both through their giving circle and in personal philanthropy at home.  Knowing the community and the right questions to ask often starts with the collective giving experience.

As a leader in the women’s collective giving and grant-making movement, WCGN works to inspire generations of women to be motivators for community transformation. The collective giving model has appeal to younger generations: Millennials and Gen X’s and Y’s, who particularly desire to be hand-on in their work with non-profits.  The Women’s Fund encourages younger women to not just give, but to volunteer both within the giving circle and with the agencies it supports.

As members of The Women’s Fund know:  Women can change the world by pooling their intellectual and financial capital for the common good.  We’re just getting started, and invite you along for this journey.  All of us together can make a huge difference as we inspire women and impact lives.

January is an excellent time to research and join The Women’s Fund of Smith County.  Membership is open to any woman who would like to be a part of this collective giving circle that leverages women’s philanthropy to bring positive change through high-impact community grants.  View for more information.  Marty Wiggins serves as Director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2016 Chair of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.