By Betsy Brush Hahn

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 Betsy Brush Hahn of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.

There are many examples of women coming together to improve their communities.  From volunteering at schools, providing meals and clothing to creating organizations or businesses that serve well beyond the active participation of their founders, women play a key role in civic life.

Women’s Giving, also known as Women’s Philanthropy, is a national trend and Tyler is no exception. One particular model, the giving circle, is growing at an astonishing rate.  Giving circles are made up of individuals who pool their money, and then decide together where these monies should be distributed.  They also include social, educational and engagement activities that involve participants in their communities and increase members’ understanding of philanthropy and community challenges.

The Women’s Fund of Smith County, founded in 2008, is a giving circle. A small group of women who heard about the concept invited friends to join them and discuss the idea. The invitation featured a quote by Margaret Mead,  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.

That evening surprised everyone. All the women who attended wrote checks and The Women’s Fund was born.  In the six years since, the group has awarded $685,620 in grants to 19 local nonprofits in Smith County Texas.

An important question is why?  Why has this become so successful? Why women’s philanthropy?  Is it different from men’s or family giving?  Why focus on giving specifically to women and children?  Why are women pooling their resources and making giving decisions collective, through a democratic vote?  What impact is this having on our community and the women involved?

As Dawn Franks wrote here last week, now is the time to start a conversation.  Tyler is a generous community.  Heightening our awareness and understanding of giving, with the goal of getting better at it, will make this an even better place to live for all of us.

We want answer to those questions and ask more here in Giving Well.  I encourage you to comment and send me your questions too. I invite you to join the conversation.

Research shows that giving circles

  • Influence members to give more
  • Influence members to give more strategically
  • Members give to a wide array of organizations
  • Members are highly engaged in the community
  • Increase member’s knowledge about philanthropy, nonprofits and the community and
  • Have a mixed influence on members’ attitudes about philanthropy, nonprofit and government roles, and political/social abilities and values.


Last week I had two opportunities to see these outcomes for myself through Women’s Fund ‘Grants In Action’ events.   This is our name for visiting an organization that has received a Women’s Fund Grant to see what impact our money is achieving.  First we visited St. Paul Children’s Foundation.  They received our largest grant amount of $45,808 to furnish and equip a new Trauma Counseling and Assessment Center.

St. Paul’s sees an urgent need for not only trauma counseling, but also assessment. We learned that often children who have experienced trauma exhibit symptoms similar to ADHD.  They have trouble focusing, can’t sit still, are easily distracted and can have emotional outbursts.  Of course the treatment for trauma differs significantly from that of ADHD, making assessment of the true needs vital.  Children can be traumatized by a variety of things including a car crash, sudden death, neighborhood / home violence or witnessing drug usage, to cite a few examples.

We also learned that our grant gave the Board of St. Paul Children’s Foundation, the additional funds needed to implement their three-stage plan of creating this new Trauma Counseling and Assessment Center. The Center is now open and serving children and families with low cost, professional counseling.

My second opportunity was with G.I.V.E., a group of high school junior and senior girls. G.I.V.E. is an initiative of The Women’s Fund model philanthropy to our younger generation. The started in 2013, raised their own funds and awarded their first grant ever to Refuge of Light.

Together with adult leaders from The Women’s Fund, the girls researched five issues that concerned them and the current efforts to address those. After hearing presentations from several groups, the girls voted to award their hard-earned money to raise awareness of human trafficking in East Texas.   Refuge of Light will use the funds to publish a magazine to highlight the scope of the problem and what can be done to help.  They have invited the G.I.V.E. girls to contribute articles on their giving experience, which will encourage reflection.

This highlights a significant point in philanthropy: reflection.  Making decisions collaboratively brings more knowledge and experience to bear on the decision and outcomes.  It also creates a place where givers talk about their giving, what went well, what could have been better and what more could be done. Reflection gives us a clearer picture and knowledge for future giving decisions that will have an impact on the lives of women and children in Smith County.

Hearing these two organizations talk about the deep need they see in our community touched our hearts.  Seeing our money at work reinforced the desire give thoughtfully, strategically – to give well.  At the conclusion of both visits, those attending knew more and felt more committed to the work being done by our giving circle.

Giving affects the giver as well as the receiver.  How is your giving? Send your questions and comments to

Betsy Hahn is president of The Women’s Fund.  The mission of The Women’s Fund is to leverage the philanthropic capacity of women as a catalyst for positive change.  All women are welcome to join.  To learn more, visit and plan to attend the annual Power of the Purse Luncheon on October 28th.