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.

Did you know?

  • Roughly one million women in the U.S. have personal assets of at least $2 million.
  • More than 10 million firms in the United States are majority or equally owned by women.
  • According to the Small Business Administration, women employ approximately 27 million Americans.
  • 90% of women will determine all family finances at some point in their lives.

Statistics such as these leave little doubt that women in America are acquiring more money and influence than ever before, a trend that is bolstered by the fact that women tend to live longer than men.  Through both earned and inherited wealth (from spouses, parents and others), women now control nearly 60 percent of the wealth in the United States.

American women – beginning with the colonial settlers – have helped shape the charitable giving attitude that sets our country apart from all others.  As philanthropist and social reformer Dorothea Dix noted in the 1800s, “In world where there is so much to be done, I felt strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do.”

The factors that motivate women to provide charitable gifts include the desire for social change, a commitment to a personal cause, opportunities to volunteer and the preference to leverage their personal funds through collaboration.

Women have their own grant-making culture

According to national studies, as more women give, they are likely to change both what causes are funded and how the money is raised – especially because female philanthropists often prefer to raise money in a group.  It’s estimated that there are now more than 165 women’s fund organizations in 27 countries on six continents.

These include the Women Donors Network, the Global Fund for Women, Women Moving Millions, the Red Cross Tiffany Circle and many more.  Another of these leaders in “collective giving” is the Women’s Collective Giving and Grantmaking Network (WCGN), established in 2009.  The Women’s Fund of Smith County is a part of this dynamic organization that represents 38 collective giving and grantmaking groups in 19 states.  Together, these WCGN member organizations – representing 7,500 women – have given more than $59 million in grants to nonprofits throughout the country.

“Without you there would be no collective giving.  You started the movement.  WCGN was built to help,” noted Laura Midgley, Chair of the Board of Directors at the 2014 WCGN Forum.  “Our mission is to support the creation, development and expansion of women’s collective giving nationwide as a partner in this exciting new form of philanthropy.”

WCGN is committed to strengthening existing collective giving organizations and inspiring the creation of new ones.  This includes promoting national awareness about the meaningful impact of collective, community-based philanthropy, both for women in giving circles and for their communities.  In addition, the organization builds leadership in philanthropy through educational forums and resources that spotlight best practices and emerging trends.

Collective giving in Smith County

WCGN has been an inspiration for The Women’s Fund of Smith County and its own mission:  to leverage the philanthropic capacity of women as a catalyst for positive change.  The organization was created in 2008, first in conjunction with the East Texas Communities Foundation and now with Fourth Partner.

More than 240 women in Tyler/Smith County are annually pledging their financial resources to support philanthropic education, as well as grants that benefit women and children.  In 2015 The Women’s Fund will surpass the $750,000 milestone in grants made to specific programs, based on an extensive application process open to local not-for-profit organizations.

As a giving circle, each member of The Women’s Fund of Smith County receives a voice through her annual vote in the grantmaking process.  To date, grants have been made to projects ranging from child abuse prevention to life skills training for foster boys to expansion of computer education for women.

The result of high-impact grants made through collective giving by The Women’s Fund of Smith County is stronger women, stronger families and stronger communities.  As women across the country and the world are proving, the ripple effect is profound.

One thing every Women’s Fund member in Smith County knows:  Women can change the world by pooling their intellectual and financial capital for the common good.  We’re just getting started.

Marty Wiggins serves as Director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2015 Chair of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.  Please join us on February 12 for our 2015 grant announcements – go to for event and membership information.