As a local women’s collective grant maker, Giving WoMN provides a nurturing community for females to engage in philanthropy, educate one another and provide charitable gifts to those in need. Established in 2005 by a small group of women around a dining table, the collective was inspired by a similar group in Seattle called the WA Women’s Foundation. One of the local founders liked the idea and decided Minnesota lacked such a program.
When the idea was introduced to Lynn Giovannelli of St. Louis Park and Mary Frey of Edina, they knew they needed to be a part of creating something similar.
Created as a way to give back to the community in a more impactful way, grants are sourced by pooled contributions from each member. Each member is required to pay a membership fee of $1,100; where $1,000 goes toward a pool of grant funds and the remaining $100 covers administrative expenses. What is unique about the program is that none of the money rolls over from year to year. One hundred percent of each year’s funds go toward grants averaging from $8,000–$25,000 for nonprofits in the education, health or human services sectors.
“Regardless of age, they are getting involved with something bigger than themselves,” says founder Frey. “They get more leverage and more bang for their buck.”
Since its start, Giving WoMN has awarded $1.5 million by way of 81 impact grants to about 65 nonprofits across the metro area. Its largest grant to date was $35,000 donated in 2019 to Breaking Free.
“Being in an organization like this means that you are giving in a way that is really meaningful and you are learning the complicated nature of different problems in a big city,” communications co-chair and four-year member Roseanne Cheng says. “This organization is a reminder that despite our everyday struggles as women, as wives and as mothers, we are so fortunate, and I really take that responsibility to pay my fortune forward.”
With over 100 members, Frey says the collective is at a healthy size. Though board members want as many people to be involved as possible, they also want to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to feel that they are a part of the whole process.
“How big is too big?” Frey says. “It is a challenge to keep people engaged, but we really mean it when we say it is an opportunity for people to get involved.”
Each woman is allowed to vote on six of 10 selected nonprofit options every January, all of which are nominated by the grants committee. No organization is donated to if it was not introduced to the group by a member. Funding is decided in part through a point-rank system, based on the interest of members. By way of members choosing the path for their funds, they become more empowered to make an impact.
“[Giving WoMN] is a reminder of how powerful we can be if we move collectively,” Cheng says. “It’s refreshing to know where your money is going.”
Aside from meetings, a number of members also host events in their households as a means to gather together and increase the buzz about the organization throughout the neighborhood. These get-togethers are open to anyone interested in the cause whether they are a member or not.
“I am always really amazed when I work with these women,” Cheng says. “We all come from very different backgrounds but are all like-minded in our pragmatic approach toward philanthropy.”
Giving WoMN Eye also hosts “Eye Opener” events every November to educate members and guests on critical and emerging issues nonprofits face, such as the opioid crisis, income inequality, aging, sex trafficking and homelessness. These events are a way to help members grasp less explored topics in order to understand where help is most needed.
“The education of our community, around the philanthropy and education is the culture and the company standard of giving,” Frey says. “This connectedness has strengthened us.”