photographs by Tierney Farrell
A silver pendant in the shape of North Carolina shines above Nicole Stewart’s hear as she sips coffee at Joule. The busy downtown coffee shop, filled with young professionals, is a fitting location for the Raleigh native and founder of a giving circle made up of people her age.
Five years ago, Stewart, 32, the development director at the N.C. Conservation Network, got together with four friends from the nonprofit world looking for a way to make an impact in the community beyond their jobs. None had the means to make large individual contributions.
But like other groups that have emerged in the last several years, Stewart and her friends seized on the power of collective giving. Dedicated to the idea that they could make a philanthropic difference together that they could not make alone, the friends decided to pool their resources. By giving collective sums strategically to local nonprofits, they figured they could have a significant impact.
One half of one percent of a member’s yearly income seemed like a fair way to contribute to the pot. In its first year, the collective raised $8,000, and the buzz has only increased since then. The board has expanded from 5 to 12 members, and membership has grown every year. Last year the group gave away $25,000 in grants, bringing its total to $100,000 to date.
Board member Sarah Wilson Collins, 30, also a Raleigh native, sits across from Stewart. Collins also worked in non-profit development, and “has fundraising in [her] blood.” A recent graduate of Campbell Law School, she now uses her development skills on Beehive’s fundraising committee.
“Raleigh is changing so much, and for the better,” Collins says. “What’s happing downtown is so exciting.” Like many other young Raleighites, Stewart and Collins live and work close by. “Young people want to feel grounded where they live,” Stewart says, “and philanthropy is a big part of that.”
Though open to men and people of all ages, the Beehive Collective primarily attracts women ages 25-40. Lifting up young women into leadership roles remains part of the group’s mission statement, and a constantly rotating board ensures and encourages new leadership.
Past years have focused on issues of economic security, financial literacy, food access, and education. Last year the group gave a $25,000 grant to Youth Empowered Solutions to create a medical clinic in Southeast Raleigh to serve youth who are uninsured or underinsured. This year the theme is “Growing a Movement.”
Unlike other giving circles, the Beehive Collective is also a social group that raises fully half its budget from parties and special events. Stewart calls its annual Back Yard Barbecue “a fundraiser and a friend-raiser.” Local vendors have been generous with support. This year, celebrity chef Ashley Christensen brought mac and cheese from Poole’s Diner, David Meeker kicked in food from his Busy Bee Café and beer (brewed by Stewart’s husband Les) from Meeker’s new Trophy Brewing Company. Jake Wolf at Capitol Club 16, Caroline Morrison from Fiction Kitchen, Cheetie Kumar from Garland, and Christi Preddy from Green Planet Catering arrived heavy-laden with goodies. Slingshot provided cold-brewed coffee.
The party continues with smaller meetings and get–togethers all year long, culminating in the annual “Bee Ball” dance party in May. The Bees crown a king or queen chosen from among the group’s best fundraisers. Partygoers can vote with their dollars, and the favorite two royals are crowned. The event netted $12,000 last year. As the group likes to say: “We pollinate community giving.”
-Ann Brooke Raynal
After moving to Chapel Hill from her native Massachusetts in 1995, Diane Amato learned about the Women’s Giving Network, a giving circle here, profiled below.
She loved the idea of the “power of collective giving” and joined the group, but did not understand why Chapel Hill did not have a similar giving circle.
Then she talked to three women whose business is philanthropy and who share a passion for women’s giving: Carrie Gray, at the time the director of donor engagement for the Raleigh-based North Carolina Community Foundation; Lori O’Keefe, president of the Durham-based Triangle Community Foundation; and Beth Briggs, president of Raleigh consulting firm Creative Philanthropy.
Those discussions led in 2009 to the creation of The Art of Giving, a group that includes not only Chapel Hill but the entire Triangle. Known by its acronym, TAG, the women’s giving circle now has roughly 50 members and has made $69,000 in grants over the past three years.
“I loved the idea that women could come together and pool that money and grant it out to nonprofits that would help women and children,” says Amato, 54, a former program manager at General Electric in Lynn, Mass., who moved from Chapel Hill to Durham in 2012 and now is a partner and pastry assistant at DaisyCakes Bakery & Cafe.
To join the giving circle, women agree to contribute $600 a year for three years, with $500 each year going into the pool to fund nonprofits, and the remaining $100 split between the North Carolina Community Foundation and Triangle Community Foundation to cover administrative costs.
Like the Women’s Giving Network, the giving circle is a fund at the North Carolina Community Foundation, a statewide philanthropy with more than $170 million in assets that serves mainly rural counties. Triangle Community Foundation, which has more than $160 million in assets and serves mainly Wake, Durham, Orange and Chatham counties, handles grant applications to the giving circle.
The group has made a total of six grants ranging from $3,000 to $20,000. Genesis Home in Durham, for example, received $9,000 to help provide temporary housing for homeless families and young people. Urban Ministries of Wake County received $3,000 for its Open Door Clinic to buy nonnarcotic prescription medicines, and then doubled that grant with matching funds. And Communities in Schools of Durham received $20,000 for a program to train parents to prevent aggressive and oppositional behavior by their children.
“A lot of nonprofits look at giving circles as this whole new place to get funds from sources that weren’t around or were not as prevalent in years past,” says Veronica Hemmingway, senior donor engagement officer at Triangle Community Foundation.
Jennifer Tolle Whiteside, president and CEO of the North Carolina Community Foundation and a member of The Art of Giving, says giving circles, a vehicle for philanthropy for many years, represent a “more organized way to come together to both give together and learn together about the community.” Giving circles are particularly popular with women because “women rock,” she says. “Throughout history, women have been involved volunteering, giving their time and money to strengthen their community,” she says. “Giving circles have really exploded across the country and are a way for women to give strategically and become more knowledgeable about causes in their community.”
Pam Dowdy understands what it means to give back to the community. As executive director of Wake County SmartStart, a nonprofit that gives kindergarten children and families a better start at school, she serves the greater good every day. But on a personal level, she wanted to do more. And “doing more” meant giving in a new way, a way that allowed her to give on a much grander scale than she ever could as an individual.
She found it in the Women’s Giving Network of Wake County, a giving circle of women dedicated to women and children that she currently serves as board president.
Dowdy calls being a member of the group a “win/win.” Members experience “joyful giving,” she says. “It’s the pleasure people have in giving to causes they care about.” They also learn about community needs and experience the “expansion of skills that comes from leading a group in a collaborative way.”
The group began in 2007 when four Raleigh friends – Noel Lichtin, Teena Anderson, Beth Briggs, and Elizabeth Fentress – found themselves at an uninspiring, expensive fundraiser. It was one too many. They wondered aloud: What if we skipped the flowers and the lunch and simply gave our money directly to the nonprofit? Each wrote a check, piled them on the table, and made a pledge to decide together what to do with the combined sum. Then they invited friends to join in. By the end of the year, they had 64 members.
At 150 members today, the Women’s Giving Network, which is a fund of the North Carolina Community Foundation, has philanthropic muscle to flex – about $150,000 a year. Dowdy says it’s challenging and inspiring to lead such a large group of women with such power to do good.
The group functions as an “enormous springboard,” she says, not just providing grants to nonprofits, but also inspiring members to get involved individually in the agencies they learn about, becoming volunteers and board members. Sometimes it goes the other way, too: Jan Franz, founder of the mobile literacy operation Read & Feed, was the recipient of a Women’s Giving Network grant that enabled her to to buy a second RV. She was so impressed she became a member herself.
Focused on women and children, the group had made grants tackling problems in areas like health care, domestic violence, homelessness, education, and food scarcity. Grants can be any dollar amount the group votes on, but the idea is to give enough to have great impact. Each member makes a five-year commitment to contribute $1,200 annually. In seven years, it has given away $700,000 to organizations like The Boys and Girls Club of Wake County, The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, SAFEChild, the Healing Place of Wake County, and Triangle Family Services.
Sometimes it’s not only the winners but also the runners-up for a grant that capture the imagination of members. “I’ve heard members say, ‘I was sad that “X” didn’t get chosen this year, but that’s OK because I’m going to help fund it myself!’ and then that member will get involved in that organization.”
The Network prefers to give funds to support a specific project or goal. The Green Chair Project received seed money that helped that recycling and assistance agency get off the ground. It was a risk, but now the Green Chair Project is thriving.
Dowdy hopes the group’s efforts will make Raleigh a better place: “Every child should have a chance to be loved and cared for, and every family should feel the support of a community around them,” she says. “I feel fortunate to live in a place where people care about other people.”
-Ann Brooke Raynal
Since 1992, Keith Shannon and his wife, Belinda Reed Shannon, have volunteered to take high school students to visit college campuses, and help them through the process of applying for admission.
Their work took a significant leap in 2004 when the Wake Forest couple created their own nonprofit to serve as a vehicle for their work. They also became more thoughtful about their own giving. Both credit the moves to the Next Generation of African American Philanthropists, or NGAAP, a Triangle-wide giving circle they helped to form.
“We have always been givers,” says Shannon, a U.S. Army veteran who retired in 1999 as an Army recruiter. “We have become more strategic givers.”
Since its founding, NGAAP has generated more than $90,000 in contributions and awarded more than $60,000 in grants and donations to 33 groups. It is one of two founding giving circles in the Community Investment Network, a national network of 15 giving circles for African Americans and communities of color, with one-third of them in North Carolina.
Nationwide, giving circles in the Community Investment Network have contributed more than $257,000 to their communities. In recognition of NGAAP’s founding role, the Network will hold its annual conference in the Triangle in 2014. It will be the 10th anniversary of the local giving circle.
With individuals contributing $350 a year, and families or groups contributing $450, NGAAP has supported a range of causes in the region, sometimes giving them a needed and surprising boost, Shannon says.
Two years ago, for example, NGAAP gave $3,000 to Movement of Youth, a nonprofit in Durham similar to the Shannons’ that provides mentoring and tutoring to students in middle school and high school, takes them on college tours, and prepares them to take the SAT exam. Last year, NGAAP members attended the nonprofit’s annual banquet and made the surprise announcement that the giving circle had awarded it, unsolicited, another $3,000.
The Shannons haven’t been alone in spearheading NGAAP. Dionne Lester, president of DCL Management Group, and Darryl Lester, former director of community leadership and programs at Triangle Community Foundation as well as founder and president of Hindsight Consulting in Raleigh, have also been key leaders.
The group got off the ground when Darryl Lester saw a gap between organized philanthropy and individuals who had long traditions of not only giving but of volunteering in their communities – and whose financial contributions were below the radar of institutional philanthropy.
So after leaving Triangle Community Foundation in 2001 and founding Hindsight, Lester worked in partnership with the Ford Foundation to stimulate the creation of giving circles in the South for African Americans and communities of color.
“Giving circles are an on-ramp for individuals who want to get into being more strategic about their giving,” he says.
Giving circles help “demystify” philanthropy for individuals who may believe they do not have enough to give or to make a difference, he says. They also demonstrate to philanthropic institutions the value of collective giving, and give them the chance to connect with individuals who participate in that giving, he says.
“People have started to see themselves in the philanthropic game, and not outside it,” he says.
In addition to the grant support, Shannon now serves on the board at Movement of Youth. He and his wife, a lawyer who serves as vice president for equality and inclusion at GlaxoSmithKline, make personal contributions to Movement of Youth. And Preparing America’s Tomorrow Today, the nonprofit they run, organizes a college tour for Movement of Youth.
By being part of NGAAP, he and his wife have been able “to really take a look at those things we give to,” Shannon says. “In being more strategic, we’ve been able to give more.”