Collective Impact: Women’s Giving Network of Wake County Celebrates 15 Years

This female-led foundation has awarded more than a million dollars in grants to Triangle nonprofits
by Catherine Currin

What started with four women sitting around a kitchen table has turned into an immense influence across our community. Teena Anderson, Beth Briggs, Elizabeth Fentress, and Noel Lichtin founded the Women’s Giving Network of Wake County 15 years ago as an informal way for friends to get together to make a difference. The organization has since awarded $1.5 million in grants to dozens of local nonprofits that support women and children, including programs that support women recovering from addiction, ones that aid families experiencing homelessness, and educational support for students. 

The giving circle of 100 women is now a formal program of the North Carolina Community Foundation, which members join with an annual contribution. Current WGN president Amy Pirozzolo became part of the network in 2014, when she relocated to Raleigh from Ohio. “I knew I wanted to give back locally, but had no idea where to start,” she says. The like-minded women at WGN gave her the confidence that her money would go to the right place. “I felt good about putting my money into something like that,” she says.

Membership fees are pooled together to create significant grants each year, which are then awarded to recipients after a vetting process. WGN’s former president, Hayden Constance, has been on the grants committee for eight years. “The way that the grants committee goes about doing due diligence and narrowing down applicants gives members a lot of confidence in their impact,” she says. “Every member has input.”

WGN holds education events throughout the year for members to learn more about grantees and their missions. Constance feels that these education events set the network apart, because members can see the impact of their donations firsthand.

Junior membership chair Brittany Constance also found that WGN allowed her to meet people when she first moved to Raleigh. “WGN was a great way to get connected and understand the landscape for nonprofits in the area,” she says. “For me, it has also been an opportunity to have informal mentoring and female leaders to look up to in the community.”
Organizations funded by the network vary from established nonprofits to those just starting out. “We are always looking for new organizations to fund, and we even offer seed grants for newer programs,” says Pirozzolo.

For example, the network recently funded a group home for Bloom Here, a nonprofit supporting women recovering from addiction, homelessness, or human trafficking. 2020 grants totaled $123,000 awarded to Haven House, Alliance Medical Ministry, Communities in Schools Wake County, and Families Together. These awards can provide support towards launching a new program or sometimes expanding on an existing program within the nonprofit. WGN will announce this year’s grant recipients at its annual Impact Luncheon on Nov. 4, and co-founders Briggs and Lichtin will speak at the event.

Studies often show that women give more charitable donations than men, and WGN tries to harness that instinct. “It affects generations,” Constance says. “It’s not just the people who receive the grant and their clients — if that client becomes successful, it could change their trajectory and impact our whole community.” Pirozzolo likes to describe it to the group with three ‘I’ words: “To provide insight and inspiration with the hopes that our collective efforts can drive greater impact than we could’ve done alone.”  

This article originally appeared in our November 2021 issue of WALTER Magazine.