Why did you decide to start your group?
With more time and energy on our hands as empty-nesters, my friend Lauren Sustersic and I were at dinner one night talking about how we wanted to spend our extra free time trying to help our local community. We knew we wanted to do something more than just writing a check to a charity. We wanted to be more actively engaged with our community in Delaware County. The idea of a collective giving circle was intriguing and relatively new to us. After research, we realized that women in Delaware County were more likely than men to live in poverty and the need to help women was great, yet there was no collective giving circle focused only on women in our area. We then recruited our mutual friend Soly McLaughlin as Vice Chair--- and so Project W was born with 3 women wanting to make a change. We started to spread the word and the idea of “women helping women” was very positively received. We were also fortunate to have the help of The Community's Foundation, who supports us from a fiduciary and operational perspective. We started in February 2019 and within 10 months we had 64 members and were able to award $35,000 in grants directly to non-profits in our community helping women.
What is unique about your model?
I think our model is unique for two reasons. The first is that our grants are awarded only to organizations helping women. This allows us to be more focused in our work. Secondly, I think we are more accessible than other giving circles in that our membership cost is only $550, of which $500 goes directly to the grants. In addition, the $550 donation is tax-deductible. Many other giving circles have a much higher entry point. In addition, we have a group membership option which allows up to 5 women to share a membership, with a cost of only $110 per woman. It is sort of like a “mini giving circle”. This accessibility allows us to have more voices heard in our grant meeting discussions. We want our membership to reflect the voices of the county. In addition, we have a fellowship option which awards 4 free memberships to women ages 21 to 35 living or working in Delaware county with a desire to help other women.
What draws members to your group?
I think women are drawn to the idea of helping other women, as well as working with other women. There is a social aspect to giving circles. I also think that Project W provides a vehicle for members to become more directly engaged with the nonprofits in our community. It is much more fulfilling than writing a check and not knowing where your donation is being spent. It is an opportunity to do more than just contribute financially. It is an opportunity to become knowledgeable about and more engaged with the incredible nonprofits who are on the front line making a difference. We also offer outreach and volunteer opportunities beyond the grant giving process which allows members to connect with the community.
How can you see the impact that you’ve made with your collective donations?
We've seen impact in terms of the total number of dollars we have awarded in grants and other donations. Since February of 2019 we have donated over $210,000. We also know from our grantees' feedback reports how we have helped. For example, one of our grants helped to alleviate the backlog for a crisis line by funding an additional counselor. Another grant was used to fund a training and laptop loan program for women impacted by Covid. But the REAL impact is felt in the individual stories....like seeing the smile and tears on the face of the single mom with cancer who was so grateful that Project W was able to save Christmas for her 4 children through the adopt-a-family program. Or seeing photos of the young woman aging out of foster care who was able to get her GED and secure housing for both herself and her 2 year old daughter.
What is your group focused on right now?
This year we have added a new smaller grant award focused on organizations with operating budgets less than $500,000. We are continually learning and adapting based on the feedback from our members and grantees. One thing we learned is that it is difficult for some of the smaller, more grassroot-type organizations to compete with larger more established nonprofits. By creating a separate “small grants” category, we are able to level the playing field for these smaller, newer organizations. Our members are very excited to see how this plays out in the upcoming year. A second thing we are focused on is making sure we are focused on diversity, equity, inclusion and access, both in terms of membership and the grant giving process. We want to continue to expand our membership to reflect the voices of the county. We are also trying to ensure that we incorporate trust-based philanthropy into our grant award process by not being overly restrictive in the use of the funds.
How can people get involved?
Anyone interested in becoming a member can go to www.projw.org or email us at ProjectW@TCFhelps.org.