Grapevine Spotlight: Q&A with Women Investing in Shepherd (WISH)

Nov 17, 2021

Why did you decide to start your group?

Women Investing in Shepherd (WISH) was created to educate, engage and empower women to achieve their philanthropic goals. It was meant to be accessible to women from all walks of life to learn about the needs of Shepherd University and the surrounding community, and to provide a platform to collectively address those needs.

What is unique about your model?

WISH was heavily influenced by the Impact Austin model created by founder Rebecca Powers, which awards funds to nonprofits in the Austin, TX community.  However, because WISH is managed through the Shepherd University Foundation, it needed to incorporate the University’s needs into a nonprofit model. Taking a cue from Women Investing in Nebraska, the University of Nebraska women’s giving circle, a divided grant pool model was born: each year the collective monies are split in half and given out to both community nonprofits and Shepherd University learning projects. This allows the group to attract not only alumnae but also women who just live in the surrounding community.

What draws members to your group?

Through personal, women-to-women grassroots communication, WISH strives to become a thoughtful, learning organization focused on educating members about issues and trends in identified focus areas, as well as helping them become better and more informed philanthropists. This organic growth is mainly achieved through “socials”- events at which founding members can share their story and passion for the organization with friends and colleagues. New members know that they have been personally selected for their potential to give at the high-impact level. As more and more positive change has come about due to the grant awards, more and more women want to be a part of the WISH story.

How has your group evolved over time?

When the group was created in 2014, the goal was to see if WISH could get 100 women to believe in a concept that hadn’t yet yielded any results. That first year ended with 105 founding members and a grant pool of $52,500, which provided one nonprofit grant award and one Shepherd grant award of $26,250 each. Those funds provided a springboard for each grant entity to leverage into additional funding, and the impact snowballed from there.

It was determined early on that the minimum amount of grant money awarded to any entity would be $20,000. Now, at 250+ members strong, WISH is able to easily surpass that amount and provide two grants to community nonprofits and to Shepherd University annually (four total). The group has since added a “memorial” gift option, which is a non-voting membership placed in the grant pool that recognizes individuals who have touched someone’s life. The $500 may be made by an individual donor or by several donors collectively. 

In 2021, the Courage to Inspire, Strength to Empower Award (based on Adelphi University’s award of the same name) was created to recognize outstanding female student leaders whose service and commitment to excellence benefit and inspire the members of the Shepherd Ram family. The award recognizes a student who, through meaningful philanthropic work on- and off- campus, embodies the commitment of WISH to impact and enhance the Shepherd community. It is meant to inspire the next generation of women philanthropists.

How can you see the impact that you’ve made with your collective donations?

Grant recipients submit progress reports that document the impact of their award funds. They are also invited to share the impact of their award at a membership reception held each spring, as well as at membership solicitation socials.

In 2020, an infographic was created to demonstrate just how far-reaching and impactful the WISH grant awards have been. It can been viewed at shepherduniversityfoundation.org/women-investing-in-shepherd/.

What is your group focused on right now?

Unfortunately, COVID has prevented regular membership socials to be held for the past two years. WISH’s leadership committee turned their focus to current member retention and education. The group is proud to boast a retention rate of 89%. In 2021, WISH set a goal to achieve $1 million in grants awarded by year 9 (2023) of the group’s existence, and we are on pace to achieve it!

How can people get involved?

WISH is always happy to accept new members! Anyone interested can visit shepherduniversityfoundation.org/women-investing-in-shepherd/ to learn more about the organization or contact Meg Patterson, Shepherd University Foundation Director of Donor Relations, at 304-876-5021, mpeterso@shepherd.edu. We also encourage everyone who hears the WISH story to share it as ambassadors to the University and the larger community.