Gainesville’s Giving Circle: Good for Community, Business

By: Maghan McDowell

Women Helping Women Have Recently Donated More Than $350,000

Now that female baby boomers have reaped the benefits of their hard-earned position as some of today’s business leaders, they’ve decided to give back—in a big way.

Consider a group of about 120 Gainesville-area businesswomen who since 2006 have donated more than $350,000 to programs benefiting women and girls in Alachua County. They call themselves the Women’s Giving Circle, and their work has benefitted at least eight local organizations which help thousands of local women and girls in need, if not more.

But it’s not just Gainesville women who are giving back. A 2010 study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy found that women at every income level give to charity more often than men, and donate more money on average then their male counterparts—1.6 percent more.

The local group reflects two surging national trends in philanthropy: women’s philanthropy and giving circles, according to philanthropy consultant Ana Gloria Rivas-Vazquez, who spoke at the Gainesville’s Women’s Giving Circle bi-annual luncheon last month. Rivas-Vazquez founded the Key Biscayne-based Smart Women with Spare Change Giving Circle and after more than 20 years working in philanthropy, has witnessed these trends first hand. “As our roles and wealth have increased, particularly in recent years,” she said, “our participation and potential has garnered more notice.”

Researchers found that Florida ranks 4th among the 50 states in its number of women-owned businesses, and many of those businesses are exceptionally healthy.

Connected Giving

A giving circle is a group of individual donors who pool their money and other resources and decide together where these should be distributed. A 2009 study from The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers found that “donors say they give more, give more strategically, and are more knowledgeable about nonprofit organizations and problems in their communities when they participate in giving circles.”

In 2007, the New Ventures in Philanthropy Initiative found 400 giving circles in the United States. And, as the members of the Women’s Giving Circle can attest, the role of connection—in relationships and in their communities—is paramount. This is not surprising to those who grew up with mothers who led the PTA, but perhaps a trend not yet fully utilized by charitable organizations, Rivas-Vazquez suggests. “Connected giving is a trend that is happening across the country, and is having a tremendous impact.”

The Women’s Giving Circle in Gainesville was modeled after a number of national giving circles. Founding member Susannah Peddie is on the board of the Gainesville Community Foundation (the parent organization of the giving circle) and was part of the steering committee when the idea was hatched.

Peddie, who owns Susannah Peddie Fine Prints, was inspired by the Women’s Giving Circle in Ocala. “I saw the impact it had made when women pooled their money together,” Peddie says, “so I was a huge proponent of having a giving circle in Gainesville. It’s been wonderful for the women in our community.”

Other national groups include the Wine Ladies of Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Dining for Women, which started in Greenville, South Carolina; the Latina Giving Circle in Arizona, and more. Fittingly, the Gainesville group’s recipients of choice are groups that help women to increase their independence and financial security. Specifically, they focus their grant money in the following areas: marketable skills and job training, economic independence, problem-solving and life skills, self-reliance, delinquency, literacy and unwanted pregnancy.

“With mentoring, women can really become quite empowered,” says Linda Kallman, who, as a member of the Gainesville Community Foundation, has been a member of the Giving Circle since it began. “We are now seeing more women in college than men, and it’s really because the moms and grandmothers were mentoring their daughters.

“There are a lot of women out there who haven’t been as fortunate to have someone who they can look up to as a woman.”

Kallman, a nurse practitioner and former owner of the Florida Book Store, found that giving back to the community as a business made an impact on both employees and customers.

“Something that’s stuck with me is that success in business unshared with others is really a failure,” Kallman says. “If you’re in business and you’re lucky enough to succeed, it means that people along the way have helped you get to that point.”

Combining (Significant) Resources

These discerning businesswomen aren’t just donating pocket change. The one requirement to join the WGC is an annual donation of $1,000, for a minimum of two years. And, to groom the younger generation to become tomorrow’s Giving Circle leaders, the group has created a $500 membership for women 40 and younger.

“The reality is that younger women have other priorities—many are raising families or in their early stages of their career, which demands a lot of time,” says member Marilyn Tubb, associate vice president for college relations at Santa Fe College. “So we make it affordable by offering the $500 giving, and we hope that, through that, to create a generation of women for whom philanthropy is a comfortable and appropriate thing to be doing.”

Tubb, one of the founding members, helped form the goals and mission statement of the giving circle. She, as is common for most of the women in the giving circle, is also active in a number of other local philanthropic organizations.

Peddie is one of the younger members of the group. “I’m 35, and when I was around 30 or so, the generation above me kept saying, ‘We need to get you young women involved and trained so that you can step into the spot before we step down,’” she says. “Linda and her peers have done a tremendous job of selecting younger women to fill in their shoes.”

“Giving is a highly personal activity,” Rivas-Vazquez said at the luncheon. “It reflects who we are and who we aspire to be—so it makes sense that it reflects our experiences and values.”

Many of the women in giving circles nationwide are drawn to the ability to make a significant local impact by combining, then selectively targeting, their donations.

“My $1,000 annual commitment is nice to give, but when it’s going with 80 or 100 $1,000 gifts, then you can start making a difference in the organizations, the agencies and the people we are trying to help,” Tubb says. “This is an excellent example of a grassroots, community focus, and local philanthropy. That’s very satisfying because we know the organizations to which we are giving, and we can meet some of the people who our gifts have affected.”

Is Giving Good for Business?

Tubb also says that while it’s still important to give to organizations beyond Gainesville, it’s both personally and professionally rewarding to make a difference in the community in which you do business.

“One would hope that it would have a good impact so that people buy your products or use your service,” Tubb says. “But that’s not the purpose. The point is that you make a better place where you all can live and do business.”

“Businesses that are philanthropic tend to be more sought after by the consumer,” Kallman agrees—even citing Freddie Wehbe of Domino’s Pizza as an example of a local company she prefers due to its donations throughout the community. “When they’re seeing that you give back to the community, people want to participate in your business more.”

“With my photography, I also donate to silent auctions,” Peddie says. “It helps the community raise money, but it also gives you great exposure with all these different community events.”

Peddie finds that the women of Gainesville are particularly generous. “Women in Gainesville are so giving and dynamic that I run into the women from the Giving Circle at other organizations,” she says. “Gainesville is one of the most giving communities I’ve been in.”

This past year, the WGC raised $80,000. They have given grants to Girl Scouts of Gateway Council, the Girls Club of Alachua County, the Displaced Homemaker Program, Take Stock in Children and more. This year, they hope to generate $100,000 and to continue reaching out to a broader group of donors—especially from the next generation.

Although the public relations benefit of giving back to the community that has fostered business success is undeniable, Peddie says: “It’s just so touching to see the impact it has on a young girl who gets a boost.”

“We’re not a wealthy community, so there aren’t a lot of big gifts,” Tubb says. “But there are a lot of educated women in this community who understand the value of pooling resources and making a difference locally.”

Economic Independence

At the October luncheon, members heard from Theresa Harrison, executive director of the Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network, to whom the Giving Circle has been able to provide more than $60,000 over the past few years. Harrison shared how the women at Peaceful Paths have benefitted from the Giving Circle’s donations, which contributed to their Economic Empowerment Series—a financial literacy education program that helps domestic violence survivors achieve financial independence.

“The biggest impact is that the women start to feel far more empowered about the decisions in their lives when it comes to money,” Harrison said. “For a survivor of domestic violence, having the ability to feel successful—and to know that the money that is funding this is coming from other women in the community—is a tremendous boost.”

Another benefit of joining the Women’s Giving Circle is that, unlike other charitable women’s organizations that require volunteer hours and more, the only requirement is donating the $1,000. Members can decide how much—or how little—they want to participate. The group holds twice-yearly luncheons, in addition to other smaller socials and meetings to help write grants, review applications and plan for future programs.

“In the past, women joined charitable groups to volunteer their time, because they didn’t have their own disposable income,” Kallman explains of the unique focus of the WGC. “This trend we’re seeing across the country is because now, perhaps for the first time, women can decide independently where to give their money.”

“We developed a structure that was simple and has a certain amount of sociability,” Tubb explains, reflecting a key trait cited by Rivas-Vasquez in the nature of women in philanthropy. “We see our friends and make new ones and, you know, women in particular are like that.”

“The important thing,” Tubb says, “is that women working together can make a difference.”

According to a recent survey from Florida Atlantic University, it looks like this trend will continue, especially in Gainesville, and in Florida.

The “circle of influence” represented by the women in Gainesville’s Women’s Giving Circle can be viewed through the lens of just the members interviewed for this article, who are members of or serve on the boards of multiple organizations, including:

Peddie: University of Florida Performing Arts, Cade Museum Foundation, Junior League of Gainesville

Tubb: Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Oak Hammock, Cade Museum Foundation, Innovation Gainesville, Florida’s Eden, Girls Place, Inc., Alachua County Economic Development Advisory Committee, Market Gainesville Partnership, Council for Economic Outreach, March of Dimes, Florida Citizens Bank, Gainesville Women’s Forum, Rotary Club of Gainesville, Junior League of Gainesville, Philips Center for the Performing Arts, United Way.

Kallman: Gainesville Community Foundation, Gainesville Women’s Forum, University of Florida Performing Arts Center, March of Dimes

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