Let's observe Giving Tuesday by taking a moment to examine the enduring stereotype of philanthropy as the sole province of ultrarich white men in lofty boardrooms.
In South Jersey last year, a group of 74 professional women established a cooperative giving circle — local money, for local nonprofits — that made a $74,000 grant to Hopeworks in Camden.
Hopeworks put the money to work at its new high-tech training center downtown "so we can serve more youth" in the city, said the nonprofit's communications director, Valerie Buickerood.
And leaders of Impact 100 South Jersey — one of more than 50 local giving circles, or chapters, of Impact 100 in the United States and Australia — say this is just the beginning. They're looking to boost membership well beyond 100 and raise the amount and number of grants available to qualified nonprofits in Camden, Burlington, Gloucester, and Cumberland Counties in 2019.
"At first, I couldn't wrap my brain around the idea of putting money into a pool with other women of various means. But the more I learned, it just felt right," said Kyle Ruffin, a longtime communications professional who in 2017 was one of the six founding board members of the South Jersey chapter.
"We're shattering the myth that transformative philanthropy is only for the extremely wealthy," she said.
I recently caught up with Ruffin and other chapter leaders, members, and prospective members at Inkwood Books in Haddonfield, where an information session drew about 15 women. Among them was Maggie McMahon, a retired teacher from Moorestown, who signed up on the spot.
"I can't wait to get started," McMahon said. "It's a wonderful way to give back."
Needless to say, women in South Jersey and everywhere else have long given back by raising money, making charitable donations, and volunteering or working for nonprofit agencies of all sorts. Women have been "the true philanthropists," said Buickerood, who became a chapter member after Hopeworks was awarded the grant.
Impact 100 was founded in Cincinnati in 2001, and since then, new chapters have followed its elegantly simple model: The goal of each is to reach a membership of 100 (or more), each of whom donates $1,000 (plus $150 for operating costs) to yield at least $100,000 annually.
There is no paid staff at the local level; the members, many of whom have experience in nonprofit administration or operations, fund-raising, or all three, perform due diligence on the applications before membership approves a recipient or recipients.
"The nonprofit must have an annual budget of at least $300,000," Judy Greenberg, a founding board member, told the audience at Inkwood. "We're not funding start-ups. We look to fund established organizations."
Nancy Weber, a fund-raising consultant and founding member, said educating women about philanthropy also is a goal.
"A lot of people believe that the word philanthropist, or philanthropy, means deep pockets and writing checks with lots of zeroes," she said. "I couldn't make a $100,000 donation. Most people can't. But a group like ours leverages all of our contributions to make an impactful grant."
Said Nancy Mansfield, a development professional from Haddonfield who renewed her membership at the Inkwood meeting: "The great thing about Impact is that it lets women know we can have a much greater influence on the future of our communities together than we ever could have as individuals."
The fact that the impact will be felt in South Jersey is part of the chapter's inherent appeal to local women, and why spreading the word among nonprofits in the four counties is essential. The three other Impact 100 groups in New Jersey are in the northern part of the state; there also is a Philadelphia chapter.
Given that South Jersey has long been overshadowed by its mighty neighbor to the west and the Garden State's more densely populated and affluent counties to the north, the local Impact 100 chapter strikes me as an especially good idea.
"One of the great selling points of Impact 100 SJ is that we are all about South Jersey and nonprofits serving South Jersey," Ruffin said.
"Applicants for grants don't have to compete with applicants from Philadelphia or other parts of New Jersey. And we have plenty of needs right here."