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The Sisterhood of Collective Giving: Impact Austin, Seeds of Strength, Impact San Antonio

Giving Tuesday is celebrated as a global day of giving, held each year on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. For the second year, we celebrated with a focus on women’s giving circles and rebranded the day as Collective Giving Tuesday! On November 29, we highlighted how Impact San Antonio, Seeds of Strength (Georgetown) and Impact Austin are building champions for collective giving and creating extraordinary impact across Central Texas.

Our panelists were introduced with full bios in an earlier blog. that also gave an overview of each organization. Thanks for thoughtful remarks to Nicole Genovese, Impact Austin; Marsi Liddell, Seeds of Strength, and Angelle St. Germain, Impact San Antonio, as well as to moderator and Impact Austin member Summer McAfee. Behind the scenes were Impact Austin members Erin McCord, Linda Yang, and Judi McCarthy.

A broader context for Collective Giving Tuesday

Last year, Impact Austin launched the concept of Collective Giving Tuesday with a webinar on three other giving circles: Impact 100 Houston, and two affiliates of the Texas Women’s Foundation: the Orchid Giving Circle and the Village Giving Circle. Quick research suggests that we could continue this pace for years, as we can identify more than 80 Texas giving circles listed within the database on Philanthropy Together!

Philanthropy Together is a global initiative that helps to foster new giving circles and strengthen existing circles. They estimate there are 2500+ giving circles in the U.S.; 150,000 people in giving circles; and $1.29 billion given away by giving circles so far. In 1995, only about 50 giving circles existed. There were 500 circles by 2010; 2,000 circles by 2020; and an estimated 3,000 giving circles will exist by 2025.

Among our three organizations represented today, more than 4,000 members have made 340 grants totaling $15.45 million throughout 13 Texas counties. There is much to celebrate here! Now, on to our panelists, whose responses are paraphrased.

Please give a brief introduction to your giving circle, how you started and grew, and where you are today. And how would you explain the sisterhood of collective giving, as it pertains to your community or your membership?

Nicole - Impact Austin; Founded in 2003, Impact Austin is celebrating its 20th Anniversary Year. IA was founded by Rebecca Powers after she read in People Magazine about Impact 100 (Cincinnati) begun the year before by Wendy Steele. (Impact Austin's earliest years are recorded in our blog.) In nearly 20 years, Impact Austin has invested $8.26 million in 91 nonprofit organizations through 112 grants in Travis, Hays, Bastrop, and Williamson counties. Current grant focus areas are Community, Education, Equity, and Health & Well-Being, and two grant cycles are operated each year. More than 2,850 women (and teen) philanthropists have been part of Impact Austin. Nicole celebrates that 2,850 number: women coming together to determine how to solve community problems through grantmaking. This is how she sees the sisterhood of collective giving.

Marsi - Seeds of Strength: Seeds of Strength launched in 2009 by a small group of women who joined together to make a difference. The name "Seeds of Strength" evokes the analogy that a small planted seed will grow strong over time. They are 244 members strong, hoping to exceed 300 in the next year. In 13 years, they have awarded 188 grants totaling $1,891,000, and they will exceed $2 million in the year ahead. Their grantees have related that grants from collective giving are especially meaningful because they expand funding opportunities available to nonprofits. Marsi thanked Impact Austin for practical advice and examples as Seeds of Strength launched, calling this another example of the sisterhood of collective giving.

Angelle - Impact San Antonio: Impact San Antonio started in 2004 with just 25 women and following the Impact 100 model. The goal was to eventually award a $100,000 grant in each of their five focus areas: Arts & Culture; Education; Environment, Recreation & Preservation; Family; and Health & Wellness. They met their goal in 2018. In the past 18 years, they have awarded $5.3 million to area nonprofits. For 2022, they have had 706 women and two non-voting contributors donate $550,000 for the year's grants (both high-impact grants of $100,000 and smaller support grants). They are an all-volunteer organization. Angelle agreed with Marsi that grantmaking is a wonderful opportunity to learn about needs in the community and about the agencies serving the community.

How can #collectivegiving inspire women to give “above and beyond” in their personal philanthropy?

Angelle - Impact San Antonio: Angelle told a recent story about one of their renewing members, who "had always wanted to be a philanthropist." Her life circumstances didn't enabled her to be that on her own. But membership in Impact San Antonio made her part of a group that enables her to indeed be a philanthropist. That is what she enjoys most about being a member of a collective giving circle. Angelle reiterated that giving circle membership makes one more aware of community needs, about those agencies working so hard to address those needs, and about ways to give back in other ways. These might include volunteering with nonprofits the giving circle has supported, or giving a voice to those same agencies, sharing their stories with friends and family.

Marsi - Seeds of Strength; Marsi described their voting process, which was conducted in person before the pandemic. She shared how emotionally moving the nonprofit applicants' stories could be. Many of their members were compelled to engage with their grantees, volunteering, and serving on boards. One of their members became so involved as to be given a lifetime award for Excellence of Service from one of their grantees.

Nicole - Impact Austin: Nicole mentioned the "Impact Austin ripple effect." As part of Impact Austin, members' eyes are opened to hundreds of nonprofits (through the grants process) that they might not have otherwise known. Members might serve on a Grant Review Committee (GRC) in an area they're already passionate about (like Education or Health) and suddenly they know more about the agencies doing great work in those fields. Nicole mentioned that many members use social media to amplify nonprofits' work. She brought discussion back to the words philanthropy and philanthropist and that collective giving allows people to really see themselves as philanthropists. She encourages giving circle members to break the mold of philanthropy's traditional definition, embracing time, treasure, talent, testimony, and ties as vehicles of philanthropy and generosity.

Do you have a special impact story to share of broader reach or impact because you work together?

Marsi - Seeds of Strength: Marsi shared the story of an adult student benefiting from Seeds of Strength's grant to Capital IDEA. This female student graduated and ultimately received her R.N. She also recommended to Capital IDEA that they recognize Seeds of Strength for multiple grants their organization over ten years. Seeds of Strength won the Whitlow Good Neighbor Award - and there was a ripple effect! Seeds of Strength was subsequently honored by both Recognize Good and the Daughters of the American Revolution! Congratulations!

Nicole - Impact Austin: Nicole framed "working together" around the pandemic and Impact Austin's pivots in 2020 and 2021 to assist nonprofits and communities that were hit hard. She cited Impact Austin's grantmaking pivot in 2020 that generated twice as many grants, with quick, unrestricted funding, and immediate qualification to reapply. A streamlined grants process remains in place today. Nicole made clear that giving circles can make quick and responsive pivots in ways that traditional foundations often cannot. Impact Austin also created 2020 and 2021 videos to highlight our Community Partners and how their worked stepped up during the pandemic. Videos invited the community to similarly step up their financial support, a this became a way to broaden the impact we could make alone.

Angelle - Impact San Antonio: Angelle related that grantees meeting at Impact San Antonio award nights might end up partnering together in the future; or they might meet other funders, examples of broader reach. Impact San Antonio's membership model allows for shared memberships that can invite participation from outside their community. There's even interest in establishing a giving circle in Angelle's hometown! Angelle believes that sharing about our giving circles on social media can broaden the ripple effect that we all hope to have.

What are your most successful practices to attract new members to your giving circle or to inspire existing members to renew? And what has been your transition from pandemic/virtual recruiting to gathering in person again?

Marsi - Seeds of Strength: Word-of-mouth continues to be the main driver of Seeds of Strength's growth. They host Info-Mixers in strategic locations around the town (fewer in homes now, due to COVID), including new businesses. Their biggest annual event is Wine, Women, Chocolate & Giving, and this is held shortly before their annual membership deadline. Their members are requesting more in-person events now that the pandemic has receded.

Nicole - Impact Austin: The peer-to-peer "ask" is still Impact Austin's best means of invitation and growth. In-person events are back in place, but Impact Austin has learned the value of virtual events, too. Not only are they part of a flexible engagement model, but webinars become excellent channels for learning and philanthropy education. Members and potential members can engage from the convenience of home or office.

Angelle - Impact San Antonio: They also found positive takeaways from pandemic practices, but returning to in-person events has been very welcome. They see the value in happy hours and mixers, and they blend these less formal events with traditional large events. They shifted from hosting just one in-person member orientation event to multiple virtual orientations: easier access, flexible timing, more opportunity. A "big seller" for bringing in new members is when existing members invite guests to their events. In terms of renewals, they make phone calls to members if reminders are needed and also to hear their stories and feedback.

In 2023, what are your organization’s key goals and plans moving forward?

Marsi - Seeds of Strength: In the last year, they restructured and now include an advisory board. Their board of directors identified two major goals: exceed $2 million in total grantmaking; and grow membership to 300+. Additionally, their members have requested more in-person gatherings.

Angelle - Impact San Antonio: They'd like to surpass $550,000 in the next year's grantmaking. In fact, ultimately they'd like to be able to award MORE than one $100,000 grant in their focus areas.

Nicole - Impact Austin: Celebrating 20 years is a major goal, highlighting Community Partners, member voices, and the growth and change that Impact Austin has experienced. A campaign to build the Rebecca Warren Powers Endowment for Impact Austin will launch in January. Continuing to make Impact Austin a more accessible organization is also an important goal, building a membership that represents our greater Austin community.

Any final words?

Angelle - Impact San Antonio: She encourages women to look for giving circles to join. "There is a right fit for you." Take the opportunity to become more aware of your community's needs.

Marsi - Seeds of Strength: Even during tough times, "really gracious giving doesn't come from the pocketbook; it comes from the heart." As much as individuals may struggle with the economy, local nonprofits are, too.

Nicole - Impact Austin: Nicole shared a story frequently told by a member, Audra. Previously Audra's giving had been like throwing pebbles into a pond. She would see tiny, haphazard splashes with little overall effect. But, through membership in Impact Austin, Audra's giving is now combined with others' gifts, and together the pebbles become a boulder that makes big waves.


Impact Austin thanks all who joined the webinar live and via blog and recording. For those in the audience already part of a giving circle, we thank you for your generosity and the community impact you’ve helped to make possible. For anyone NOT already a giving circle member, we promise that any of our three organizations would welcome you!


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