Is it conceivable for a group of women to come together with the purpose of having a lasting, powerful impact on supporting charitable projects that serve the women and girls of our community?
“Absolutely,” says Taos Community Foundation (TCF) Executive Director Lisa O’Brien, with a knowing wide grin and a sparkle in her eyes.
In modern America, third parties are being summoned to produce social services that were once essentially the responsibility of government. Among the new philanthropic associations that have emerged in this environment are
voluntary groups known as giving or funding circles. Their aim is to bring people together to pool resources and then collectively decide how to distribute them.
Giving circles have been touted as the most democratic of philanthropic instruments, working to meet social needs and solve community problems, while enhancing the civic education and participation of their members. Enter Women Give.
Through such a collective action, with an emphasis on education and mentoring, to date 17 Women Give members called “advisors” have pledged to give $1,000 annually for five years, which goes into a “funding pot.” The advisors then set
out to positively impact the lives of women and girls in Taos and western Colfax counties by making significant grants and becoming more informed and engaged philanthropists.
Initially called Women in Philanthropy (WIP), in 2016 the group distributed $12,000 worth of grants between Bridges for Education, the University of New
Mexico Adult Learning Center, DreamTree Project, Match New Mexico and the Institute for Science Education through TCF.
In the beginning
WIP was born from the Women and Girl’s Circle Fund at TCF (2005-2008). As a first project, the fund was part of the statewide financing collaborative Funders
Allied with Youth, which melded resources to provide monetary support with an emphasis on health care access, teen reproductive health and teen pregnancy prevention efforts. TCF contributed $5,000 annually over three years. That money was pooled with funds from similar groups from around the state and
then equally distributed. On top of TCF’s $15,000 investment, an additional $75,000 was leveraged for Taos County programs, which in part provided seed money for the First Steps Program and the Girls Circle Project.
At the end of the three-year commitment, no local leader picked up the reins. TCF then embarked on a mission to figure out how to continue supporting grant making for women’s and girls’ programs. The foundation reached out to Taos women — from teachers and activists to doctors and grandmothers — to be part of the conversation. The discussions led to support, which morphed into WIP.
Women Give is one fund out of the 140 overseen by TCF and its staff of “2 1/2.” Actually, TCF is really more of a host in respect to Women Give; O’Brien facilitates the group and two advisors — Alexsis Blake and Maggie Evans-
Rael — have stepped into co-chair leadership roles. The advisors review and deliberate the grant application process on a quarterly basis. The name was recently changed to Women Give to better reflect that the group is more than just about giving money.
On the horizon
This year, O’Brien says the goal is to get 50 advisors onboard: “I would love to say we have $50,000 in the funding pot.”
The group wants to attract a wide range in the ages and diversity of new advisors so that all voices are heard. In O’Brien’s view, that is “totally doable.”
To do that, TCF looked at how best to engage women in the community — not just as financial resources, but as mentors and by offering learning opportunities regarding the issues that face our community’s women and girls. The idea for “Brunch & Learn” came from that discussion. The inaugural Brunch & Learn was held Feb. 11 at Taos Country Club featuring guest speaker local ceramics artist Deborah Rael-Buckley. Two more Brunch & Learn events will be held this year — one in the summer and another in the fall. O’Brien emphasizes that these events are not fundraisers — they are about “community change through group effort.”
Education is a key focus for Women Give because for women, O’Brien explains, it refers back to access and how women and girls become strong leaders in the community. Getting women more involved in town and county politics is also a major focal point going forward.
“It’s all about opening doors, increasing interest and women supporting women,” O’Brien asserts.
Involvement is also about empowerment and being able to roll with social and economic climates.
“We all come with different experiences. There are ebbs and flows in terms of interest and how philanthropy moves in the community. On any type of committee, there are a wide range of goals. It can be hard to focus on all of them,” O’Brien conveys. “But, there are no limits. Women Give can be as big as it naturally becomes. There are always places to put funding in this community.”
For more information, contact TCF at (575) 737-9300 or go to the website taoscf.org.