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The Giving Gender
Female philanthropists take girl power to a new level
By Kate Morgan

A new wave of philanthropy is arming South Jersey women with true giving power, as they pool money and collectively donate to local nonprofits. Last year, SJ women pooled their money to make a significant financial impact in South Jersey. And these arent millionaires – these are your friends, neighbors and co-workers. They are women who have learned that together, they can make a huge impact. 

It started with Hainesport resident Kyle Ruffin, who was moderating a panel in 2016 about women and philanthropy.  

Many women would like to be philanthropic, but they dont see themselves as philanthropists because thats a term that usually refers to people with extremely deep pockets,” says Ruffin, the former director of communications for KYW Newsradio, who now runs her own marketing agency.  

Along with a small group of similarly minded women, Ruffin began searching for a way to make South Jersey women see themselves as philanthropists in their communities. She soon found it with Impact100, a national group where at least 100 women each give $1,000, and together they make a $100,000 donation. No millionaires required.   

Ruffin started Impact100 South Jersey with four other women.  

Each of the founding members tried to put together a list of 100 women they thought would be interested in this model of giving,” Ruffin says.  

That list became our database. We started inviting them to launch events in September of 2017. We held information sessions and did a lot of one-on-one outreach. In our first year, we were able to recruit 74 women.”  

That meant the group had $74,000 to donate.  

The women put out a call to nonprofits to complete a thorough grant application. They chose to focus on three areas: education, arts and culture, or women, children and families. Applications were reviewed by a subcommittee of members and narrowed to two finalists.  

Those two finalists were invited to an annual meeting to give an 8- to 10-minute presentation in front of all members, who then voted to select the grant recipient.   

When we spoke with other Impact Foundations, they told us about the power of that night,” Ruffin says. And I have to say, watching how engrossed those women were in the presentations, how serious they were making a selection, and how empowered they felt by this process, it was awe-inspiring. It was truly incredible. 

The membership chose to award the $74,000 grant to Hopeworks Camden, a nonprofit that empowers young people through technology.  

At that inaugural giving meeting, Ruffin and the other founding members told the audience of their challenge: they wanted to hit 150 members by next year. 

In December we finished our second recruitment campaign, and we raised $155,000,” Ruffin says. We were able to more than double our membership. 

With $155,000 to give, the group has changed its formula and will now give three grants: a $100,000 core mission grant and two $27,500 grants. Members will once again hear from finalists and vote to determine which organizations receive the funding at their annual meeting.  

One of the things thats really impactful about this is were giving money to organizations in our backyard,” Ruffin says. These organizations arent competing for grants with North Jersey organizations or Philadelphia organizations. This is about South Jersey giving back to South Jersey, and thats a really powerful message.”  

Its a very unique thing because its not driven by what you do for a living or what stage of your career youre in. We have people in banking, attorneys, marketing and communications professionals; it really runs the gamut.”    

And theres no limit to what we might one day be able to do,” she adds, noting that the largest Impact100 group is in Pensacola, Fla. 

They have over 1,000 members, and they give away over $1 million every year,” she says. Its not like its Los Angeles or New York – its Pensacola. If that kind of impact can happen there, it can absolutely happen here.”  

The appeal of Impact100 South Jersey to area women comes as no surprise to Martha Karasick, director of philanthropy at the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey.   

We find that women in general are the decision-makers for philanthropy in their families,” Karasick says. Its a woman whos pushing that as a priority for her family and passing that onto her children. We also know that, in general, women will inherit most of the wealth. Theyre going to be the philanthropic decision-makers of the future. 

At Federation, several groups of female philanthropists are active. Among them, the Lions of Judah is a designation for women who give at the highest levels. They fund programs and services that directly benefit Jewish women and girls. The Federation also sponsors more traditional giving circles, whose members tend to skew younger. In these groups, the women like to do more than write checks, Karasick says.  

Were finding that this is starting to be a big thing, especially for younger women. Theyve got a slightly different slant. Its not just about giving money – they want to help in some way,” Karasick adds. They may fund play equipment for children at a camp, but then they also want to go and help build the structure. Its a more hands-on experience. 

In recent years, the womens philanthropy groups of the Jewish Federation have funded respite programs for caregivers and a STEM program for elementary school students, plus others, with grants ranging from $500 to $10,000.  

One of the most important aspects to the women involved, Karasick says, is that they get to include their children in the giving.  

Rather than just fund the food pantry, many of our women want to go there and work, and they want to take their kids. They want to make sure their children truly understand the importance of giving back. 

Ruffin says many of the Impact100 South Jersey members cite their children and families among the biggest drivers of their philanthropy as well. They dont want to simply give; they want to spark a desire to give in others.  

I feel like for women, giving back is in our DNA,” Ruffin says. We want to give back, and we want to teach our children to give back. We look to create a legacy of generosity.” 

March 2019
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