Members of Anne Arundel Women Giving Together were expecting good news at their meeting.
Since its first meetings in 2005, the county's first "giving circle" has grown from fewer than a dozen acquaintances to nearly 75 philanthropic females.
Now the organization is ready to start distributing the approximately $35,000 that members had accrued.
"What we have here is the power of collective philanthropy," said Kathy Brooks, a realtor with Coldwell Banker and founding member of the giving circle. "Take everybody's $500 and put it together, and you can make a huge difference. Not only is it an amount that will make a difference, but also we get to go out and see and touch these organizations, and we can go back later and see what has happened."
Anne Arundel Women Giving Together's mission is to boost nonprofit organizations engaged in improving life for disadvantaged women, families and children in the county. While the annual individual contribution in some giving circles can be as little as $50 or as much as $20,000, members of the Arundel group pay $550 annually. Fifty dollars go toward administrative costs, and the rest is deposited in a managed fund.
The grants committee, co-chaired by Bronwyn Belling and Helaine Betnun, has identified four focus areas: education, health and welfare, preventing substance abuse and domestic violence.
The process of grant selection begins, said Betnun, a clinical social worker, when a non-profit organization submits a proposal. The organization may be large or small, well-established or new. It's the extent to which the nonprofit helps the community that interests the giving circle.
The deadline to be considered for one of this year's grants is March 15. The number and monetary value of grants to be given will be determined by the need of the winning applicants, but a grant may be as much as $10,000.
"(The question is) is this money going to make a difference," said Abbie von Schlegell, managing director of theBrakeley Briscoe, a fundraising and management consulting firm, which has a branch in Annapolis. Von Schlegell, an AAWGT member who lives in Illinois, was instrumental in initiating giving circles in that state in the early 1990s.
"The new buzzword in the grant world is 'measurable outcome,'" she said.
Five-member teams of volunteers will review the applications, and members will visit some of the applicants during the selection process.
The entire AAWGT will vote for the finalists at the group's June 13 general meeting. Winners will be notified in mid-June, and grant money will be available July 1.
To ensure the most deserving recipients are selected, monthly meetings are crash courses in civic awareness. Guest speakers, representing state- and county-level service departments, and service organizations like the YWCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs, talk to the general membership about the needs of the county's underprivileged residents.
"These are the people we're listening to," said Brooks, who shares AAWGT co-chairing duties with Gloria Martin-Pressman. "[This knowledge] has impassioned these women who come to the meetings and want to make a difference."
In the past three to five years, the grassroots movement has gained speed. Now there are giving circles throughout the Baltimore and Washington region.
Members of the Baltimore Women's Giving Circle, with more than 250 members who annually give more than $250,000, were instrumental in helping AAWGT get off the ground. Among those members is Sharon Stewart, interim executive director at the Community Foundation of the Chesapeake in Bay Ridge, where AAWGT funds are managed. One of several hundred community foundations across the nation, it is a collection of charitable funds set up by individuals and companies.
"We handle the grant making process; we give advice; we send out grant awards. We're trying to make [philanthropy] easy for the average person," Stewart said. Along with fellow Baltimore Women's Giving Circle member Gail Sanders, she introduced the idea of giving circles to residents of Anne Arundel County when they both moved to the area two years ago.
"[Giving circles] is a way for people to pool their funds," Stewart said. "It allows you to gain a better understanding of needs in the community, and it's a great networking opportunity. It's a lot more fun and a lot more educational than just writing a check [to a particular organization]. It's much more empowering." Brooks agreed."This group is made up of the most amazing women that I've ever met in my whole life," said Brooks. "We had hoped to have 50 to 60 members, but we've exceeded that.
AAWGT meets at the Heritage Center and the Wiley H. Bates Community Center in Annapolis. The group has a mix of different women. Many are still working. Some have started second careers. There are 30-somethings and older. And, young mothers are also members.
Based mostly in Annapolis and Severna Park, with some members in Davidsonville and South County, AAWGT reaches out to women in all parts of the county.
"We're planning for the next 20, 30, 50 years," Brooks said. "We'll hand this down to our daughters."
AAWGT member Mary Osbourn, a mortgage lender, agreed.
"It's all about women helping women."
The next AAWGT meeting is scheduled from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 14 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, room 308, at 801 Chase St. in Annapolis. For more information, call Sharon Stewart at 410-280-1102.
A copy of grant criteria, details and listing of eligible activities can be found at www.givingtogether.org or by contacting the AAWGT grants committee: c/o Community Foundation of the Chesapeake, 914 Bay Ridge Road, Suite 211, Annapolis, MD 21403.