The Impact of Impact

Below are remarks from Margarethe Laurenzi, the Community Foundation’s Director of Leadership Grantmaking & Engagement, at Bell Works’ International Women’s Day forum on March 8, 2018.


I’m delighted to be here with you on International Women’s Day to celebrate the impact that women are having across the globe.

I’m here today to spend a few minutes framing out the role of women in the philanthropic sector. I share my perspective as director of grantmaking and engagement at the Community Foundation of New Jersey.  For almost 40 years now, the Community Foundation has sought to connect generous philanthropists to the great work of the non-profit, independent sector across our state.  We hold about a half billion dollars in some 1,100 unique funds, and seek to help donors make the most of their charitable giving today and long into the future.  We are also active in building up a culture of philanthropy and are the proud hosts of 4 amazing groups of women, who have joined together to establish Impact 100 giving circles and to make high impact grants to fund innovative programs.   Impact100 Jersey Coast is the reason I am here today.

I want to start my remarks about women in philanthropy by asking you to take a moment to think back to a time in your life – maybe from childhood or more recently—and try to remember:  When was the first time you performed an act of giving, or were asked to give to a cause?    What do you remember about that moment?  How old were you?  Where were you?  What was that experience like — giving something of yours to someone else?

Did you carry those little orange boxes to “Trick or Treat” for UNICEF?  Did you collect loose change for your tzedakah box or Lenten rice bowl?

What about Girl Scout Cookies? What about the first time someone asked you to race for the cure of something:  breast cancer or Alzheimers?  How many of you set up teams and sent in funds to give to a particular passion of yours?

I remember one of my first acts of giving. I was a Bluebird, a young Campfire Girl. I was probably eight.  We were asked to gather up provisions to ‘share’ Thanksgiving with some families who lived on the Tuscarora Indian reservation close to where I grew up outside of Buffalo New York.

I had never been there before, but I had imagined what it must be like.  Beautiful country side with traditional Iroquois longhouses and Tuscaroran families out and about, living close to nature.  At the time, I already knew a good deal about the Iroquois, and I loved Indian folklore.  I was truly excited to ‘share Thanksgiving’ with some real Tuscarorans.  We bundled up boxes of canned goods and rode out in our mother’s station wagons to make our drop off.

What I found that day on the reservation was quite different from what I had imagined.  It was desolate.  Little, tired houses were spread out along a dusty road.  No one seemed to be anywhere in sight.  We left our boxes of food on the back porches of houses that looked more like this one, not the longhouse of my imagination.  I remember one older woman coming to the door one time.  I still remember feeling so sad to realize that how poor she was and how very different it was from the mighty Tuscarora nation I had read about.

The kind of awareness I confronted that day stays with me to this day.  Just when I think I’ve figured things out, I learn about a new need or a new group of people who have not been quite so fortunate as I have, and it fuels the work I do, and the gifts of time, talent and treasure I make.

Women all over the world each have their own reasons for giving of themselves and asking others to join them.  And women all over the world have stepped up to make giving a central part of who they are and how they live their lives.

Women are a formidable and growing force for good in the philanthropic sector.  Women are on course to control one third of all personal wealth in the nation, and with the trifecta of earning their own incomes, and inheriting wealth from their parents and their spouses (by nature of their longevity), women have become and will become major decision makers in how philanthropic dollars will be spent over the next 20 years.

Did you know that, across the nation:

  • Women control 60 percent of all personal wealth in the US?
  • Women own 40 percent of all privately held businesses, and control just over half of all US stock in publicly traded companies?
  • Women who are 50 and older have a combined net worth of $19 trillion?
  • And by 2025, 60 percent of all billionaires will be women?

That is a lot of financial woman-power!

Last March, I attended DREAM DARE DO, a national conference in Chicago focused on women and philanthropy.  I met some of the singular women who have led the charge to build up a culture of philanthropy supporting gender equality – championing causes for women and girls, in particular.  Women from the Global Fund for Women, from the Asian Women Giving Circle, from the group Women Moving Millions.  WMM members contribute a minimum of $1 million, and they have inspired over 230 members who have pledged more than $600 million since 2007 to enhance the lives of women and girls.  And what I learned is that you all – we all – are part of something that reaches far beyond our state borders.

The Impact 100 women who have formed one kind of giving circle sit squarely in the middle of a national trend where Giving Circles

  • Have tripled in number since 2007,
  • Have granted more than $1.3 billion.
  • Engage a diverse group of donors
  • And where women form a majority in 70 percent of Giving Circles nationwide.

In New Jersey, we now have

  • 4 Impact 100 giving circles established in 5 years
  • Collectively, the first two – Garden State and Jersey Coast – have given $1.4 million dollars in high impact grants to 14 non profits
  • There are more than 700 women who are members
  • And they are all informed, engaged philanthropists!

How many of you here tonight are part of an Impact100?   We’ll be seeing a little more about your work in a few minutes.

Many of you have been giving of yourselves for a very long time, but what is unique about this enterprise is that you are joining forces with other women to do good.

It means that you trust in the collective decision-making of a large group of women and accept the notion that together, you can have greater impact than if you act alone.

It means that you are willing to be part of a process that raises awareness of such critical issues/projects as: veterans’ healing, food insecurity, helping at-risk youth gain a foothold in adulthood, empowering low-income, illiterate women with new skills, and providing shelter and services to survivors of domestic violence, to name a few.  All of these projects are ones that might never otherwise have seen the light of day.

And, it means providing a mechanism for hundreds of women to learn about the independent or non-profit sector that makes our communities the wonderful places they are or strive to be.

That collective voice is a powerful one.   Women, joined together, can exert impact.  We’ve seen it time and again over our history, and that force for good has all kinds of positive reverberations in the current social and political climate.

I believe in the model of women from different communities in our state coming together to share their resources, interests, and commitments to others. I believe that women from different walks of life can find common cause in this philanthropic work, unite behind a single goal, and in so doing, bridge the many divides we face as a nation.

And so, I wonder:  What or who moves you to give?  What or who moves you to ask others to join you?

Maybe, at the heart of it all is the question we ask ourselves day in and day out, standing in front of the mirror as we try to make sense of who we are, what we have, and what we can give…  What can I do?  What can I give… What will your impact be?