Women’s philanthropy in Minnesota gets another boost

Pass the hat, because groups like The Power of 100 have plenty to give.


Marcy Frost had the honor of drawing one of three charities to be considered during a recent Power of 100 meeting.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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The nearly 100 women who filled a room at a suburban community center recently were generally well-off, professional — and philanthropic go-getters.

Thanks to a fish bowl, short-winded speeches and swiftly written checks, they earmarked $10,000 within an hour to a charity that improves the lives of families with very sick children.

This is the Power of 100, a group of women philanthropists who are doing charity their own way. Launched last September, it nearly instantly pulled together 100 members who pledged to donate $100 four times a year for a shared donation.

The group’s sudden success underscores women’s growing economic clout in philanthropy, said Lee Roper-Batker, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.

“One year ago, we had 65 people show up for our first meeting; now we have closer to 120,” co-founder Diane Kuehn told the women assembled.

“We come from all over the metro, from 28 cities — from Orono to ­Minnetrista to Woodbury. We’ve donated just under $40,000 to date.”

Kuehn was among about a half-dozen women, mainly from the Shoreview area, who launched the Power of 100 a year ago. They expected that 30 or 40 women would show up. But by the second meeting, 100 women poured in.

New model of giving

Pam Maccani, a Shoreview mother who came up with the idea, said she borrowed the model from similar philanthropies in such cities as Cleveland; Des Moines; Santa Fe, N.M.; and Grand Rapids, Mich.

Unlike many grant makers, The Power of 100 doesn’t visit the charity it funds, doesn’t interview staff members, doesn’t wait for approvals from boards of directors. Members make decisions on the spot.
Despite its big donations, it is decidedly low tech. Only checks are accepted, because they can be forwarded with no fuss to the ­charity. Leaders pass a hat to pay for the meeting room rental. A glass fish bowl holds the charity choices.

Such informal giving is a growing trend in women’s philanthropy, said Debra Mesch, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. Many women prefer unstructured ways to donate, she said. And they like a networking or social component to their giving.

“Women like to do their philanthropy collectively and collaboratively,” said Mesch. “Grass-roots groups like this are happening all across the country.”

The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has an affiliated “giving circle” — a group that pools its money for a cause — called Women of ­Influence, with about 30 to 40 members who each donate $1,000 a year, said Roper-Batker. They donated $29,300 last year for programs helping women and girls.

The Power of 100 also focuses on family and children’s causes.

“It’s a great way for people to get educated about community issues,” said Roper-Batker. “It’s also a great leadership opportunity. They [the women] have to research an organization, make a presentation and learn about critical issues facing their ­community.”

How it works

On a recent Monday night, a stream of women headed to the meeting room at the New Brighton Community Center. They signed in, grabbed a ballot and headed to the fish bowl on the table. Each jotted down the name of her favorite charity and stuffed it into the bowl.

After everyone took their seats, Power of 100 leaders passed the glass bowl through the audience, and three people stuck their hands in and pulled out the finalists. The folks who nominated the charities gave five-minute presentations. Then the women marked their ballots.

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