Rhiannon, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Woodstock, Illinois, a small town 60 miles from Chicago and close to the Wisconsin border. I graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington and consider going to this university one of the best choices I made in my life. I’ve lived in Chicago since graduating from college and have very bittersweet feelings about leaving to take this great job in Oakland, California. I have to admit, the snow we just got is easing some of that sadness.
I am motivated by a strong desire to make my community a better place and to fight the injustices women and girls face. I grew up in a family of very strong women, led by my grandmother Genevieve who has dedicated her life to quietly helping others.
I remember asking her what inspired her philanthropy and she told me about the time she found herself a widowed mother of five and in need of help. Her parish priest helped her out by giving her some money. When she told him that she didn’t know when she would be able to repay him, he told her not to worry about it and to just do the same for someone else when she was in the position to do so. She hasn’t stopped helping others since that day.
You come to us from the Chicago Foundation for Women. What was your proudest moment at CFW?
There were so many wonderful moments so I have to give you two examples.
One was collaborating with one of our board members to establish CFW’s first Giving Circle. Our goal was to expand CFW’s philanthropic reach into the northern suburbs of Chicago, but we didn’t know if people would be interested. We worked closely to establish the leadership, craft the messaging and invite the right women to attend our information session. Our three incredible co-chairs reached out to their networks and in its inaugural year the Circle had 20 members and granted out $50,000! The Circle is now in its second year, they have very low attrition, they grew their membership to 30 and are now on track to grant out $75,000 in their second year!
Second had nothing to do with me. Every year CFW hosts its Annual Luncheon, their largest fundraiser. Two thousand people attend every year and of course they make an ask. Two years ago a member of the LBTQ Giving Council made the ask. She was 26 years old and got up and told everyone that she is a philanthropist. She explained that although she is young and may not be able to donate tens of thousands of dollars, she is still a philanthropist “because you do not need to be wealthy to be a philanthropist.”
[quote_center]This is so important: philanthropy isn’t about how much money you’re giving, but that you are giving.[/quote_center]
Regardless of what you are giving, whether it’s your time, talent or treasure, all of it is important to the work we do. This is at the core of community philanthropy.
It made me happy to see her up there inspiring women who didn’t see themselves as philanthropists, making them rethink their idea of philanthropy and their role in it.
Your new role at the Foundation is Program Officer, Philanthropic Engagement. Tell us about your role.
I will be managing the Foundation’s philanthropic partners, which include the Foundation’s Giving Circle Network members and Donor Advised Funds. Currently, the Foundation partners with six Giving Circles and four Donor Advised Funds.
I will be working to maximize the Foundation’s network of philanthropists, create a culture of giving and enhance the impact of their collective giving and grantmaking—all with the goal of advancing the economic security of women and families in California. I’m very excited to begin this work!
What is your vision for our Giving Circle Network?
I wish to strengthen the partnership between the Network and the Foundation and the partnerships between the Giving Circles themselves. I want to create opportunities for the members to learn from one another and share the important work they’re doing in their communities.
What excites you the most about working at the Foundation?
I look forward to working with women philanthropists from all over the state who are using strategic grantmaking and investing in the solutions to the issues women and families in California are facing.
If you had to describe women’s giving circles in one paragraph, what would you say?
Women’s giving circles are an opportunity for socially-minded women to come together and make a difference in their communities.
Giving circles allow women to be strategic and have greater impact with their giving. Another great thing about giving circles is that the members get to decide how involved they wish to be. They can choose to make a donation and be done or they can choose to participate in site visits or volunteer with their grant partners.
Why should anybody join a women’s giving circle?
Giving circles allow women to be strategic and collaborative in their philanthropy. The members come together and work together to make strategic decisions about their collective giving and the impact it will have in their communities. And that’s incredible. And I’ve seen it result in real social change.