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Sunday, 10 January 2016 22:36

Women’s group aims to grow members, charitable impact in greater Grand Rapids

Written by  Josh Veal
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At its inaugural meeting in October, Greater Grand Rapids 100 Women Who Care raised $4,700 for the local American Heart Association from 50 participants. In 2016, the group hopes to at least double its number of members and broaden its impact to nonprofits in the region. Three nonprofits are selected quarterly to pitch the group of women for donations. The winner gets a $100 check from each member in attendance. At its inaugural meeting in October, Greater Grand Rapids 100 Women Who Care raised $4,700 for the local American Heart Association from 50 participants. In 2016, the group hopes to at least double its number of members and broaden its impact to nonprofits in the region. Three nonprofits are selected quarterly to pitch the group of women for donations. The winner gets a $100 check from each member in attendance. COURTESY PHOTO

GRAND RAPIDS — A group of Grand Rapids women who pooled their funds to make a collective charitable donation last year hope to build off the success of their initial event and make more lasting impacts in the community.

While the inaugural quarterly meeting of the Greater Grand Rapids 100 Women Who Care raised $4,700 for the local American Heart Association in just one night, the group wants to “at least double” its ranks in 2016 from the initial 50 women who participated in the October event.

“With more than 630,000 people in Kent County, we should be able to do that, but the quicker, the better,” said Lorie Munson, one of three co-founders of the new philanthropic group.

The group 100 Women Who Care was founded in Jackson, Mich. nine years ago by the late Karen Dunigan. Since then, the organization has expanded to more than 350 chapters worldwide.

While predating the recent popularity of crowdfunding, Dunigan’s initial idea worked under the same principle, that convincing a large group of people to give small amounts of money can be far more attainable than securing large donations from just a handful of people.

The organization doesn’t intend to ask much of its members. Each woman is expected to give only $100 to the night’s cause and attend meetings four times per year. The goal is to make participation as effortless as possible.

“Women are very busy. Everybody’s busy, but women are busy because they multitask and take care of their families and everybody else,” Munson said. “I think the appeal is that they get to come once every three months for a very minimal amount of time — two hours max — and then give back in a way that is meaningful and substantial.”

Having a consistent format helps ensure an efficient process, Munson said. First, members nominate nonprofits that they would like to receive support. Then, three of the nonprofit nominees are selected randomly before going through a vetting process to be given a chance to present at the next meeting.

“They have to be in Kent County, be a 501(c)(3) and have been open for one year,” Munson said of the criteria. “They have to have brick-and-mortar here.”

As soon as the selection process is complete, the members and organizations are informed of the upcoming meeting’s presenters, allowing time for research and preparation. At the meeting itself, each nonprofit is given five minutes to articulate its mission and exactly what the funding would be used for, followed by a five-minute Q&A session.

Afterward, attendees vote anonymously for the nonprofit of their choice. Ballots are counted and the recipient is announced. Each woman writes out a check for $100 and the meeting concludes.

The American Heart Association in Grand Rapids, Family Futures and Grand Rapids Opportunities For Women all presented at the greater Grand Rapids chapter’s inaugural meeting. The women ultimately selected the American Heart Association as the recipient of the funds.

“The presenter from American Heart Association brought a personal side to the story and why she was so passionate about the project,” Munson said. “All three were outstanding but (American Heart Association) knew exactly how their funding was going to be used.”

The funding will go toward the CPR in Schools initiative, the goal of which is to prepare young students to react to a cardiac arrest situation.

“Having students know CPR can make a huge difference because a lot of sudden cardiac arrests occur in the home or when out with loved ones,” said Cindy Bouma, communications director for the American Heart Association in West Michigan.

Students will learn a variety of strategies, including the use of CPR, the importance of getting help and the workings of an automatic external defibrillator (AED). The goal is for as many students as possible to feel empowered to act in an emergency situation, thus improving survival rates in the community, Bouma said.

While the American Heart Association is a larger nonprofit, any new funding is beneficial to the group’s mission, and Bouma believes the Women Who Care model will prove to be a helpful form of alternative fundraising especially for smaller organizations.

“They may not have their marketing systems in place or the fundraising staff to go after big donations,” Bouma said. “I think groups like that will benefit hugely from this project.”

The greater Grand Rapids chapter was founded by Munson, Shari McShane and Becky Puckett-Wood after they learned of 100 Women Who Care from a group of friends who founded the Kalamazoo chapter in 2013. Since then, the Kalamazoo chapter has grown to approximately 175 women and raised more than $200,000 for various local nonprofits. Munson expects to mimic that growth in Grand Rapids in the following years.

“There’s 638,000 people in Kent County and over 4,000 nonprofits to support, so getting 100 women should not be that difficult,” Munson said.

Once initiated, members of the group are often motivated independently to donate more time and funds in other ways. Munson encourages members to do so, but remains adamant in retaining the tried-and-true format that’s worked for the Women Who Care model.

Similarly, while the greater Grand Rapids chapter does remain exclusive to women, Munson is glad to see various other forms of the organization spreading as well.

“It’s not a boy-hater club or anything,” Munson said. “There are other chapters that are men, couples or just employees of one company. We encourage other chapters and diversity.”

Within her own chapter, Munson sees inclusivity as the key to growing at a successful rate.

“The three of us are pretty normal with decent jobs. We’re not millionaires by any stretch,” Munson said. “We just wanted to be able to empower other women to give back and have us be the inspiration because we’re pretty normal ourselves. It’s not really a tea club as much as it is a way to give back, and we’re just a little social along the way.”

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