Women’s Giving Circle Aims for Accessible Philanthropy

MANKATO FREE PRESS, Mankato, MN (October 4, 2019) — Melanie VanRoekel and Laura Stevens sat down for coffee in December to consider how they could bring philanthropic-minded women in Mankato together.

“We just started talking about how as women we both feel like we do a lot of giving of our time and talents, but we felt disconnected from other people doing it,” she said. “So how can we come together and amplify our giving?”

Their idea: Establish a giving circle for area women.

The new concept in Mankato pools together funding from women donors, then democratizes how to use it. After enlisting 80 members since December, the Women’s Giving Circle will launch Wednesday at an inaugural gathering.

VanRoekel and Stevens, both involved in Mankato nonprofits, plan to recruit 100 members donating $100 quarterly to women and girls programming in the area. They also want it to be accessible, so members younger than age 30 can give $50 quarterly. Groups of up to four women could even combine on the $100 with the partners sharing one vote for which projects the money funds.

“We wanted to create a really inclusive group where we could talk about how philanthropy isn’t just for people who have millions of dollars,” said VanRoekel, board chair at the Mankato Area Foundation.

Stevens, interim executive director at the YWCA Mankato, first heard about the idea at a conference years ago, learning the funds are typically hosted by community foundations. She said she had it tucked in the back of her mind until coffee with VanRoekel.

The Mankato Area Foundation will host the fund, handling the behind-the-scenes work while the women spread the word and recruit members.

President and CEO Nancy Zallek said she knows of giving circles in the Twin Cities and was happy to see the local women bring the idea to Mankato.

“What a great concept, to have 100 women in a room talking about the local nonprofit community and what their charitable dollars can do,” she said.

She expects other giving circles to pop up in short order. A men’s giving circle and another for young philanthropists look most likely to come next.

VanRoekel certainly hopes it inspires more giving circles, whether it spins off from the women’s circle or starts organically. The Women’s Giving Circle won’t be limited to 100 people, so extra members could either strengthen donations or lend themselves to a second circle.

“We’re hoping that people love the idea and hoping some men get excited and start their own giving circle,” she said.

The group will nominate ideas for the funding on the circle's website each quarter before finalists are randomly selected. Women will pitch the final ideas, followed by a vote.

Members who can’t attend will weigh in online. It's a fun way to involve women in the charitable giving process, Stevens said.

“My hope is just to get more women engaged in philanthropy," she said. "Fundraising and philanthropy are big passions of mine, and I think you can get a lot of joy out of it."

The annual donation goal is $40,000 based on 100 members donating the $400. VanRoekel said she and Stevens envision a day where they top $1 million in total donations to nonprofits benefiting women and girls.

The kickoff meeting Wednesday will be from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the Kato Ballroom. A social hour beforehand will be 4:30-5:30 p.m.

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