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Giving Back: ACT Women of Giving

Beatrice Smith

Giving to those in need is a basic human urge, whether it’s giving someone on the bus the time of day or setting up automatic charitable donations from your savings.

Sometimes, however, the simple urge to give is difficult to action. Who is the most needy? Will my money mean anything? Will it be enough? Will I be able to see results? Should I donate locally or to developing nations?

Lesley Harris, a founding member of new organisation ACT Women of Giving, says that giving can be both a straight forward and incredibly rewarding experience. “[ACT Women of Giving’s] aim is to support community organisations that run initiatives that work to support women and girls in our local region,” explains Lesley.

“We are hoping to attract a diverse range of women located in the ACT & Surrounds who have a common interest in supporting local initiatives, those that would like to feel a closer connection with community and meet like-minded women.”

Lesley says that the ACT Women of Giving group was created after she saw the proven effectiveness of ‘giving circles’ – a grassroots community based organised that pools member’s funds to donate to agreed-upon charities and causes.

Lesley put out the word among women who she thought might be interested in the idea and a few women were invited to an initial chat about the way it might work.

Lesley met Christine Allard over ten years ago when Christine was the CEO of Lesley’s husband then workplace, and Carole Brown, who runs her own business, was a contractor at UC where Lesley was working in 2014. Lesley had received advice from giving circle peers in other states suggesting she should find one or two other women to take on the role as Co Founders. So with the pre text of “I know your both really busy, but would you like to…” Carole and Christine came on board.

“A giving circle is a fairly new trend in Australia, that has been described in Generosity Magazine as the democratisation of philanthropy!” says Lesley. “The Australian Women Donor’s Network describe giving circles as a cross between a between a book club and an investment group, creating a low-key environment for members to learn about and support social issues.”

“Members are able to increase the impact of their individual donations through the multiplier effect of being part of a group. There is also flexibility with regards to the time commitment required, it could be making a donation and a combination, one or none of the following examples: attending a couple of events, researching to find projects to put forward for funding, providing us with a particular skill – or a skill that could benefit our beneficiaries and telling their friends and peers about it.”

Lesley encourages women of all backgrounds and means to look into the benefits of a giving circle, explaining that members don’t have to give every year as “people’s circumstances change” and their aim is to “provide opportunities for giving circle members to connect with the recipients of our donations by giving recipients the opportunities to share their stories of how the donations have made a difference”.

As for which charities ACT Women of Giving will choose, Lesley says it will be local.

“The women I’ve spoken with so far are keen to be involved with an initiative that supports other women in our local community. Our decision to support these types of initiatives is due to overwhelming evidence that investing in women and girls has a flow on effect to families, communities and the environment – therefore, we’re actually supporting our men and boys too, just not as directly!”

On returning to Canberra a few years ago, Lesley noted that there were so many amazing women in this region who are highly creative, entrepreneurial, and who possess community spirit. They know what they want and don’t mind taking a risk or two.

“We’d like to build on that by funding what might be the stepping stones for other females to move further along their journey,” explains Lesley.

“We believe the success of a giving circle is largely reliant on word of mouth, where members share their experiences of being in the group with their peers. Our vision is for the group to grow organically, we want people to join for the right reasons, because it’s the right giving model for them.”

ACT of Women Giving plans to make one annual donation later in 2016, and this will be reviewed as time goes on, depending on our rate of growth. As for the actual amount of funds asked by the organisation to join; “we have three tiers of giving starting at $250 per year, $500 and $1,000 because we wanted to make it accessible to women of varying financial capacity to give,” says Lesley.

Lesley, Christine and Carole are launching ACT Women of Giving at the Australian National University on 28 January with speaker Louise Curtis. “We’re really looking forward to meeting each other’s connections and catching up with or own!” says Lesley.

“The launch is about further explaining our vision, and what the giving circle model is all about. We plan to talk about giving circles in other states, and the type of initiatives they have been funding. We have a special guest speaker Louise Curtis, Winner of many business awards to include 2013 Telstra ACT Business Women’s Awards in the Business Owner category, Louise is a great fit, as she is inspiring as a business woman and is also involved in community initiatives.”

“The evening will provide like-minded women with the opportunity to connect and network. We are hoping women will leave feeling they have learned something about this philanthropic model and it’s benefits, making one or two connections and a sense that they would like to tell their friends about it!”

More information about ACT Women of Giving can be found here and tickets to the ACT Women of Giving launch at ANU on 28 January can be purchased here.

Image of ‘friends holding hands‘ via Shutterstock 


Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Online Editor involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise, you’ll find her at the movies or ordering a cheese board. More about the Author