Greater Twin Cities United Way ‘giving communities’ meld personal passions with philanthropy

August 30, 2018

Joe Rayburn came out as gay to his parents at age 16. His announcement was met with love and support, but Rayburn said he knows too many LGBTQ teens are shown the door and left struggling to find a safe place to lay their heads at night.

Thats why he joined Arise Project, one of Greater Twin Cities United Ways giving communities focused on issues near and dear to members in his case, charities that help homeless LGBTQ youth.

This is about giving where your heart is, Rayburn said. These are programs that resonate with me as a person.

United Way hosts four giving communities, including one focused womens financial stability and another catering to young professionals who want to dive deeper into philanthropy. Officials with the nonprofit, which has struggled with declining donations in recent years, believe these groups that meld philanthropy, personal passions and networking opportunities, are a critical part of its future. They have helped United Way create connections with individuals that transcend the its traditional workplace giving.

People want to unite around something, said Carrie Chang, United Way vice president of donor engagement. Now, giving communities are so timely and relevant and make so much sense.

The concept is gaining popularity nationwide. The number of organizations that host giving groups defined as highly flexible, democratic, do-it-yourself vehicles for giving has double in the past decade to 1,600, according to a 2016 study by the Collective Giving Research Group with funding from the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation.

Nearly 60 percent are formed around a particular identity and the estimated 150,000 giving circle members tend to be highly engaged in volunteering, donating and helping to lead the group.

The giving communities also provide donors with more control by allowing liked-minded people to pool their donations, research charities and make grants. Throughout the year, the groups host cocktail hours and other fun events. Arise hosts an annual Twin Cities Pride Parade viewing fundraising party.

United Way staff helps with research, event planning and other logistics.

I am doing good by giving to those causes, but there is something for me too, said Aimee Norasingh, a manager in financial services and a member of Women United. Ive built some long-lasting relationships. Its nice to broaden my network of moms and women in general.

Its so inspiring

More than 100 professional women filled a party room at Crave American Kitchen Sushi Bar in St. Louis Park for a recent Women United meeting. They sipped wine and cocktails and nibbled on appetizers while hearing from the latest speaker in the groups executive leadership series. They also discussed the groups giving and other business.

Each United Way giving group sets its own membership guidelines and their own giving priorities. They review applications for grants and tour the nonprofits receiving those dollars.

Women United asks each member to give at least $1,000 a year, which equals about $80 a month. Women United has about 200 members and gives away between $250,000 and $300,000 in grants a year. Arise, which has 100 members, requires a $500 annual contribution.

Sheri McGrath, a bank vice president, said she grew up in a family where money was a near constant worry. Thats what compelled her to join the Womens United Group, which jump-started her philanthropy.

I grew up with a single mom, so financial stability for women really resonated me. I am personally passionate about it, McGrath said.

One year, the group supported the International Institute of Minnesota, which is focused on helping immigrant and refugee women who have traditionally worked in housekeeping become supervisors in the hospitality industry. The group also support scholarships for Montessori teachers.

When you can see and meet people that have been impacted, its not a faceless thing any more. Its people you walk next to everyday, McGrath said. Its so inspiring.

Chang, who is also a member of Women United, said many giving community members share that sentiment and appreciate the focused giving.

It opens their eyes. They tend to give at higher levels because there is a compelling reason to step up, Chang said. There is a higher likelihood they will stay a donor.

Shannon Prather 612-673-4804

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