Auckland Communities Foundation Case Study: The Fabulous Ladies Giving Circle

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1 April, 2016 Auckland Communities Foundation Case Study: The Fabulous Ladies Giving Circle Formed in 2013 with four members and a desire to combine their giving power towards a cause they cared about, the Fab Ladies are now 19-strong, have a firm mission, have raised $36,000 and distributed $7,000 to support three young parents to complete their university education by paying for childcare. Academics? Fabulous ladies? Professor Deborah Levy laughs, You don t usually think of academics as fabulous - it s meant to be whimsical. The Fabulous Ladies Giving Circle, or, The Fab Ladies, was established by Levy and her colleges at the University of Auckland Business School as a way to connect. There are a lot of working women who would love to join book clubs or knitting circles, but we just don t have the time to read all the books because we ve got other things to do. With a giving circle, along with a reason to connect came a fun, low-administration way to make an impact in an area they all cared about. There are some incredible women in the Business School, says Levy, We are a cross between academic women and professional women. Doing something with a group of other women has been lovely. It gave us something we can all get excited about. The group is small enough to make important decisions by consensus. One of those decisions was to grow the fund s capital, using its income plus a portion of the capital to give away each year, enabling the fund to exist in perpetuity.

2 We agreed as a group that our overall objective we wanted a big objective would be to reduce child poverty in New Zealand through education. Secondary to that idea, which isn t written in our agreement, was to bring the women of the business school together. The state of our child poverty, says Levy, is a third world embarrassment. You get to an age where you know that unless you re willing to go into politics, you can t make big changes. But you can make little changes. Recently, the Fabulous Ladies helped had a student whose childcare was being refused because of an overdue payment of $250. Levy says that in what could have been a sad case, the intervention allowed the child to stay in childcare with his friends and the mother to continue without her education without disruption. It doesn t t take much to change one person s life. Even if we can help two or three women every year to stop the cycle of poverty - that s what we want to be part of. If you can stop a cycle for even two families, just imagine what changes you can make. Levy says it felt easy with the Auckland Communities Foundation by the group s side handling documentation, money and donations: All you have to do is try and agree on where the money goes. My real fear was touching money I didn t need that in my life, I didn t want that responsibility. The group of women, and some men, set up their weekly donations of $20 each and set about inviting a series of people to talk at their monthly meetings. As the money accrued in the account managed for them by the Auckland Communities Foundation, the group considered ideas such as donating footballs to schools and school gardening programmes. Then it dawned on us: we re women working in the University of Auckland, I know there s real poverty in the student population. Levy s daughter and son had both been welfare officers and she knew some of the stories without knowing names of the hardship experienced, for example, some students from South Auckland have to choose which days of the week they come into university because $50 a week for transport is unaffordable, she says.

3 That s bad enough but what if you re a student and you ve got kids? Childcare is a real problem. By supporting young parents by paying for childcare, the group would achieve its objective by allowing the parent to finish education, and as a secondary benefit, would provide education to the pre-schoolers. With an alliance with Auckland University Student Association and support from Auckland Communities Foundation, a process was quickly established for distributing scholarships with the recipients retaining complete anonymity from their benefactors. We purposely decided not to get close to them; they don t even know who we are. We are just a group of women in the university we don t want anyone to feel that they owe us anything personally. All (the student association) wanted to know was, do you want to do this? and, how much do you want to give? The association developed the process and manages all the scholarship applications. The Fabulous Ladies decided the money would go directly to the childcare providers, or potentially Auckland Transport to pay for a Hop card. We felt strongly about that. We wanted to have absolute control over where the money goes. We all got excited because we could make it happen, says Levy. MORE IMPACT & LESS PRESSURE Before starting the giving circle, Levy gave to several charities through personal giving. I had no idea where it ended up. With her husband Brian and three children, now aged from 22 to 26, Levy had always been involved in her community, and was keen to step up her philanthropic efforts. Her association with the Auckland Communities Foundation went back several years and she had been aware of some of the great community impacts enabled by philanthropy. I used to go to these meetings and hear about all these people, and some families, with money and doing great things. Setting up a family trust didn t appeal: Levy didn t want to add pressure to her children at a stage of their lives while they were all servicing student loans. I just didn t think we could sustain it as a family.

4 While Levy still supports a few charities personally, she says that now, when I get approached in the street I can stand there with my shoulders high and say sorry my philanthropic money is tied up. By the end they say oh, that s so interesting, well done! Good bye. THE VISION What does the future hold for the Fabulous Ladies? As well as cementing the mission to reduce child poverty in New Zealand through education, one individual at a time, Levy says they see the potential of enabling a network of women by becoming an umbrella group for other women s giving circles, each with their own distinct mission. Says Levy: We don t have that social link for women in New Zealand so we can all learn from and support each other. I d like every business in Auckland to have a ladies giving circle and to all meet up under one umbrella. You ve got to be passionate about what your giving circle is all about - for us reducing child poverty. The group also wants to explore supporting teen parents: people who were once teen parents and want to get to university, or young parents at university. DEBORAH S TOP 10 TIPS FOR CREATING A FABULOUS GIVING CIRCLE: 1. A smaller group of between 20 and 25 enables everyone to have input into the decisions 2. Agree as a group, use consensus 3. Be flexible and allow people to come and go as their circumstances change: We ve got women at all salary levels within the business school some have to pull out and come back in when they have kids; the flexibility is really important. 4. Be professional, transparent and be able to back up all your decisions 5. Meet regularly and make it fun, informative and engaging: invite people to come and talk to the group 6. Look for an issue that everybody cares about and take your time to find the right one to support

5 7. Consider who you invite into the circle. There may be people who should be in a different circle, or are better suited to a different way of giving. I don t think giving circles are right for people who want to be in control and aren t prepared to agree on consensus, you ve got to want to be part of a group and be relatively relaxed; as long as you re wanting to make the difference. 8. Include a mix of people, those who want to be relatively hands off and those who want to do the work 9. Create alliances as the Fab Ladies have with AUSA and the Auckland Communities Foundation, who are prepared to be as hands off and as hands on as you want. 10. Don t be in a hurry. Set up your giving circle, start paying, but take your time to get to know each other as a group and listen to each other. Auckland Communities Foundation manages The Fabulous Ladies Giving Circle with all administration, compliance, accountability and fund management. The Fab Ladies are under the umbrella of the Foundation s charitable status. Contact to discuss how Auckland Communities Foundation could support you to set up a giving circle in your workplace or social group and enjoy the social aspect of giving together.

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