Power Up! Women Collective Givers Meet In Washington, 2020

Image: Catalist members Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, Laura Midgley, Colleen Willoughby, Jenny Berg, Paula Liang, Virginia Mills, Susan Benford and Hali Lee (Photo credit: Catalist)

Big news for giving circle members and fans: The Catalist 2020 National Conference will be held from Feb. 23 to the 25 in Seattle, Washington. Catalist is a network and umbrella organization for women’s collective-giving grantmaking organizations. The conference will be hosted at the Motif Hotel by the Washington Women’s Foundation (WaWF), a Catalist member organization that will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The WaWF is a fitting host for the 2020 conference, because it was launched by Catalist founding board member Colleen Willoughby in 1995. And, in 2009, Willoughby brought together collective giving leaders from across the U.S., spurring the creation of the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network (WCGN), now Catalist.

Catalist defines collective giving grantmaking as “a rapidly growing grassroots philanthropic movement that empowers women to join together, invest their financial resources and strengthen their communities.” Groups that carry out this type of philanthropy, AKA giving circles, are often women-led and women-centric, though many serve and welcome other groups of people.

“While some Catalist affiliates do count men among their membership or have a special ally type of category, our goal is to support the creation, development and expansion of the women’s collective giving movement,” Paula Liang, who will be Catalist chair for the years 2020-2022, tells Philanthropy Women. Liang is a member of the Women’s Giving Alliance in Jacksonville and Impact100 in Palm Beach County.

Catalist has 67 affiliates in the U.S. and Australia, and a membership of more than 17,000 women. It aims to connect, educate and inspire women philanthropists and foster informed collective grantmaking through webinars, conferences, online forums and one-on-one mentoring. Member organizations pay $200 a year to support Catalist programming.

Catalist has been organizing national conferences since 2011, and the 2018 conference in Philadelphia sold out for the first time. The theme for the upcoming Catalist conference is, “PowerUP!: The Spark that Ignites Change.” Catalist “intends to create a space and environment for all who identify as women to bring their authentic and full selves to learn and build new relationships.” Tricia Raikes, co-founder of the Raikes Foundation and WaWF member, will be the keynote speaker.

The conference has three stated goals: to inform, to influence and to be inclusive. Expected conference learning and experiential takeaways span topics like inclusive movement building; starting or revving up inclusion work within various aspects, relationships and structures of an organization; and personal growth as a philanthropist, “so you are inspired, informed and equipped to lead change in your community.”

Why is inclusion important to this movement and organization at this juncture?

Laura Midgley, 2020 conference co-chair and WaWF member, says “as women realize our power through collective giving and informed grantmaking, we have woken up to the need to emphasize equity; to elevate voices that are misunderstood, not heard and often not considered until some current event elevates them.” She adds Catalist members “can only improve our mindset and grantmaking if we constantly include diverse points of view.”

A 2016 study estimated giving circles have granted up to $1.29 billion in total since their inception. These collective giving groups engage tens of thousands of people and dole out tens of millions annually. Catalist affiliates have awarded more than $125 million in grants since 1995. Liang explains some of the benefits of this style of giving for women:

Certainly, friendships are formed, and the sisterhood is a wonderful side benefit but, primarily, a member’s view of philanthropy is completely transformed by being part of a larger process… when we pool our dollars, our knowledge, our contacts and our skills, the grants that result are more informed, more influential and more impactful.