Members from several different area women’s giving groups were on hand at the recent Philanos PowerUP! Baltimore conference. (Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County photo)

Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz wants the local business community to understand one thing about the recent women’s giving network national conference in Baltimore.

“That was a big deal,” said Beaudoin-Schwartz, executive director of the Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County. She said about 325 attendees took part in the seminars and networking at the Philanos PowerUP!: The Spark Igniting Collaboration conference.

Philanos, a women’s giving network, has about 90 affiliates and typically brings philanthropy professionals together every 18 months. However, due to the pandemic, the recent meeting was the organization’s first event since February 2020 in Seattle.

Philanos targeting the local market was also noteworthy because the Baltimore-Washington region “has many long-tenured giving circles,” said Beaudoin-Schwartz, “and a long, rich history of philanthropic cooperative and partnership.”

All for one

Philanos coming to Baltimore, said Beaudoin-Schwartz, “also marked the first time Philanos worked with more than one giving circle in an area where they’ve held the conference.

“We had eight different regional and local giving circles, and two philanthropic networks, represented under one roof,” she said. They included DMV Collective Giving Network, Giving Together of Greater Washington, Many Hands DC, Maryland Philanthropic Network, Women’s Giving Circle Harford County, Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle and Anne Arundel Women Giving Together, along with Beaudoin Schwartz’s Howard County-based organization.

“That was so exciting for our community, because our regional organizations have been working, learning, networking, sharing and growing for many years,” she said. “We’ve done it all together ― except for hosting a national event of such magnitude.”
The result was “a big deal, too,” she said. “It marked three days of various opportunities for professionals from all over the country to share best practices, network and learn how to grow their own women’s giving networks.”

Much of what was learned, Beaudoin-Schwartz said, “focused on equity, diversity and inclusion in terms of themes that are very important for our circle and around the country, as well as the mechanics of how giving circles work, from the membership and grants perspective.”

Solid numbers

While giving Beaudoin-Schwartz credit for bringing the giving organizations together, Michelle Hellstern, vice president-elect and chair of the Leadership Development and Nominating Committee for Anne Arundel Women Giving Together, pointed out the Philanos PowerUP! Conference attracted “the largest women’s collective giving group in the U.S.”

Hellstern pointed to some recent numbers to illustrate her 305 member-organization’s contributions to the community.

“Since 2006, we’ve awarded more than $1.7 million to 52 local nonprofits serving women and families in Anne Arundel County,” she said. “In 2023, we awarded $164,305 in grants to nine local nonprofits out of more than 60 applicants.”

Given that impact, AAWGT partnering “with the lead host Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County and our sister circles in the region means making a greater impact. That’s why we continue to foster our partnerships while we learn from each other and expand our networks,” Hellstern said. “Now, we’re going to work with leaders from across the country.”

The synergies created by such meetings are the focus of Maggie Glasgow, co-chair of the Greenville (South Carolina) Women’s Giving Chapter of Philanos, which is one of 92 affiliates across the U.S. that, taken together, total more than 20,000 members.

Like Beaudoin-Schwartz and Hellstern, Glasgow is looking forward to returning to the regular 18-month schedule. “With our many local and regional affiliates, Baltimore offered easy access for most of the Northeast and Southeast corridors,” she said. “We were looking for an East Coast setting.”

She added that the women’s giving groups have spread as far as the United Kingdom and Australia, and that the concept was a hit from the time it started in Seattle about 20 years ago.

“(Philanos founder) Colleen Willoughby was a friend of (Microsoft founder) Bill Gates’ father (Bill Sr.) and served on some boards with him,” Glasgow said. “The elder Gates told him that many board decisions were made without women in the room, so he encouraged her to start Women’s Collective Giving Grantmaking Network,” which is now known as Philanos.”

Glasgow said that the Baltimore event “was very important, since we talked about inclusion and diversity, as well as trust-based philanthropy, which concerns working with nonprofits and their clienteles to ensure that you’re offering what the community needs.”

Another level

Hellstern said her best takeaway from the conference was fostering so many new relationships.

“Now, we can pick up the phone and work with national partners and ask how to address various situations and brainstorm on creative ways,” she said, “to enhance membership, distribute grants, educational efforts and programming.

“And now,” Hellstern said, “we’ll be able to do it on a national level, especially since we’re all affiliated with Philanos. It’s a massive difference to be able to foster these relationships again by taking advantage of that in-person connection.”

Such an appreciation of the event moved Beaudoin-Schwartz to reflect on her long career in philanthropy.

“When I speak about The Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County, I often think back to an event that took place 23 years ago when I worked in communications for the Maryland Philanthropy Network,” she said. “It was designed to bring women from different counties together so they could pool their money and apply for grants, which gave all concerned a better understanding of the impact of their numbers.”

The Philanos PowerUP! Baltimore, she said, took those synergies to the next level.
“It underscored the theme of collaboration,” said Beaudoin-Schwartz, “and having a greater impact together than we might have alone.”