A Note From a Founder
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
In November, 1998, I read in People Magazine about Colleen Willoughby who had, with a few friends, started a philanthropic women’s group called Washington Women’s Foundation (WWF). Their organization and their mission were so straightforward, effective and inclusive, that I thought: Why can’t we replicate something like that in NYC?
So, after talking with Colleen, I called two of my like-minded friends, Rose-Lee Reinhard and Franny Eberhart, and we spent part of the summer of 1999 organizing what would become WellMet. The Troika, as we called ourselves, realized early on that we needed an outside partner to help us manage financial records and vet candidates, as well as to give us gravitas, so we turned to The New York Community Trust, which remains our wonderful partner.
Here’s how the Seattle-based WWF originally organized itself. Each participant pledged $2,000/year. $1,000 can go to a charity anywhere in the world of the member’s choosing. The other $1,000 is pooled to be given out in grants up to $100,000 to local Seattle 501(c)(3)s. The final grantees are voted on by the full membership.
The beauty of this structure initiated by the Seattle ladies is that it is a template that can be tailored in all sorts of different ways and it has been! It turns out that a dozen or so women like me had read that original article and started similar groups – in Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, California, Massachusetts and Minnesota. A few are now over a thousand members, most have annual dues that are less than ours. Others have extensive education programs to offer their membership. Some are professionally run and some, like ours, depend on volunteers. But each group not only consistently listens to and serves the pressing social needs in its own community but also trains future hands-on philanthropists.
Each group not only consistently listens to and serves the pressing social needs in its own community, but also trains future hands-on philanthropists.”
Here’s how WellMet has used WWF’s template. Our membership varies, but is, on average, around 30 women, of all ages and backgrounds, contributing dues of $5,000 annually. WellMet grants, which are one-time only, run from $2,500-$25,000 and each May, are given to about ten 501(c)(3)s, all of which must be based in New York City. We keep meetings to only 4 a year plus one site visit.
Our biggest challenge in those early days was to decide upon our focus: whom should we support and where could we truly make a difference? Given that there are a LOT of charitable organizations in New York, we needed to find our own special niche. So we decided to target fledgling organizations still too small and untested to attract larger foundations. Not only does our grant give a nascent organization time to find its voice and its balance but it also provides that new kid on the block an endorsement, so that their next grant application will have a bit more muscle, a bit more credibility. We were told early on by The Robin Hood Foundation that we are one of the few NYC groups to target and support this vulnerable, but oh-so-valuable class of charities.
By 2007, we had given out $1,000,000 and in 2019, we are looking at reaching our $3,000,000 mark. It is deeply fulfilling to serve our larger New York community. And of course, our own lives are immeasurably enriched as well. Philanthropy is a wonderful addiction. We recommend it highly.
— Deborah McManus