Fifteen women, of different ages and professions, gathered together early on May 9 at the Northfield Community Resource Center for a monthly meeting.

Although the conversations drifted from scholarships, to youth directors and grants recipients, there was one theme across all topics. How do we make Northfield a better community for women and youth?

Women in Northfield Giving Support, also known as WINGS, is a local group that educates and expands the number of women in philanthropy by building and strengthening the community through pooled investments and focused giving intended to improve the lives of women and children in the Northfield area.

Monthly board meetings help subcommittees and its more than 200 members understand the organization's current goals as well as how WINGS is making an impact on their community. But the meetings are just one small aspect of this female-driven group and its mission in the city of Northfield.

Prepared for flight

The group started as a coincidental meeting of five Northfield women at the “Women in Philanthropy” conference in Minneapolis. The small group of ladies took the chance to discuss ways to create a similar philanthropic group in Northfield and a desire to fill a need in the community which had not been met with traditional organizations, but focusing on women and youth. Without realizing, the women slowly grew the seed for the future WINGS organization.

In 2000, about 60 women "founded" Women in Northfield Giving Support. They were asked to pledge to a three-year annual commitment of $1,000, either by giving individually or as part of a giving circle.

“The enthusiasm we generated in the first year really sparked the success of WINGS," said founding member and the first WINGS president, Catherine McBride. "Having both an annual fund and an endowment fund made a huge impact because we gave grants the first year and we became a major player in town quickly.”

The goal was to collaborate, not compete, with existing nonprofits, and members were encouraged to expand, not divert, their giving. WINGS funds were, and continue to be, invested with Minnesota Community Foundation, one of the four anchors of Minnesota Philanthropy Partners which shares expertise and operational efficiency, and supports community affiliates in Minnesota.

After the first three years, WINGS received a $25,000 matching grant from College City Beverage in Dundas to encourage members to make another three-year pledge. In 2012, when record keeping and tracking of giving circles became too labor intensive, WINGS moved to a tiered level of giving. Today, members may donate at any level of giving for any length of time.

The membership helps fund grants in a variety of areas, including housing, food, economic, safe environments for victims of domestic violence, early learning, out-of-school programs, adult education, health care, healthy behaviors and entrepreneurship.

According to WINGS Vice President Margit Johnson, the grants always stay grounded in the original mission of meeting the needs of women and youth in the Northfield community because they tend to receive less funding from federal programs and constitute a larger percentage of those needing financial support.

“Our founders saw women as the great philanthropists, and we want to educate other women in the community on how they can become great philanthropists and why pooling their investments together is an effective tool,” Johnson said.

By pooling in donations with other women in Northfield, the group can support a larger number of area nonprofits that help other women and youth. To board member Bonnie Jean Flom, this organization is led by women for women.

“We have women of different ages and backgrounds that are bringing something unique to the table and helping this organization grow,” Flom said. “And it’s amazing to see this group of women work together to make a better Northfield.”

Successfully soaring

Today, the group has over 250 members with different subcommittees that direct outreach, grants, communications and other tasks. WINGS is an all-volunteer organization which allows them to turn over 90 percent of its donations to the community.

In 2017, WINGS awarded $77,106 in support of 22 grants. WINGS funds organizations that increase access to opportunity, taking financial need, input and capacity building into consideration. WINGS favors projects that build capacity by leveraging resources and encouraging grant proposals that enhance an organization’s ability to carry out its mission.

Alice Carson, grants committee chair, helps oversee grant applications from local organizations throughout the year and suggest how WINGS funding could maximize efforts.

“We have criteria each year we follow during the application process, but this year, we are also awarding our Dare to Dream Bigger grant,” Carson said. “That grant focuses on funding $10,000 to a nonprofit that has the most compelling dream to help women and children in Northfield.”

The Dare to Dream Bigger grant only happens every other year since 2014, and the last two winners includes Northfield Healthy Community Initiative and Growing Up Healthy. Northfield Healthy Community Initiative used the funds to support Greenvale School as it became a community school where children and families are supported through community activities, after-school care and other programs. Along similar lines, Growing Up Healthy collaborated with Early Childhood and Family Education and Northfield Promise to create a Latino Child Care Providers Network.

WINGS hit a milestone with 2018 Dare to Dream Bigger grant by funding $25,000 for its recipient, which will be announced in June. Carson said the group has been able to support multiple community projects throughout the years including Tattered Pages at the Northfield Middle School and funding scholarships to the Northfield YMCA for low-income families.

Johnson said there are similar groups in other communities that try to resemble the structure of WINGS by serving the community through grants and programming, but WINGS grew naturally and adapted over time to serve women in Northfield. Now, they are seeing that success in action.

“We initially started with individuals who wanted to get involved with philanthropy but soon groups of women, or giving circles, pooled money together to grow the endowment fund, which supports the grants each year,” she said. “This jump-started the organization and 18 years later, we are close to giving $1 million.”

Current President Kathy Olson admires the progress the organization has made in under two decades between funding, membership and expansion to events and celebrations for grant recipients, but what she appreciates the most is the sense of community that's been built between group members.

“We’ve established an open and engaged group where women are actively taking the lead in their community while meeting other women who want to accomplish those same goals,” Olson said.

It's a simple goal, really.

Said Johnson, the group's vice president: “We just want to continue supporting the vital needs of women and youth for basic needs, education and entrepreneurship."

Kelsey O'Hara is a freelance journalist based in the metro.

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Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. Follow her on Twitter @rooksuzy

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