What can be accomplished in a community when you pool the brainpower and resourcefulness of 100 businesswomen? Tom Martin posed the question to former United Way of the Bluegrass President Kathy Plomin, now one of three directors of the organization 100 Women.
Q: What is 100 Women?
A: 100 Women is a women’s donor group. Nationally, they call them Giving Circles. We support and advocate for nonprofits that take care of women and their children in Central Kentucky.
Q: Is this a strictly local organization or is it affiliated with a larger national group?
A: No. It is strictly local. There’s a fast growing movement in the United States for Giving Circles. Women are joining them all over the country and most of them are independent.
Q: So, how did this come about in Lexington?
A: It has some history going back in the early 2000s. United Way Volunteers decided not to fund the YWCA due to a lack of transparency and some other accounting problems and challenges. The YWCA had the only domestic violence shelter in Central Kentucky. That meant losing $200,000 in funding, but it also tipped off the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association in Frankfort who withheld $500,000. So, in a matter of a week, $700,000 went away and our region lost the domestic violence shelter. There was a young woman who came to United Way and said, “I have an idea. Let’s do this outreach to women and rally them and get this grassroots campaign to make sure that we get the money to open a new one.” United Way stepped in and said we will be the 501(c)(3) for this. And we were able to raise about $200,000 and got the shelter going. After all of that was taken care of, we tried to keep it going in collaboration with the Bluegrass Community Foundation, and it was called Bluegrass Women United. But it fell by the wayside. It was too institutional.
Q: So, that meant the end of the organization? What happened next?
A: A lot of women get asked to be leadership givers at a $1,000 level with a lot of nonprofits. And they’re all great nonprofits, but you just can’t do them all. So, a friend and I were sitting at one of those meetings and we thought, “Well, why don’t we take an umbrella approach to this and women then could designate who they want to give to?”
Q: The loss of the domestic violence shelter must have created a very significant void in the community and in an area of desperate need.
A: Yes. I mean, there are 17 counties that fed into that domestic violence shelter. And when it had to close its doors, there wasn’t any place for these women to go. The Salvation Army was set up so that women could go to that location, but that was just a Band-Aid approach. We were able to locate the new facility out on Briar Hill Road. It was a turnkey and it was empty. And we were able to find Darlene Thomas who is the executive director, and it’s just a wonderful program today.
Q: And when did that get started?
A: That was back in 2004. And Greenhouse 17, which is the domestic violence shelter’s name now, is one of our funded agencies, but 1 of 12.
Q: So, to be a member of 100 Women requires a $1,000 contribution, up front. Correct?
A: It is a membership organization and you come in to the organization as a member and it is each year $1,000, but it is tax deductible and it can be spread out over the course of the year to make it more palatable.
Q: How many members now?
A: Well, over the past 3 years, we’ve had a total of about 130-140. It ebbs and flows.
Q: So, from time to time, more than 100 women.
A: Yes. Yes, we hope.
Q: How do you determine which organizations will receive your support?
A: Initially, we actually invited 10 organizations to the table and talked to them about what would be the best setup for them. We brought in 10 that we knew that were solid, good transparency. The criteria were that your services needed to be targeted for women and their children, you needed to be located in Central Kentucky and you needed to pass the Good Giving criteria that’s set up by Bluegrass Community Foundation.
Q: And so, once you’ve vetted the organization and you see what they’re all about, are there any restrictions on how funds can be used?
A: When there are restrictions, it really ties the agency’s hands. Many times they know best what their needs are. And if you say “X” amount of money needs to be used for paper and crayons, it doesn’t give them the flexibility that they really need. So, it is unrestricted.
Q: On your website, when you were talking about what happened in 2004 with the YWCA and the domestic violence shelter, you noted that women are more engaged and more empowered now than they were then. What kinds of changes have you seen taking place to make that so?
A: Well, I think you’ve seen women over the past 15 years, past 30 years starting to come from the bottom ranks in the different careers to taking on leadership positions and companies. That has obviously empowered them from a financial standpoint to be able to do something such as join 100 Women to make sure that we’re supporting other women and letting them have opportunities like we have been given.
Q: Why is it in the interest of business owners to support 100 Women?
A: Because the 100 Women monies raised and invested back into the community financially impact the quality of life in Lexington. This is very important to any business. It’s also important to note that most of our members are leaders in the business community and recognize the need to be engaged in making our community the best it can be. We provide critical funding to non-profits that fills the void of non-profit agency financial cuts on local, regional and state levels. As a result of our annual funding, agency programming can be sustained and grown, providing the necessary health and human services for our community’s women and their children. The community benefits as a whole. Also our business community should appreciate that in our first five years, 100 Women will have invested close to a half-million dollars into our local economy.
Q: How do you and your co-directors keep your organization on mission and on message?
A: These meetings that our members and new prospects come to always have agencies there speaking about the programming. And what I like about that especially is that we are training women in our community to be ambassadors for these nonprofits. When they come to 100 Women, most have no idea what these agencies are, what they do, and the impact that these agencies have on our community. So, we focus on that message about getting engaged in the community and the responsibility of making sure women and their children are taken care of in our community.
Q: Is the matter of who receives funding a leadership decision or is it voted on by the membership?
A: A lot of the groups across the country do vote. Ours is very unique in that each 4th quarter of the year all of our members have paid their membership dues of $1,000. We have 12 agencies now and you can give 100 percent to one of the 12 or you could divide it up amongst all the 12.
Q: Somebody may read this and think, “this is for me.” What should they do?
A: Well, we have a website and that would be 100womenlex.org. You can also e-mail to 100womenlex@gmail. And you can check us out on Facebook. Once we hear from you, we will invite you to one of our gatherings to find out more about the organization and the agencies that we’re supporting and what they mean to our community.
Tom Martin’s Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader’s Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.
At a glance
Agencies funded by 100 Women in 2015:
▪ Arbor Youth Services — Arborky.org
▪ Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Bluegrass — Bbbs-bluegrass.org
▪ C.A.S.A — Lexingtoncasa.com
▪ Child Development of the Bluegrass — Cdcbg.org
▪ Chrysalis House — Chrysalishouse.org
▪ Greenhouse 17 — Greenhouse17.org
▪ New Opportunity School for Women — Nosw.org
▪ Bluegrass Rape Crisis — Bluegrassrapecrisis.org
▪ Refuge for Women — Refugeforwomen.org
▪ Salvation Army — Ky.salvationarmy.org/lex-kentucky
▪ The Nest — Thenestlexington.org