EMU's Women in Philanthropy group marks 10 years and $500,000 in grants awarded

Women in Philanthropy (WIP), a charitable group founded at Eastern Michigan University (EMU), recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and nearly 100 small grants awarded to educational projects, totaling nearly $500,000.


Voting members of the group, made up of faculty, administrators, and retirees from EMU, pledge to give $3,000 towards grantmaking over three years, and are eligible to vote on which projects to fund. Those who make smaller donations may still participate as non-voting members. Despite the word "women" in the group's name, men are welcome to participate as long as they support the group's vision.


Jaclynn Tracy and Donna Schmitt-Oliver were the founding co-presidents of the group when it kicked off in 2010, modeled on other women's giving circles across the country. Schmitt-Oliver says they were inspired by a speaker they heard who noted that women affiliated with universities were in charge of more discretionary revenue than ever before.


"I taught in the educational leadership department, and my speciality was women and leadership, and I realized that women often lead and give in different ways than men do," Schmitt-Oliver says. "Women want to have more of a hands-on look at what happens to their contribution. That's when the Women in Philanthropy concept took root."


Each year, the group funds a number of projects with grants up to $5,000 each, for an annual total of $40,000 to $50,000. To qualify for a grant, the project must enhance learning for EMU faculty, staff, alumni, or students; improve the climate at EMU; foster creativity and innovation; and improve communication among members of the EMU community.


Schmitt-Oliver says members interpret the learning aspect of the criteria broadly. Qualifying projects could include bringing artists to campus for a residency or taking students to other places for experiences they can't get on campus.


Recent grants went to projects ranging from a problem-solving contest called a Solve-a-thon on EMU's campus to a residency for the Formosa Quartet.


Tracy says she was especially impressed with a recent project in which an EMU student compared the concentration of lead in worms on EMU's campus to those in the Flint area.


"She was testing the blood of the robins who eat the worms, and finding out the worms eaten in the Flint area had a lot more lead in their system, and so the birds were suffering as a result of eating them," she says.


Schmitt-Oliver says a group of seniors in the nonprofit leadership program used their $5,000 grant creatively. They divided the money to give out their own $500 grants.


"We had a tremendous impact on that group of seniors, because they could see what it was like to be involved in the grant writing and grant administration process," Schmitt-Oliver says. "That was a part of their development as future nonprofit leaders."


Schmitt-Oliver says it's exciting when WIP grantees use their grants as a launch pad for future success.


"The exciting thing about a lot of the projects is that sometimes we're funding the first step before they go on to bigger and better things, even at the national level, like applying for a federal grant that continues the research WIP funded," Schmitt-Oliver says.


More information about WIP and a link to submit a grant application are available here.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Photos courtesy of WIP.