In the simplest of terms, Women United in Philanthropy is a group of women who have decided to pool our donations to collectively make a large impact on the lives of women. We vote annually to award our funds to an innovative project in Bergen County that helps women become economically strong and independent.

What is Women United in Philanthropy (WUIP)?

We’re a giving circle; a form of a women’s foundation. We don’t raise money. Instead, we contribute our own money year after year to the circle, and then we vote together on what service or project to give our collective fund to, here in Bergen County. We give one big gift, rather than lots of little ones, so we can make a bigger impact.

We focus our giving on helping women become economically strong and independent. That means helping women in poverty get what they need to provide for themselves. Often what they need most is a place to live, affordable health care and the education, training and assistance to get a job that affords them a living wage.

How does it work?

It’s as simple as it sounds. There are no boards of directors, no committees—not even monthly meetings. We are a group of donors who decided to join together and invest our own money to help women in need in Bergen County. Every member of the circle contributes $1,000 over the course of a year. The size of our grant is dependent upon the number of members in our circle. We started in 2005 with our first 15 members and gave away our first grant in 2006. To date, we have invested $770,000 into our community.

Each year in October, we attend our Annual Fall Gathering and vote on the best proposals that have come to us for funding. It’s a simple majority vote, but every member is required to vote. Then the pot is empty, and we start the process all over again.

We do most of our work virtually, with emails and conference calls, and we have gatherings throughout the year for members to get to know one another better and to hear from inspiring women, or learn interesting things together.

That’s the best part of this. It’s not just about giving. It’s about becoming smarter, more active philanthropists. The women in the circle learn about the needs of women in the community, review grant applications, and have to make difficult decisions about how best to invest our grant funds. It’s a very careful, impressive process and we’ve seen very real results because of it.

How do you become a member?

By making an annual gift of $1,000 and joining the circle. Lots of members pay their gift on a monthly or quarterly basis, while others prefer to pay the entire gift at once. Either way, you’re a member once you’ve made the commitment to join at that equity level. The important thing is to make the full payment in time to vote at the annual gathering in October.

Who manages the money?

We do. Members’ contributions are deposited in the Women United in Philanthropy Fund maintained by the Foundation of Northern New Jersey. Every circle needs a legal “fiduciary agent” in order for the contributions to be tax deductible. The Foundation serves as ours, and gives us in-kind support and office space, too. This makes it possible for us to run the circle and for 100 percent of our member contributions go directly to our grant fund.

How do you decide what programs to fund?

We created a grant process that starts with telling the world we have money to give away. We contact all the organizations that help women in Bergen County, and run legal notices in the paper. We have an application for interested parties to fill out. A group of our members volunteer to read, vet and discuss all the proposals we receive. We want to be sure to give a grant to an organization that is legal and well managed and has the ability to do what it says it will do. Then, the best proposals are brought before the membership for a full vote each year in October at our Annual Fall Gathering.

Why not just give your money directly to an agency you want to support?

Most members do that, too. We all have our own favorite organizations and causes. That’s not what WUIP is about. This circle is about joining with other women to bring about social change. It’s not really about giving, but rather investing in something new to change the course of someone’s life. Most of us can’t do that alone. This circle allows us to take our gift and match it with 50-100 other women to make one big, impactful gift that we give to an agency to start something new—to develop that solution they see women need and to step out in a creative way and try a new approach—because we can give them the money to try when others won’t. We’ll take a risk if it promises to help change the course of lives. That makes this circle unique and desperately needed.

What organizations have you selected to receive grants in the past?

See a list of our past grant recipients here.

Do you have various levels of membership?

No. Every member is equal and everyone gets one vote. You can give more than $1,000 if you wish, as several of our members do, but $1,000 is what we call “the gift of personal significance.” It’s a large gift for most of us and is substantial enough to make a big difference when we put all our funds together.