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Join Project W

You can help Project W help nonprofits in Delaware County in a couple different ways:

  • Become a member at $550. It’s simple, and you can split the membership with up to five people, so each contributes $110. That gives you a say in which organization receives funds, and the opportunity to volunteer.
  • Donate to the General FundAny amount is welcome if you don’t want to or can’t be more involved.

You can apply for Project W funds here.

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Start Your Own Giving Circle

10 basic steps

Don’t live in Delaware County but still want to be part of a giving circle? United Philanthropy Forum has a guide to starting your own philanthropic circle, allowing you to have a big impact with a relatively small financial obligation.

Check out the guide here.

Citizens of the Week: Project W

Philanthropic giving circles are all the rage. Three local women focused their all-female group on aiding—and volunteering for—Delaware County nonprofits

Philanthropic giving circles are all the rage. Three local women focused their all-female group on aiding—and volunteering for—Delaware County nonprofits

Lauren Susteric knows neighbors can change lives.

Do SomethingIt was a realization she had soon after she and her parents and seven siblings came to the States in 1975 as political refugees from Vietnam. Tears welling up, she admits that coming here at age eight is not something she often talks about.

Her family was stationed in Army barracks in Arkansas before they were sponsored to come to the Philly area by St. Alice, a parish in Upper Darby. There, neighbors rented her family a home and provided them with the things they needed. Her family was on welfare for two years before they were able to make it on their own.

“The kindness of strangers can make a life,” says Sustersic. “We all worked very hard, but we couldn’t have made it without that help we were given when we first arrived. And from that time, I’ve always wanted to give back.”

“We’re deepening our relationships as community members,” Sustersic says. “It’s great for me to see that we’re making an impact, and that it’s immediate. We’re seeing the fruits of what we’re doing. And the collaboration is beautiful.”

Raising her two children, now in college, in Delaware County, Sustersic befriended another local mom, Kim D’Ambrosio, who’d also known from a young age that she wanted to help others, like the many families in need she knew growing up in South Philly. She and her husband and children have actively supported an orphanage in Honduras, as well as national charitable organizations—but she wanted to make a difference more locally.

Creating a giving circle of another sort

They both knew women who were involved with giving circles, increasingly popular groups of people who combine their resources to support philanthropic causes. According to a report supported by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, women are largely the ones fueling these networks, which could be explained by the fact that they’re more inclusive and have fewer barriers to entry than old-school philanthropy. Popular local ones include Impact100 Philadelphia, Philadelphia Black Giving Circle, and Asian Mosaic Fund.

But looking around Delaware County, where women ages 25 to 34 are more likely to live in poverty than men across every age category, Sustersic and D’Ambrosio found no local giving circles.

Custom HaloSo the two women, along with their friend Soly McLaughlin, drew up plans to create a giving circle of another sort: This one wouldn’t require the $1,100 annual membership fee that Impact100 Philly requires, nor would it stick to funding alone. Project W would allow any woman to join for half that price, $550, and also allow women to join as a group of up to five women, meaning someone could feasibly join for just $110.

They’d also offer some fellowships, covering the cost of women age 21 to 35, to increase the diversity of viewpoints. And they’d lower their membership age to 16, a decision made in response to hearing from so many much younger women who wanted to give back. They’d also provide grant-evaluation training to members, as well as educational seminars on issues ranging from social determinants of health to youth mental health.

“Our goal was to get a more democratic kind of view and more diversity represented,” D’Ambrosio says. They didn’t want anyone who wanted to help to feel intimidated or left out.

In a matter of months, Project W went from an idea to reality: Since launching in February 2019, the group has raised nearly $130,000 and grown their membership to 101 women. (There is no limit to how many members they’ll accept.) They’ve distributed $63,710 in funding and will award another $48,500 in October to three more grantees.

In light of Covid-19, this year’s meetings, educational seminars and application reviews are all taking place online, as will the presentation of awards on October 30.

Read MoreOn top of dramatically minimizing the barriers to entry, Project W takes a hands-on approach to supporting their grantees—their application specifically asks what kind of volunteer opportunities exist for Project W members.

Grant applicants must be nonprofit organizations without religious or political activities that do work directly impacting Delaware County; they’ve ranged from small groups with an operating budget of $25,000, to larger ones with $30 million.

Applications are reviewed by one of three committees: education, health, and family. And in addition to welcoming members as volunteers, recipients agree to keep in touch with Project W about the impact of the grant.

The program has fiscal sponsorship from The Community’s Foundation, the Delaware County nonprofit where, since 2017, Lauren has been working as special project manager. TCF provides accounting finance, and legal structure services to Project W.

They really want to be full-circle

Katie Owens is the director of development at Breathing Room Foundation, the 23-year-old nonprofit that meets the highly specific needs of 2,000 Philly-area families each year who are coping with cancer. The organization was in the first cohort of three Project W grantees, having been awarded $7,000 last year and another $4,000 in response to the strain of Covid-19 this year. Owens says the Foundation would not have been able to help their usual number of families this year, particularly in light of the pandemic, without Project W helping them ensure that their budget could handle the extra demand from the community.

“Leave it to women to come up with an idea and figure out how, within just a few months, to make such a big impact,” says Owens. “I think it’s a true testament that when you have an idea, a bunch of minds coming together can really make a huge difference.”

Owens is also particularly moved by Project W’s volunteer support. “Most organizations decide to be either a financial organization or a volunteer organization, but they really want to be full-circle. They want to do whatever they can to make our community stronger,” she says.

Over Christmas, a group of Project W volunteers supported a Breathing Room Foundation family, paying its heating bill and taking care of its holiday needs. Other Project W volunteers did Thanksgiving deliveries, getting food to families. Project W members have created and distributed Easter baskets, cooked meals for families, donated gift cards and more.

“We’re deepening our relationships as community members,” Sustersic says. “It’s great for me to see that we’re making an impact, and that it’s immediate. We’re seeing the fruits of what we’re doing. And the collaboration is beautiful.”

Over Zoom one morning, D’Ambrosio smiles warmly, and says that, for her, this work can perhaps be best summed up by a sentiment commonly attributed to Mother Teresa. We can all do small things with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.

“I think we all want to give in our own little way,” she says. “And Project W gives you the unique chance to be with other people and meld all of your talents and your time and your financial contributions together to do something really great that’s much bigger than yourself.”

And then there’s Owens, who may just sum up Project W’s impact, potential, and spirit best: “Leave it to women to come up with an idea and figure out how, within just a few months, to make such a big impact. I think it’s a true testament that when you have an idea, a bunch of minds coming together can really make a huge difference.”

Lauren Sustersic, Kim D'Ambrosio, Soly McLaughlin of Project W.

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