THE desire to start a giving circle to support local women and girls set philanthropist Lesley Harris on a new path a year ago, and in that time her venture, Act of Women Giving, has raised more that $13,000, donated its first grant and celebrated its first anniversary.
“Initially, I wondered if it was going to take off, but we’ve had steady progress and it’s definitely gaining momentum now,” Lesley says.
Lesley says that the Act of Women Giving is Canberra’s first giving circle, which brings women together to pool their funds and support local projects.
She left her public service job in June to focus on the circle that, so far, includes 26 women and one corporate sponsor, with everyone able to vote on where the funding goes.
“The idea is that it’s inclusive, democratic and transparent,” Lesley says.
“With donating to charity you often don’t really know where your money goes, but with the giving circle we all get a voice in deciding who to donate to, as well as regular feedback through events and newsletters as to what is being achieved with the funding.”
The Act of Women Giving donated $9000 in September to Country to Canberra, an organisation that helps rural young women reach their potential, Lesley says.
“Hannah Wandel, who founded Country to Canberra, is now using the funds to develop leadership workshops for girls in rural high schools,” she says.
“We’ve also introduced a quarterly breakfast series to showcase women in the industry.
“It’s great to be giving the donors a sense of ownership, to know exactly where the money goes and to be so close to the local community.”
With a background in the community sector, Lesley says she got the bug for philanthropy and started studying fundraising and the strategies involved.
“It is a bit up and down, and progress is slow, but I’ve started from scratch and I’ve only been in Canberra for a few years – people need to get to know me and trust what I’m doing,” she says.
“It takes persistence! I look at the wins I’m making and there’s definitely a gentle momentum.
“I’ve met some amazing women here in Canberra and they continue to inspire me, and seeing what people can do together is amazing, particularly the younger women, they’re dynamos! I feel like there must be something in the water here.”
Working on the giving circle has been rewarding personally, too. Lesley describes it as her perfect job, except without pay!
“It has required me to move out of my introverted comfort zone by putting myself and the vision out there,” she says.
Visit actofwomengiving.com.au for more information