On May 7, 2015, United Way of Champaign County hosted its inaugural Power of the Purse fundraiser at Pear Tree Estate in Champaign. We remain amazed and humbled by the outpouring of support we have received in response to the fundraiser! After such a spectacular first event, we wish to look back at the work that went into Power of the Purse, as well as how the funds raised that night are bringing life-changing support to the standards of living and education of women in our area today.
Rebecca Guyette, Director of Leadership Giving, emphasized the importance of the planning committee in pulling together Power of the Purse earlier in the year. Additionally, the event was generously sponsored by Northwestern Mutual, Illini Radio Group, and a dozen more. “We were looking to harness the giving power and philanthropic tendencies of women in our community,” she said.
Historically, philanthropic efforts led by women tend to be “less transactional, more experiential.” Volunteering and giving are often seen as two parts to a whole, indicating a strong link between involvement in an organization and willingness to support it financially. Not to mention that women make around 85% of household consumer decisions (Keates 2010). In the words of Christine Grumm, president and C.E.O. of the Women's Funding Network, “Women are the conduits through which change is made” (Biddle 2010).
Power of the Purse became a response to these facts. Rebecca noted the sheer purchasing power of women: “Women continue to give generously to charity and shop—being able to combine them was a bonus!”
Building the event from scratch, Rebecca joked, was a bit like planning a wedding: “We just wanted guests to have a good time and leave happy.” She and the twenty women on the committee worked throughout the spring to make the event a reality, focusing on how efforts by women, for women, could leave a long-lasting impact in the community.
Since Power of the Purse is the first fundraiser of its kind for United Way, we are thrilled that the event has invited new support and connections across Champaign-Urbana.
Over one hundred designer purses and packages were sold at Power of the Purse’s live and silent auction, with other prizes including spa treatments, gourmet cooking classes, hotel stays, and more. Kerry Rossow, local blogger behind HouseTalkN and That’s What She Said, was our MC for the night. We sold 450 tickets in only three weeks, and attendance was boosted by our online bidding system, where supporters were able to participate via smartphone.
Rebecca recalled the loud and energetic atmosphere throughout the night. “The only time the room was absolutely silent was for our keynote speaker, Isak Griffiths, the executive director of Courage Connection,” she said. Isak spoke on opportunities for advancement, emphasizing why it’s so important for women to be given support when they feel trapped by difficult situations. When given the chance to advance themselves, women will take those chances. Philanthropy becomes more than just donations or volunteer time—it is about giving others the chance to become self-sufficient and say “yes” to opportunity.
Power of the Purse funds have been channeled into scholarships, based on financial need, for women attending Parkland College, to support educational or training fees, tuition, or book expenses. Women interested in pursuing job training, technical or vocational certification, or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree were equally eligible to apply. The scholarships will affect the 2015-16 academic year.
Additionally, Power of the Purse funds are supporting the Emergency Shelter for Families, an initiative started by United Way to provide more than transitional housing to those in immediate need and to keep families together.