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SANTA CRUZ — Every three months, an affable din rises from crowded tables at the Center Street Grill as Santa Cruz area women gather for dinner, decide on a worthy recipient for their philanthropy and write out $100 checks.
On Wednesday night, after about an hour, more than 80 members of 100 Women Who Care added more than $7,400 to the coffers of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Santa Cruz County, an organization that provides support to neglected, abused or abandoned children. A few more announcements and the busy women were on their way again, having just changed the reality for dozens of local children.
“In this small town what we raise in one night — it matters,” said the philanthropy group’s co-founder Sandy Skees. “It can be game-changing for some groups.”
Most of the members of 100 Women Who Care are involved in the nonprofit sector in some way and already volunteering in the community. The group, which started with about 20 women more than seven years ago, is patterned after dozens of other successful groups around the country and in Mexico. In Santa Cruz, the membership is slowly growing.
“The 100 Women Who Care idea was developed for women who are already too busy,” said Kathy Ferraro, a member who organizes film festival fundraisers each year for local organizations and has received funding from the group in the past.
The group has given more than $100,000 to local charities since it was founded in 2009 by Skees, Diane Lamott, Kirsti Scott and Mary Talpas.
The format is simple. An optional hour of networking and dinner is followed by pulling three nominees from a hat. Any member can nominate a charitable cause. A representative from each of the three nominees speaks for a few minutes and after a few questions, the women vote for their favorite. Most of them already have their $100 checks signed. The ballots are counted and the top vote-getter gets a pile of checks. Often, more checks trickle in after the meeting raising the total to about $10,000. Some women write checks to all three organizations; others, who can’t attend the meeting, just send in blank checks to be filled out by the treasurer.
On Wednesday, CASA beat out the Literacy Program and the Diversity Center. The funds will help the organization conduct two more intensive trainings for volunteers, which will help dozens more children, said Cynthia Druley, executive director.
“This is a perfect connect to give back to the community,” said Jule Hilton, a financial adviser who is new to the group. “It’s the easiest, quickest efficient way to give to nonprofits.”
For the givers, most of whom are already involved in nonprofit work of some kind, one of the attractive guidelines is that recipients agree not to add them to mailing lists, email lists or contact them for any reason other than to thank them for their gift.
“Do you know how many organizations spend money on fundraising?” asked Talpas, a co-founder. “This is a way to just get together, write a check and it’s done.”
Follow Sentinel correspondent Jennifer Pittman at Twitter.com/jenniferpittman
Philanthropic group supports local causes
BACKGROUND: Founded in the fall of 2009 by Sandy Skees, Mary Talpas, Diane Lamott and Kirsti Scott.
LOCATION: Center Street Grill, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz
DATES: First Wednesday of December, March, June and September
MEETINGS: One-hour networking and dinner followed by an hour of picking three nominations from a hat, listening to three pitches about local charitable causes, voting anonymously and check writing.