Marla Williams got a surprise last week. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado president was pitching her mission to an informal gathering that would seem to be a great target audience. More than 20 hard working Colorado Springs women with entrepreneurial spirit and, one assumes, checks ready and waiting to be signed over to the right cause.

But something happened on the way to the bank. One of the women asked an unusual question.

“What will I get out of this?”

The conspicuous inquiry is one not often heard from potential donors who have achieved financial success and are looking for ways to give back to the community. But perhaps the question should be voiced more often.

Social service organizations work in an expanding, extremely competitive sector. While the goodness of giving is seen by most to be its own reward, the fact remains that people have choices when it comes to directing their money. Perhaps the question nonprofit agencies should be asking themselves are: what can we give back to donors, and what do we have to offer that’s different from among the hundreds of other agencies working on worthy causes?

The answer may be in the way giving itself occurs.

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Personal involvement and creative giving has long been a hallmark of women’s philanthropy. Kat Jorstad, an agent with Shields Real Estate, has been involved with the WFC since the early 1980s. She has an approach to philanthropy that both she and Williams say might particularly appeal to many women’s desire to have what they give make a meaningful impact.

“Women seek wholeness,” said Jorstad. “We don’t like fractured things. My giving was fractured and I wanted it to be more integrated into my life.”

Jorstad decided to make a long-term commitment to her charity of choice. She found a unit by which she could measure her time and energy. She donates 5 percent of each of her sales commissions to WFC. She said the contribution feels more “authentic, not like a linear pledge.” She’s now looking to take that a step further by getting more women involved. She’s seeking 10 women to pool together funds, each basing her contribution on some measure of her own success. The accumulated total would have greater power than separate smaller donations.

Not only is the concept generous, it’s savvy. The women involved would be a business networking resource to one another, creating more success — read more funds to donate.

“Kat’s idea is based on women’s success,” said Williams. “It ties the commitment to community with a women’s own success and the success of other women.”

Billi Lee, a free-lance writer and motivational speaker, said that while women who give know the most important element of philanthropy is the effect it has on people in need, there is no reason why those giving can’t get something back.

“Women know (the effect) is the most important thing,” Lee said. “That’s a given. But how about giving back to the givers? I don’t see enough women getting that philosophy of payback; something men have known for years. The more successful nonprofits do this.” She added that while a name on a plaque may be a nice thank you and provide some publicity, the real opportunity for growing success is in networking with people you know can help cultivate contacts to develop your business.

“And as we each improve our own level of financial success, we have more to give,” she said.

The core focus of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado is to promote economic self-sufficiency among women and girls. “That forms the basis from which to tackle all other issues,” said Williams.

Message received.

The possible dream

Twelve local students received scholarships during the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region’s Equal Opportunity Day dinner last week. Scholarship winners included Jan Reece, a Pikes Peak Community College student who recieved $1,000; Tommy Moore, a Colorado College student, received $1,000 and a laptop computer from Intel; Tiarre Dodd, a senior at Widefield High School, won $1,000; Drew Houston, also a Widefield senior, won $1,000; Vincent Jackson, Widefield senior, got $1,500; Sean Choi, Wasson High School senior, won $2,000; Claudia Hitz, another Widefield senior, won $2,000; Edward Rivas, received $2,000; Michelle Dionson of Sierra High School won $5,000; Harrison High senior Nicholas Griggs received a $14,500 scholarship; Jhameelah Jones, senior at Sierra High was awarded $18,000; and Promis Nancy Lee Bruno, a senior at Wasson High, won $18,000.

The following organizations partnered with the Urban League to provide funding for the scholarships: ENT Federal Credit Union, State Farm Insurance, Bank One Corp., The Gazette, Quantum Corp., Colorado Springs Utilities, and the Janus Foundation.

Local Urban League president Jerome Page said more than 100 students applied for the $67,000 in grants.

“Even though we chose only 12 students, the number of applicants shows how many bright, energetic youth there are who want to do the right thing by going to college,” said Page.