Frances Ellison, Sue Priester, and Harriet Goldsmith, co-founders of Greenville Women Giving. Photographed by Paul Mehaffey

It all started with an idea that resonated with three Greenville women looking for a way to address the needs of the area while also giving form to their philanthropy. Co-founder Harriet Goldsmith had read about women’s philanthropic organizations and came upon an article about the Washington Women’s Foundation, the oldest women’s philanthropic organization in the national Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network.

Her first step toward creating a women’s philanthropic group in Greenville was to meet with Bob Morris, president of the Community Foundation. He gave his support and suggested she speak with Frances Ellison and Sue Priester. Greenville Women Giving operates as a special initiative of the Community Foundation.

In 2006, the three founding members of Greenville Women Giving began planning and establishing bylaws, modeling themselves after other similar giving circles around the country. As Goldsmith, Ellison and Priester spread the word, the Community Foundation, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary, offered a challenge. If the group could recruit 50 members in its first year, the foundation would match those contributions and donate $50,000. The group accepted the challenge and surpassed it, bringing in 135 members.

Over the last decade, Greenville Women Giving has awarded 91 grants to Greenville County community organizations totaling $4.2 million and has brought more than 530 women into its philanthropic circle.

On May 16, the group presented its 2016 grants, totaling $577,250, to selected Greenville County organizations for high-impact programs and celebrated 10 years of giving at its annual meeting.

“It’s been one of the most fun things I’ve ever done,” said Priester, co-chair for the group. “Taking something from an idea to an organization is tremendously exciting, tremendously satisfying.”

VIEW // Our photos from the Greenville Women Giving Annual Meeting >>

Photographed by Chelsey Ashford Photography

Granting strategically


The organization awards grants ranging from $40,000 to $100,000 in five key areas: arts, education, environment, health and human services. Priester said the categories are standard across many funding organizations. “We want to look at the whole community holistically,” she said.

Grantmaking and giving is no easy task. Through its education program, members are able to learn about community needs and opportunities. The program offers at least one educational event in each of the five grant areas throughout the year, Priester said.

The number of grants awarded each year depends on how many members there are within the organization. Each member contributes $1,100 each year with a three-year commitment. Of that, $100 goes towards administrative expenses and the remaining $1,000 goes into the grant pool for that year. “Our purpose is to do what very few of us could do on our own,” Priester said.

The organization receives around 90 grant applications annually and its grants review committee narrows the list down to 15 to 20 finalists through a vetting process. Members can then vote and rank the programs. Grants are made from the highest-ranked down until the year’s entire grant pool has been allocated.

But the grants process doesn’t stop with writing a check, Priester said. A member of the grants assessment committee partners with each grantee, acting as a liaison, to ensure the funds are spent appropriately and to provide additional help.

The organization has also been a recipient of grants from other individuals in the community, some of whom request anonymity. “They really like our grant review process,” Priester said. “It’s such a methodical process.”

Other giving circles in the Upstate:

Dining for Women

Women Giving for Spartanburg (The Spartanburg County Foundation)

The Emerald Circle (Girl Scouts of South Carolina – Mountains to Midlands)

Circle 555 and The Loop (South Carolina Christian Foundation)

Palmetto Society (United Way of Greenville County)

Giving collectively


In 2013, Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services received one of the first $100,000 grants to help fund ongoing culinary and nutrition training initiatives to support the Culinary Creations program.

Through the program, a menu concept was created that emphasizes healthier cooking and promotes the consumption of whole grains and fruits and vegetables, according to Greenville County Schools. It also offered training for food service employees throughout that summer.

Now, four entrees are offered daily, with two as vegetarian choices. Each school has a vegetation station where students can choose items daily from the soup and salad bar. “The food is really good and is in all the schools now,” Priester said. “It was a tremendous grant.”

Greenville Women Giving will soon begin its granting process for the year as more members come together to collectively give.

“We’re starting the next 10 years,” Priester said. Plans for the future of the organization are “to keep it growing.”

2016 Grantees

Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Greenville – $44,240

City of Greenville Police Department – $63,000

Friends of the Reedy River – $40,000

Greenville County Schools, Washington Center – $35,450

Greenville Free Medical Clinic – $64,000

Greenville Literacy Association – $59,158

Greenville Little Theatre – $42,208

Meyer Center for Special Children – $56,292

The Music Club of Greenville – $73,242

TreesGreenville – $40,000

The Turning Point of South Carolina – $52,450

YMCA: LiveWell Greenville – $7,210

Total: $577,250

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