When It Comes to Charity, Ask a Woman

In last month's column, I talked aboutgetting by with a little help. As women entrepreneurs, we need to recognize when to ask for help, but we also need to recognize when it's time for us to give back to our friends and our community.

As women entrepreneurs, we work at our businesses and we live our lives, caring for husbands, children, employees and others within our immediate circle of influence. Now, during the holiday season, many of us are motivated to expand our circle of influence and fulfill a higher calling through charitable giving.

Giving may be as simple as holding the door for someone or listening without judgment to another business owner who is having problems. It can be doing volunteer work for your children's school or for a nonprofit group. Or it can be organizing an unusual fundraising event.

Recently, I attended such a charitable event with about 100 of Northern Virginia's "Power Women." It was a Red Cross fundraiser, with the theme "In The Bag: Purses for Preparedness." It featured a lunch and a silent auction of women's pocketbooks and designer handbags. Now, I'm not a handbag person, but I accepted the invitation from my friend and PR professional Polly Elmore, and I was energized and awed by this event.

Organized by woman entrepreneur Brenda Blisk, founder and CEO of the Blisk Financial Group in McLean, Va., the event raised $20,000 for the American Red Cross of the National Capital Region. Blisk contacted her considerable list of professional women, including clients and ambassadors' wives, with a request to donate either new or gently used handbags for the silent auction. She recruited a committee of 15 other businesswomen to help with the event. "I just left it in the Lord's hands and let the girls go to work!" she says.

And that's what happened. The 15 women received pocketbook donations from 55 friends and business associates. Those making donations included ABC White House correspondent Ann Compton, who provided a hand-embroidered bag from India given to her mother more than 50 years ago; actress Cybill Shepherd, who donated a designer evening bag and an autograph; and local banker-by-day and entrepreneur-by-night Diane Holland, who represents Beijo Bags in her business, Bags To "Di" For.

One of the highlights of the event was a testimonial to the Red Cross from Sgt. First Class Juanita Wilson, who spoke about the help and support provided by the Red Cross of the National Capital Region when she returned from Afghanistan to Walter Reed Army Medical Center as a wounded warrior. The Red Cross provided a blood transfusion, blankets, clothes and a gift card for her family to go out for a holiday dinner. "We desperately need the American Red Cross, and they desperately need you!" she said.

Master of ceremonies Pamela Brown, weekend anchor with Washington's ABC-TV7, welcomed everyone to the event, quoting a survey from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University: Women give more to charity than men. According to the survey, "Women across nearly every income level gave significantly more to charity than men, nearly twice as much in some cases."

The American Red Cross tapped into this trend by forming the Tiffany Circle of Women Leaders in 2005. Members of the Tiffany Circle pledge to give $10,000 to their local Red Cross chapters annually. In nearby Loudoun County, Va., successful businesswomen formed a group called 100 Women Strong, each donating $10,000 annually to support organizations and nonprofits that contribute to the well-being of women and children in Loudoun County. I find it inspiring to learn about these efforts and then decide how I want my philanthropy and giving to make an impact.

The study by the Center on Philanthropy documents what many of us already know: Women can be a driving force for good. We know how to organize, go after what we want and accomplish our goals. Blisk set out to raise $10,000 for the Red Cross Tiffany Circle. She and her committee raised $20,000. And they plan to do it again next year.

As for me, I enjoyed watching the sheer joy the women experienced while picking out their pocketbooks at the silent auction. I felt moved by the speakers, who shared intimate experiences and reminded me that life is precious, that we all love our children and our country, and that many people pay a high price for doing their duty so that I can enjoy my freedom.