When women unite, the impact can be felt community wide. One group, Women United, shows how they make that impact.
Women United is a leadership giving network of the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes. It has 1,082 members, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and has raised $42 million for the area since its inception.
“It’s a pretty dynamic and exciting group to be a part of,” said Lauren Dixon, board chair of Dixon Schwabl + Co. and one of this year’s Women United committee co-chairs.
The goal of the group is threefold: to invest in solutions, make lasting connections and serve the community.
One can join Women United with an annual donation of at least $1,000 (equal to about $20 per week).
By joining the group, women have access to other Women United members and thousands of local leaders from across United Way’s giving networks at member networking events. They will also gain access to leadership and career development opportunities.
Women United members are also offered opportunities throughout the year to volunteer and participate in community-building activities with other local leaders.
Those in the program said the benefits of membership are many, from networking opportunities to seeing first-hand the impact United Way makes.
The group strives to create interesting events that not only bring the women together but give them the opportunity to learn new things and see what is happening in their communities.
One event, for example, featured the author Louann Lofton who wrote “Warren Buffet Invests Like a Girl, and Why You Should, Too.” Another event was held at Wegmans Organic Farm in Canandaigua and another at Parkleigh.
The group most recently celebrated its milestone with a Dinner Under the Stars at Kettle Ridge Farm in Victor.
Dixon said the group will begin planning events for 2023 shortly.
The events are at no cost to the United Way, she noted, adding that many of the venues donate services or space to support the agency.
One of the goals of the group is continuing to diversify its membership and include younger women. To help, there is a step-up option for women just starting out in their careers that allows them to pay a reduced rate and work up to the standard donation amount as they grow professionally.
Lauren Gallina Payne, marketing director at Gallina Development Corp. and a Women United committee co-chair, said the group takes an active role in change by participating in various events, such as those focused on food insecurities and childhood poverty.
“It’s a wonderful group of like-minded women who have created a sisterhood around philanthropy and supporting the community,” Gallina Payne said.
Gallina Payne — whose family has been longtime supporters of the United Way — is impressed with the way the agency collaborates with the community to prioritize its needs and then works with the organizations it supports to help ensure those organizations meet their goals.
She added that Women United is a good starting point for younger women in philanthropy, since it provides members with insights into numerous community causes and organizations, which can help them determine where they want to focus their own efforts and support.
Margaret Farnsworth, vice president of Randall Buick GMC Cadillac and another Women United committee co-chair, said women are the driving force when it comes to giving, noting they donate to causes more than men.
Farnsworth said the recent United Way merger, which brought the Rochester and Finger Lakes regions together, creates an opportunity for even more resources and support.
The group also gives members the opportunity to see firsthand the impact their support has on the local organizations, Farnsworth said.
“It’s a nice feeling to know you are part of a great group of women who are making an impact on the community,” she said.
Jaime Saunders, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, said Women United is proof of what can be done when women come together.
When Saunders was first starting out as a young professional, she took advantage of the step-up option to become a Women United member.
Initially she was expecting some of the woman, who were successful and established in their careers, to be intimidating. She instead found quite the opposite.
“Here were these titans of business who were so welcoming and supporting of all the women in the group,” Saunders said, noting the group allowed her to network, learn, grow and give. “I got more out of it than I gave.”
Now as the leader of the local chapter of the United Way, Saunders has an even greater appreciation for the group. She noted Women United paved the way for the agency’s other leadership giving networks.
“We wouldn’t be able to do the work we do today without the support of Women United,” she said.
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