Women's Circle of Giving

The Women in Philanthropy (WIP) board: Front Row L to R: Debbie Hengemuhle (sitting on table) Kathi Bateson, Margaret McManus, Helen Ryan, Liz Clist. Back row standing L to R: Kaye Black, Susan Hooker, Peaches Peterson, Marcia Collett


Over the past 15 years, the Women in Philanthropy organization has touched thousands of Lowcountry lives: families in search of affordable housing, working parents an their children, those with special needs and dementia.

“These are women who are extremely involved in the community,” said Margaret McManus, the group’s advisory board chairwoman. “They are very giving people. We come together as women to give back to the community.”

And give back they have: The organization has awarded more than $370,000 to area nonprofit groups like Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity, The Children’s Center, Programs for Exceptional People, Bluffton Self Help and Memory Matters, while building an endowment of more than $1 million, McManus said. 

The group describes itself as a giving circle. It has no budget and does not ask for donations; instead, its members make annual contributions. Half of the money goes toward maintaining the endowment and the other half goes directly to the community.  

“You don’t think there’s need on Hilton Head or in Bluffton, but boy, is there,” McManus said. 

A fund of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, Women in Philanthropy began in early 2003. Founding member Liz Clist said the foundation had conducted focus groups on the trend of women’s giving circles, and foundation members decided to start their own.

In addition to helping local charities, the women’s group also has a mission of educating members about philanthropy.

“That includes things like how to be smart about giving charitable dollars, ways to set up funds and foundations if you want to do that and also just about what it means to give.” McManus said. 

Clist said she likes that the organization is able to help so many different groups of people with a variety of needs. Each year, members vote to select a theme and then make their community grants around on that topic.

For example, the 2017 grant theme was “Strengthening Options for the Elderly,” according to the Women in Philanthropy website. The organization awarded a total of $71,000 in grants to groups like Meals on Wheels for Bluffton/Hilton Head, HELP of Beaufort, Lowcountry Legal Volunteers, YMCA of Beaufort County and Sandalwood Community Food Pantry to benefit programs geared specifically for the elderly.

The theme for 2018’s charitable giving is “Women’s Health, Wellness and Justice.”

Women in Philanthropy also awarded a $15,000 grant to Memory Matters in 2017 — a larger gift than usual for the organization, McManus said, but a fitting tribute to its 15th anniversary. The women’s group will celebrate that milestone with a cocktail party Feb. 20.

Clist said it is heartwarming to look back on how much the organization has accomplished over the past 15 years. The highlight of each year, she said, is the spring luncheon, when the group gives out the grant money. Past recipients speak at the event about how they used the money and what impact it had.

“You just really feel good that you can help these people in the community,” Clist said. “And you also realize, quite frankly, how huge the need is in the community.”