Womens Impact Fund History


In a 1998 People article, Claire Tate read about women giving away money in Seattle, and Mary Lou Babb, a fellow Foundation For The Carolinas board member, knew the woman behind that effort. The rest, as they say, is history.

Claire and Mary Lou took the wisdom and experience of Colleen Willoughby and the Washington Women’s Foundation and made it Charlotte’s own. Using a “each one, reach one” approach, they recruited early supporters and all hosted gatherings in their homes. Before long, 158 founding members attended a kick-off luncheon. That was in 2003.

“We believed,” says Mary Lou Babb, “that there were so many women who had the desire and eagerness to know more about the needs and wants of our community – not just the organizations they normally supported – but the many others that were making great strides but lacked a large gift to make an impact.  So, why not try collective giving, we thought, as it has worked in other cities and towns!”

In June 2004, the Women’s Impact Fund awarded its first grants, totaling $158,000. The founding Board affirmed that grants would not be limited to those serving only women and girls, but instead would be high impact and focus on the defined areas of the arts, community building, education, environment and health and human services. (The focus areas changed a bit after the first two years.) By 2006, the Women’s Impact Fund had 250 members and has since been recognized as one of the largest and fastest-growing women’s giving circles in the country.

“Over 10 years ago,”Claire Tate tells us, ” Mary Lou and I believed that there were at least 100 women in Mecklenburg County who would like to give collectively in order to make our community even better.  The Foundation For The Carolinas supported this vision with human and financial resources.  With hard work by our founding Board of Directors, the Women’s Impact Fund was born. These 10 years have seen women inspired to give, women passionately committed to serving our community, women effectively crafting The Women’s Impact Fund to be an enormous force for good in Mecklenburg County.”

Foundation For The Carolinas agreed to support the creation of the Women’s Impact Fund as a special initiative. The Women’s Impact Fund continued under the Foundation’s umbrella, until becoming a stand-alone 501(c)(3) in January, 2010.

Founding Board of Directors

With founders Mary Lou Babb and Claire Tate at the helm, the first Board of the Women’s Impact Fund included:

Judy Allison
Frances Arnoult
Dianne Chipps Bailey
Robin Branstrom

Sandra Conway
Jill Flynn
Debra Foster
Toni Freeman


Julie Garella
Sharon Harrington
Iris Hubbard
Elaine Lyerly

Patty Norman
Debbie Phillips
Cecelia Ramirez
Sally Saussey
Stacy Sumner

Founding Board of Advisors

A small group of wise women was recruited to serve on the Board of Advisors, including:

Jeanne Brayboy
Peggy Culbertson

Sally Robinson
Ruth Shaw

Mattye Silverman

“Providing educaton about philanthropy is important,” says Mary Lou. “We wanted to connect the diverse women in our community, including professional women, stay-at-home moms, and women from a broad range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The reward is that every member has a stake in the results.”