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How 100 Women Who Care About Your Community are Giving Back

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  March 8, 2016 | Focus on Women, Inspiring Stories

By Amanda Reaume

You might not have heard about them, but it’s likely there are 100 women who are making a difference in your community through the power of collective philanthropy. And while they’re providing crucial help to local charities, they’re also having a lot of fun.

In November 2006, Karen Dunigan, former mayor of Jackson, Michigan, and a real estate agent, started the first 100 Women Who Care group. The concept was simple: One hundred women who cared about their community would meet four times a year. At each meeting, they would learn about three local charities and vote on which one to support, and every member would then donate $100 to the winning organization. The other charities could be nominated again at another meeting. At the end of the year, they would have raised at least $40,000 for their communities.

In the past nine years, the impact of Dunigan’s idea has spread far beyond the Jackson community. More than 350 chapters of 100 Women Who Care are in operation around the world, including chapters in almost every major U.S. city.

It’s a legacy that has been touched by tragedy. Dunigan died of cancer in 2014, and her sisters, Jane Uhila and Patty Sete, wish she was here to witness the phenomenal growth of the last year.

“Karen showed us that action and caring for others goes hand in hand,” said Uhila. “It makes us so proud that so many people have taken her idea and share the joy of 100 Women Who Care in their communities.”

Making a Big Difference

Laurie Richter, a steering committee member of the alliance that connects the chapters, believes the clubs are successful because they focus on making significant local changes, so members can see the impact.

“There is so much good that happens under the radar screen in our communities, and the charities all need help,” she said.

Because the pooled resources turn into large donations, charity recipients are able to initiate more ambitious projects than would be possible with fewer funds. In Iowa City, the Hawkeyes Chapter of 100 Women Who Care recently gave a donation to the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Program at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, which is in an early stage of development.

Chapter member Margaret McCaffery recommended the organization. When her 14-year-old son, Patrick, was battling thyroid cancer, she saw a serious gap in services and treatment offered to teenagers.

“There isn’t a place for people that age in hospitals,” said McCaffery. “The activities on the children’s ward are geared more toward little kids.”

That’s why it meant so much for her to have her fellow members support the project. “I was crying after the chapter voted to support the AYA program because I was so touched by the contribution,” she said. “We’re lucky to live in a community where we have people who want to make a difference in this way.”

The support of 100 Women Who Care was crucial, said Sarah Russett, executive director of development at the Cancer Center. The donation will allow the organization to evaluate adolescent cancer programs around the country in order to design one that would be a good fit for their community.

The AYA program will provide a place where children over age 13 can go to play video games or spend time with other cancer patients their own age.

“They’ll be able to be together without feeling like they’re out of place,” said McCaffery.

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The 100 Women concept is both fun and meaningful. It allows women to network with other professionals, learn about great things happening in their local communities and feel like they’re making a difference.

“For many of us, a big part of the meetings is social,” said Richter. Women tend to arrive early and stay late to socialize. “Our meetings are modestly disguised girls’ nights out.”

Richter also believes that 100 Women Who Care clubs are ideal for busy professionals since “most people want to give back but don’t know which charity to donate to and don’t have the time to put a lot of effort into it,” she said. The meetings last only 90 minutes, and although some stay later, those who have to get home can do so.

Get Involved

The organization keeps a list of chapters around the world, making it easy to find and connect with groups anywhere.

Dunigan’s sisters, Sete and Uhila, are happy to see that other communities are benefiting from positive changes like the ones they’ve seen in Jackson and hope chapters continue to proliferate.

“Karen lives every time a new chapter starts,” Sete said. “We feel such joy and love that her caring ways have changed and touched so many people in a positive way.”

Amanda Reaume is a freelance writer and the creator of the blog Millennial Personal Finance. She is also the author of two personal finance books aimed at millennials: Money Is Everything and The Complete Guide to a Debt-Free Education.

Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on

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