Philanthropy is hallmark of women’s networking group

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  • Darla Harmon, a founder of Women Who Wine, listens to a speaker during the group’s monthly meeting at Desoto Grill in Kalispell on Tuesday.

  • 1

    Wine bottles sit on a counter at Desoto Grill during during the Women Who Wine monthly meeting on Tuesday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Katy Croft, a founder of Women Who Wine, pours a glass of wine during the group’s monthly meeting at Desoto Grill in Kalispell on Tuesday. (Aaric Bryan photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Darla Harmon, a founder of Women Who Wine, listens to a speaker during the group’s monthly meeting at Desoto Grill in Kalispell on Tuesday.

  • 1

    Wine bottles sit on a counter at Desoto Grill during during the Women Who Wine monthly meeting on Tuesday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    Katy Croft, a founder of Women Who Wine, pours a glass of wine during the group’s monthly meeting at Desoto Grill in Kalispell on Tuesday. (Aaric Bryan photos/Daily Inter Lake)

Their name is a play on words that makes people smile, and their generosity has produced even bigger smiles for a number of local nonprofits.

Since members of Women Who Wine of the Flathead began sipping their favorite red and white blends and toasting to philanthropy four years ago, the group has awarded more than $110,000 to 44 nonprofit organizations.

At the group’s giving banquet on Oct. 24, the women are poised to present grants of more than $25,000 to 18 nonprofits.

Women who Wine operates as a fund of the Flathead Community Foundation and has grown exponentially since it began as a conversation between two local women.

The initial inspiration came from Laura O’Connor, a longtime friend and client of Katy Croft.

“We were visiting one afternoon, and Laura had been inspired by visiting a networking group in Bozeman,” Croft said. “It was a similar concept [as Women Who Wine’s mission] but with no nonprofit component.”

The two women talked back and forth for a couple of years, with O’Connor — who has since moved away from the Flathead Valley — suggesting the idea of featuring a nonprofit every month. Croft then enlisted another friend and client, Darla Harmon, and they were off and running.

Meetings started with about 17 women gathering in each other’s living rooms.

“The momentum grew really fast,” Croft recalled.

The women have a two-tiered goal: network with other women who care about the community and raise $1,000 or more each month for a different nonprofit.

Here’s how it works.

Each month members bring a check for $30 made out to the Flathead Community Foundation, and a bottle of wine. The affiliation with the community foundation enables Women Who Wine to use the foundation’s nonprofit status and assure donations are tax-deductible.

Meetings start at 5:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month, with rotating locations. Sustaining members sign up to be a hostess for a month. Hostesses get to choose the nonprofit that will receive the $1,000 contribution, and they’re responsible for inviting a representative of the nonprofit and organizing other meeting details.

“Our biggest money-maker are the bottles of wine left over at each meeting,” Croft said.

The women enjoy wine at each meeting, but there’s no way they consume the number of bottles assembled at each meeting. With an average attendance of 25 to 40 women, that’s 25 to 40 bottles of wine. At the end of the evening, the bottles, valued at $9 apiece, are sold to the highest bidder.

“I’m completely astounded at the success we’ve had,” Croft said.

Since the Kalispell group launched in 2014, a second chapter evolved in Bigfork in 2016.

Beneficiaries of the women’s fundraising have included a wide range of nonprofits, from Samaritan House and the Abbie Shelter to Child Bridge and Dream Adaptive. Nonprofits must be non-political and cannot have a religious affiliation, Croft said. A nonprofit may be invited to present only once every three years to ensure the women can reach as many worthy organizations as possible, she added.

For more information about Women Who Wine of the Flathead, go to www.flatheadcommunityfoundation.org/women-who-wine.html, or find the group on Facebook.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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