Our History

Letter from our Co-Founder, Marla Felcher

In 2011, my husband and I sold our house in Cambridge, MA, packed our Subaru station wagon with a coffee maker, a two-week supply of Peet’s coffee, enough clothes for a week, our 15-year old dog, and drove cross-country to Berkeley, California, where we planned to spend the next year, and possibly the rest of our lives. I’d left my teaching job, and my husband was on Sabbatical from his. At the time, I was on the board of Summer Search Boston, an organization that gives teenagers the opportunity to discover and strengthen the skills they need to succeed in college and life. While in Berkeley, I planned to help the executive director of the Summer Search Sonoma, CA office raise money for her program.

The idea for The Philanthropy Connection (TPC) came to me a few months after landing in Berkeley, in January, 2012, while I was meeting with a woman named Constance Grizzell, who at the time was part of Impact 100 Sonoma, a women’s collective giving organization. Summer Search was considering applying for a grant, and I was learning more about the organization’s application process. The concept of “women’s collective giving” was new to me. From the start, I was smitten.

By the time that meeting had ended, I’d decided I was going to start a similar organization in Boston. That evening, I called two friends in Boston, Dharma Cortés and Suzanne Carter, described what I’d learned that day from Constance, and asked if they were “in.” Both said yes. Five months later, my husband, our now 16-year old dog, and I drove our Subaru back to Cambridge. Dharma, Suzanne, and I spent the spring of 2012 planning what would become The Philanthropy Connection.


TPC is born…

By June, 2012, we had landed on the following goals, which I am proud to report we accomplished, and continue to improve:

  • To inspire women to deepen their understanding and practice of philanthropy.
  • Demonstrate the impact of collective giving.
  • Create learning opportunities for women philanthropists.
  • Build new networks:
    • Between women philanthropists.
    • Between women philanthropists and leaders working within non-profit organizations.
  • Provide grants to organizations working to fulfill the unmet needs of individuals and families living in Massachusetts.
  • Inspire and engage the next generation of women philanthropists.


The mantra Give. Receive. Learn. has guided our work since the beginning.

January of 2013 was a big month for our nascent organization. Ilene Greenberg, Meera Venkatraman, and Sharhea Wade joined Dharma, Suzanne, and me on the Board of Directors; we sent a “birth announcement” to our friends, colleagues, and relatives, announcing that TPC was open for business; we received our first $1,000 membership check, from Rosemary Shore. The following month, we held the first new member recruitment event, called Connect the Dots (thank you, Ilene!). We’d set a goal of recruiting 100 members, and awarding $100,000 of grants. By March we’d hit that goal … and then some. By then, it was abundantly clear that there was no shortage of generous women in the Boston area.

TPC ended its first year with 131 members. In December, 2013 we awarded five $26,000 grants to our first set of grantees: Crossroads for Kids, Family Nurturing Center, Reach Beyond Domestic Violence, Respond, Inc., and Silver Lining Mentoring. TPC’s family had expanded!


We continue to grow and improve…

Over the years, we have focused on managing our growth, continually improving our grant application and review processes, and creating programming that encourages our members to participate in any way their schedule allows. One of the most gratifying aspects of TPC for me personally has been the growth of the Young Philanthropist Program. What started as a Fellowship for five young women has blossomed into a robust program, run by and for young women. A successful, sold-out Young Philanthropist Conference in 2016 convinced all of us that not only do these young women know what they’re doing – they could pretty much run the world. Thanks to their passion, generosity, and hard work, now over 20% of TPC members are 35 years old and under.


TPC’s Future…

In 2016 I stepped away from the day-to-day leadership of The Philanthropy Connection, and in 2017 I stepped down as Board Chair. In doing so, I passed the torch to President Susan Benford and Board Chair Lora Farkas. What started as three women meeting in my living room has become a 275+ member organization with a 14-woman Board of Directors and a part-time administrator. This has truly been a group effort. I am convinced that TPC has a bright future, one that is both sustainable and impactful. TPC has changed my life in a profound way, as it has changed the lives of our members and grantees.


The words of TPC member
Cathleen Cavanaugh embody what can happen when a member is introduced to a grantee, and has the opportunity to learn more about the organization’s work and the people they serve. Cathleen sent this email to me and Cheryl Opper, the founder of School on Wheels MA (SOWMA), an organization that provides one-on-one mentoring and support to children struggling to stay in school while their families are experiencing homelessness:

I just want to tell you both how fortunate I am to be associated with TPC and SOWMA. Joining TPC offered me the opportunity to learn about so many non-profits that are doing such incredible work every day, that I might never have heard of otherwise. It was wonderful luck that I was on the TPC Grant Review team for SOWMA, and also went on the site visit, where I had the opportunity to meet Cheryl.

Family and friends have heard me talk about both organizations. Last night I brought some of those family and friends to the SOWMA Gala. My words could not have prepared them for the incredibly inspirational stories that SOWMA kids spoke about on that stage. It made us all realize that every student needs just the one right door to be open to unleash their amazing inner strength. And to be surrounded by positive vibes and love makes insurmountable obstacles all of a sudden become possible.

I am so grateful to be part of both TPC and SOWMA.  Possibilities are endless when wonderful people work together to change the world, one step at a time.

This is the pinnacle of a TPC experience. If you are already a member, thank you. If you are considering becoming a member, I encourage you to do so. I promise that if you Give. Receive. Learn. with us, you will change lives – including your own.

With gratitude,