Connecting Women

unremorsefully The Women’s Fund’s Philanthropic Efforts

To speak with Anne Peterson about the Women’s Fund is to be ignited by her earnestness. She is so passionate about making systemic changes in the community that in moments, pessimism and discouragement seem absurd. Really, any member of the cabinet could communicate the spirit of the effort as effectively. The Women’s Fund of the Shasta Regional Community Foundation exists to mobilize the power of women through philanthropy, but a simple ‘what is it’ question evokes a far more layered answer.

“It is a fund, and it is people,” explains Peterson, chair of the Fund. “The idea is that you come together and pool your money in order to have a greater impact than an individual could have on their own.”

The Women’s Fund is a grant-making organization comprised of Advocates, who contribute a $200 annual membership fee, and Architects, who contribute $1,000 annually. Membership is made up of men and women from all generations and backgrounds with the common goal of empowering women in the Redding area.

Throughout the year, the Fund hosts educational forums in varying topics relating to the particular struggles of north state women. The public forums are frequently attended to the point of standing room only. Out of these endeavors, members discuss and vote on an area of grant making for the year. The 2010 vote will choose whether to offer grants in the area of helping women gain skills for economic independence, develop healthy lifestyles, or break the cycles of poverty. Once the choice is made, local organizations whose goals fall within the focus area submit proposals, which are then reviewed by the grant committee. There is a great deal of research done in order for the Fund to remain accountable to its members. Finally, financial gifts are distributed as the committee sees fit and the community benefits. As Peterson sees it, “it’s a good bang for your buck.”

The concept of a Women’s Fund is not new; this particular structure is at least 30 years old and there are thousands of incarnations all over the country, though each Women’s Fund is self-contained. All the money is raised locally and granted locally. A benefit to this structure, according to Peterson, is that “it allows a closer relationship to one’s philanthropy than just writing a check.”

The idea for a local Women’s Fund began germinating in 2008, and as conversations became collaborations and then commitments, 10 expressly different women with varying backgrounds recognized themselves as a cabinet with a shared purpose.

“We knew (the Women’s Fund) would be a good fit for Redding because we’re not a wealthy community, but we’re a very generous community,” explains Peterson. The Fund went public last October and now claims 60 members. The founders were overwhelmed by the response of many who gave so generously.

It’s important to them that people understand the Women’s Fund is not an elitist organization. This isn’t the clichéd, ‘old money’ philanthropic club: the Fund makes every effort to be as inclusive as possible in order to encourage more giving. Similarly, it strives to assist other established charities rather than compete against them for what precious generosity the community can afford to give.

“One of the beauties is that you have the choice to be involved as much or as little as you want,” encourages Peterson. Theirs is an organization unburdened by a packed calendar and the stresses of constant fundraising; the amount of members is the direct source of the amount of funds. Outside of the optional forums, members meet once a year to honor the grant recipients.

The success of the forums, where experts address topics from poverty cycles to cultural shifts affecting the lives of girls, has demonstrated a genuine hunger for information. Though one purpose of the forums is to inform the decision of the Fund’s grant making committee, they also offer attendees counsel on how to improve the lives of women. “The forums teach us what variables can be changed (and provide) good, take-away, practical information,” Peterson says.

For those without a regular charity outlet, or for those looking to offer a little more, The Women’s Fund is hopeful people will understand how welcome they are to participate. As their literature explains, “conditions for women dictate the health of a community.”

Anyone interested in becoming a member of the Women’s Fund must do so by March 31st to participate in the 2010 grant making vote. All are welcome and encouraged to attend the free public forums.

The North State exceeds the national average in teen births, has fewer college-educated women than average, and registers high rates of child abuse, domestic violence, and unemployment, but as the Women’s Fund reminds us, “change happens when those closest to the problem are engaged in the solution.”

Published in Enjoy Magazine, March 2010