If you catch the staff of The Women’s Foundation in an informal setting, you’ll often find us joking and teasing certain staff members about their former status as cheerleaders.
Not in a mean way. Let me be very clear, we have nothing against cheerleaders. Just in that surprised manner of learning that someone that is now your colleague and in a suit every day used to sport pom poms.
Sort of like when you would learn that your elementary teacher was also a human being who went to the grocery store.
It’s kinda weird, and a funny new image to have in your head because it’s so different than the one you had previously. So anyway, on occasion, you’ll find us teasing each other about our mysterious past lives.
So, after all this joking around, you can imagine how pleasant it was for us to be cited, as an organization, as a significant cheerleader for a local nonprofit in our area.
Deborah Avens, who just started a blog about her work with women in Prince George’s County, noted that for her nonprofit, Virtuous Enterprises (VEINC, Inc.) The Women’s Foundation has been a tremendous cheerleader.
She explained how our Leadership Award, which VEINC, Inc. earned in 2004, provided the confidence for Deb to realize that the work she was doing was really valuable.
She also talked about this with me when I spoke with her earlier this year. She explained, "It helped me build confidence that our organization could transition from a volunteer organization to a fully operable organization. It was a part-time passion and when I became a Leadership Awardee and started seeing the impact that The Women’s Foundation was making in the lives of women and girls, it gave me the support I needed to transition to full time."
As a staff member of The Women’s Foundation, and a Leadership Awards Volunteer this year, I was very much struck by this–by the power of a relatively small award ($10,000) and public recognition–to completely transform an organization.
Deb isn’t the only organization I’ve heard this from. One of the nonprofits I visited as part of the Leadership Awards evaluation process this year (the 2007 awardees will be released soon!!!) hardly mentioned the money when I asked what the award would mean to them.
Instead they talked about access to this community, to its learning, and to the public recognition and acknowledgment that would really make them feel that the work they’re doing matters, and give them the credibility they need to build even more support.
Looking at some of our amazing Grantee Partners, it’s always hard for me to imagine them questioning their value to their community. That it wasn’t always just blatantly obvious. The quality of their work is so astounding, and the impact they’re making is so significant–in terms of changing lives and communities. It’s hard to imagine a time when they could ever doubt their impact, their importance, their contribution.
But for many, The Women’s Foundation’s Leadership Award–or another grant–is the first time anyone really acknowledged their work and said, "Thank you. What you’re doing matters."
Deb’s blog post, and the conversation I had during my site visit, are reminders to me of the value of programs like the Leadership Awards, that illuminate, showcase, recognize and give credibility to the amazing work going on around us that may be too "small," too unique, too hidden in a neighborhood or county we don’t tend to hear much about, to really be well known or well invested in.
And to encourage it–by bolstering those organizations themselves, and by encouraging others to adopt the unique, successful models that are working around them.
In many ways, it really is like cheerleading, I guess (Though I must admit I don’t know, as I’m not one of the staff members who ever was a cheerleader [far too lacking in coordination; also, fear of falling down]).
It’s looking out over the field and having faith in the players, even when they’re doubting themselves. It encourages them to play better, to stay in the game, and to keep their heads up when things look rough or it’s raining, and all the spectators have gone home.
It’s a constant reassurance that yes, someone is watching, someone is seeing, someone cares about the outcome.
It’s fitting, really, that The Women’s Foundation can play this role for nonprofits in our area-and particularly for those serving women and girls, which tend to be under-recognized anyway in terms of funding priorities.
It’s fitting that we can serve as their cheerleaders, because that’s the role so many of them play for the women and girls–and families–that they serve.
Learn more about how you can become a Leadership Awards Volunteer and search out great organizations like VEINC, Inc. throughout our region. Or, contact Lisa Kays for more information.