Rainmakers Giving Circle – Five Grants Awarded

Girls-on-the-runThis year, I have had the privilege of co-chairing the Rainmakers Giving Circle.  The Circle was organized under the auspices of The Women’s Foundation and provides grants to organizations that improve the lives of under-resourced girls and young women in the DC region.  I’m pleased to report that we are now 34 women strong and celebrating our 11th year of grantmaking.

The Rainmakers Giving Circle received over 100 proposals for funding this year.  We worked in teams to review and evaluate the proposals, ultimately selecting 11 organizations to receive site visits.   One of the most gratifying aspects of our work is spending time on site with the organizations’ staff and the young women they serve, asking tough questions and seeing their work in action.

After the site visit teams have a chance to confer, the Circle then gathers as a whole to hear reports on the site visits – always a spirited discussion – and then renders its decision by a vote.

I’m delighted to report that in this cycle we will be making grants to the following organizations:

  • Court-Appointed Special Advocate/Prince George’s County ($15,000)
  • FAIR Girls ($15,000)
  • Girls on the Run (Northern VA)  ($14,050)
  • Liberty’s Promise ($12,000)
  • Transitional Housing Corporation ($15,000)

Our funding decisions are always challenging, as we receive proposals from more organizations doing outstanding work than we are able to fund.  This year’s grantees distinguished themselves by having highly dedicated and talented staff, by developing creative and practical approaches in their programming, and by working through a strong “gender lens.”

This year we made one major change in our grant-making model:  We decided to move from an annual to a bi-annual grantmaking cycle. (In other words, we’ll be giving the grantees listed above the same amount of funding in the second year of a two-year grant cycle, provided that the grantees can demonstrate satisfactory progress in their program work at the end of the first year of funding.)  As we gathered the Circle for a post-mortem last year, a clear consensus emerged that we should move toward a “partnership” model in which we would work with our grantees in two-year cycles.

Over the years, several of us have been inspired to develop relationships directly with grantees by performing on-site volunteer work, fundraising, or serving as board members.   We want to learn more and do more.  We believe that increasing our investment in our grantees will give Circle members an opportunity to strengthen our relationships and to make an even greater impact in the community.

I joined the Rainmakers many years ago because I wanted to meet other women who shared my interests and to conduct my charitable giving in a more meaningful, hands-on way.  It is such a pleasure to work with this committed group of change-makers.  It has been a great opportunity to gain experience in collaborative grantmaking and to engage in the community, knowing that I’m helping to empower more young women through this shared effort than I could on my own.




Turning 15: Celebrating Our Supporters

What do you remember about turning 15? What I remember most about that incredible year was learning to drive. Getting a learner’s permit and being able to hit the road (with a licensed adult) was my first really big step toward independence and, if my mother’s terrified face over in the passenger’s seat was any indication, I was starting out enthusiastically but needed a little guidance. Her hand on the wheel helped steer me away from the mailboxes and signs that lined Roswell Road. Her slightly strained voice reminded me that I needed to switch lanes after checking my blind spot (and turning just my head, not the whole minivan). She taught me how to read a map to make sure that I was going in the right direction. Eventually, she kept her hands off the wheel and trusted me to change lanes without saying “car! Car! CAR!” to me with increasing urgency.

In January we announced that Washington Area Women’s Foundation turns 15 this year. Our anniversary comes on the heels of some big transformations (strategic planning, a new mission, and a new logo) and right in the middle of a growth spurt (the Campaign to Prosperity). Since 1998, there have been several donors whose guidance, generosity and support have helped the Foundation grow into the catalyst for change it is today.

Marion Ballard began making donations to The Women’s Foundation even before the organization was incorporated. She holds the record for longest consecutive giving history (17 years!). Anne Morrison, Anne Mosle and Jim Whitney have been giving for 16 years each. And Nancy Folger has been giving for 15 years. Donors who have supported the Foundation consecutively for the past 13-14 years are: Maya Ajmera, Coralie Bryant, Susan L. Butler, Donna Callejon, Lisa Claudy Fleischman, Julia Horman and Marjorie Pray.

More than a decade ago, these donors made a commitment to a small organization with a big goal: to transform our community by investing in women and girls. That commitment has been reflected in their continued philanthropy, but it goes beyond that. They have helped us grow by enthusiastically sharing our work with others – in fact, many of you probably heard about The Women’s Foundation through one of them. They have helped us map out our future. They trust the staff of experts at the Foundation to make changes when the environment and community call for them. And they remain well-informed and connected throughout the region, helping us keep an eye on the blind spots.

Thank you to the donors who got on the road with us 15 years ago and to those who have joined the ride since.

Want to share a memory about one of our early donors? Leave a comment below or email us at communications@wawf.org.

WPI releases personal reflections from giving circle founders, including African American Women's Giving Circle!

Personal reflections from women founders of the early giving circles are included in a new booklet just released by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Among the 18 interviews in Women’s Giving Circles: Reflections from the Founders is Lynn McNair’s story of her involvement with the African American Women’s Giving Circle at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Check out all the stories and learn more about Lynn’s personal experiences with the giving circle here.  These stories complement existing information about giving circles and add a personal connection to this vibrant form of giving.

Andrea Pactor is Associate Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.  She has worked with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute for four years and helps to further understanding of women’s philanthropy through research, education, and knowledge dissemination.

829 posts later, a bittersweet farewell. #inspired #transformed

November 22, 2006, when I posted my first post to this blog, seems like a lifetime ago (not in a bad way).  And I know now that anyone who says that a job is just a job has never worked at The Women’s Foundation.

For when I was handed the reigns of this blog, and given the responsibility of managing The Women’s Foundation’s communications and marketing, I had no idea that what I was truly being handed was a genuine community–a community committed to changing our region by investing in women and girls.

I know, I know–it sounds like a marketing pitch. A line. A brand. A lot of nonprofit mission mumbo jumbo. 

But I guarantee you, I’m not a good enough salesperson to be able to sell something I don’t believe in.  Just ask my mother. 

Have you seen my gameface?  No. 

Because I don’t have one.

But in this position, I’ll admit, I did get a marketing platform, a brand, to draw upon.  And it made my life easier–not because it was a brand, but because it was true. 

So, on my last day as The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications, I thought I’d unveil a bit about the brilliant tool that Susan Hasten and her colleagues at AXIS Communications put into my hands a few months after I came on board, and prove to you that it is, in fact, who we are here at The Women’s Foundation.

At least from my perspective.

For more than two years, the post-in note on my computer has had four words that have defined not only my work, but The Women’s Foundation.  Writing and speaking and thinking to and from them has not been a challenge.  For they speak for and to who we are. 

Here’s how:

The Women’s Foundation is, indeed, a community.  I have been honored to get to see it work from a number of perspectives.  And so have you. 

Our donors give not only from their bank accounts, but of their time and talent to change our community.  From Rainmakers to members of the African American Women’s Giving Circle to 1K Club members to Washington 100 members to the folks at Hobo International who donate the handbag centerpieces at our annual luncheon, our donors are thoughtful, smart, savvy, and commited to social change. 

They want to roll up their sleeves and get involved and they do.

Michael Colella has been taking the pictures that have enabled us to demonstrate the power of our work for years, as a volunteer, 100 percent of the time.  His commitment to our work and our mission extend beyond what I can convey here.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I’m not sure even that would do it.  And in the meantime, he’s kept me laughing even when we were working way after hours and ready to throw up our hands the night before the luncheon.

The Bivings Group, which developed and helps manage TheWomensFoundation.org (pro bono mind you), helped me figure out how to blog effectively, grow this site, and made our online votes and tons of other online initiatives possible.  Their knowledge, patience with me ("I can’t get the photo to upload!") and dedication to our work has astounded me every step of the way.

Jennifer Cortner (a board member and chair of our communications committee) and her colleagues at EFX Media have worked tirelessly to bring our work to life on video, while Jennifer has served as a mentor, teacher and friend to me as I made my way through video posting, luncheon production, and print layout (Wayne, Jessica, and Roberto, thanks for not killing me over those Community Update layouts). 

And now we have RP3, which has stepped in to support our print publications, luncheon theming and countless other aspects of our work (again, pro bono).  They are creative, committed and their understanding of and ability to reflect our mission and work back to us with their beautiful layouts, design and concept ideas has done nothing but floored me since I first met Beth and Kristi.

And, of course, there is The Hatcher Group, which supports our media outreach.  From Angie–who has taught me more about media, writing op-eds, press releases and just generally getting the word out, while also being a tremendous mentor and friend, to Josh–who came in and showed me everything I ever needed to know about social media in two hours or less, their impact on our work cannot be overstated.  They are constantly thinking about how they can help us promote our work and the interests of women and girls thorughout our community and it has been a true pleasure to work with them. 

And in addition, a few years ago, they said, "We’d like to work with your Grantee Partners (at no extra charge), to help them with their media capacity."  Ever since, we’ve picked a few partners each year to work one-on-one with them, resulting in stories like this one on The Art League and one on Fair Fund in the Washington Post–among many other positive outcomes that emerged from their work.

Then there is the staff of The Women’s Foundation: my colleagues and, now, good friends.  My colleagues are smart, hard working, mission-oriented people for whom I have the greatest respect.  They are also kind, funny and good-hearted.  Some of them microwave Tootsie Rolls, but hey, we all have our issues. 

In any case, it has been a pleasure to work with them, and to coax them into the crazy online world that is the blogosphere, Twitter and Facebook.  They have been patient with my antics, and eventually downright supportive.  Some, we could say, took that ball and ran with it (Gwen) in ways that even I hadn’t fathomed, and have made significant contributions to the thinking and dialogue around issues impacting women and girls in our community.  (Even if it was "age-inappropriate.")

A few samples of their posts can be found here, here, here, here, and, here, and pretty much all over the place.  Their writing, thinking and work daily makes me proud to have worked alongside them. 

It has been a priviledge to know and work with these committed women and men and to see this side of my community. 

Many, many times I have been asked how The Women’s Foundation has managed to have such superb media coverage, outreach and publications, and my answer is always that it’s because we have an extensive network of true partners standing behind us, committed to our work, our message and our mission. 

It is these people, and those I am sure I am forgetting to name, who, very honestly, have given The Women’s Foundation its voice in our region.

Broadly, this refers to The Women’s Foundation’s ability to connect Grantee Partners with resources, women to other women to make their community activism and giving more effective, and to make connections between the women and girls who need support and those who can help provide it.

In my work though, it has meant building connections through the online, offline and various worlds of communications.  And it’s been great, great fun.

Starting when Donna Callejon, our former board member and social media guru and mentor to me, said, "You have to go on Facebook." 

"Ugh, really?"

And so we did.  425 Cause members later, I’d say we’re pretty connected.  (Not to mention that I’ve reconnected with almost my entire high school debate team, but that’s another story.)

Then it was Twitter


But 605+ Followers later, she may have been onto something.

Then she said, "Can we please take ourselves less seriously sometimes?  I know our work is serious, but do we always have to be?"

We listened, and tried out this and this.

Then she said, "And can the blogs please be shorter?" 

Mostly, we ignored her on this point. #verbose

And here is where I get to talk about our Grantee Partners and the women and girls whose lives they transform each and every day.  Lives like Linda Butler and Christine Walker and the women and girls served by Polaris Project and other local organizations fighting human trafficking.

Their stories are endless, and so is their impact.  It will go on for generations, ebbing through individual lives, families and communities. 

In my work, I have had the privledge of learning about and telling their stories, over and over. 

It has been an honor to do this, and inspiring beyond words (Yes, even for me). 

In telling the stories of how our Grantee Partners are changing lives through jobs in constructionrehabilitation after prison, and helping prevent and help women and girls gain freedom after being trafficked, among countless others, I knew that I was only doing half of my job. 

That as part of The Women’s Foundation’s mission to raise the voices of women and girls, that we had to also raise theirs.

I was inspired to start office hours around communications and marketing, to learn about their needs and stories and challenges and to try to help ways to foster awareness of their work despite small budgets, lean staffs and workloads that were spiralling further and further out of control as the recession deepened. 

And from that, I was astounded to see that despite these challenges, their voices rose.

They started blogs, like this one, this one and this one.  They started Facebook pages and then began to Tweet, here, here and here.

Just to name a few.

And in that process, I was truly and genuinely changed. 

I went from being content writing and talking about this work to wanting to do it. 

I was inspired by more of our Grantee Partners than you can name, and not a small group of donors and members of the larger community around The Women’s Foundation, but it was the day that I wrote this that I knew that the next step for me would be to go into direct service. 

So I applied to graduate school and will begin a full-time Master’s program in social work this fall. 

And thus, 829 posts later, I find myself saying a very bittersweet farewell, to a community that has connected me to the leaders and visionaries and philanthropists that have inspired me to make a change

Personally and professionally.

So as you can see, it is much more than a branding platform. 

It is who we are.  It is truly, and genuinely, what we do.

As of close of business today, Lisa Kays is no longer the Director of Communications at The Women’s Foundation, but is honored to have been for the past (nearly) three years.  She is currently a full-time student pursuing a Master’s degree in social work.

Giving circle reminds me that "we are they"…

There is something about being with a group of women and sharing the collective spirit of a common purpose that turns delight into magic and conversation into revelation.

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending a recruitment event of the African American Women’s Giving Circle. Though a little warm outside, the heat was no match for the cool conversation and comfort of good company.

Held at the home of Claudia Thorne, one of the circle’s co-chairs, the meeting reminded me more of a neighborhood cookout than a recruitment event!  The pot-luck table was spread with all manner of sumptuous foods from catfish and chicken to lasagna and Thai noodles – a temptation to even the most disciplined of “weight watchers.”

More than 20 women gathered together on the screened porch – old friends, new friends, and Grantee Partners– a.k.a., friends in the making.

Out on the lawn, a brother and sister duo from the Cultural Academy for Excellence (CAFÉ) Positive Vibrations Youth Orchestra regaled us all with their steel pans.

If that had been all there was to the day, it would still have been a perfect way to spend an afternoon!

But again, there is something about being with a group of women and sharing in the spirit of a common purpose that turns delight into magic and conversation into revelation.

This was my revelation.

We are all challenged about how to make adjustments to our spending and saving habits to insulate the best we can from the effects of the economy.  And often, one of the first ways we do that is by pulling back on our philanthropic giving.  Because for most of us, giving is a “luxury,” something we do when we are in a place of abundance.

As a donor myself, I have to admit that I have been tempted to “rethink” my giving in order to feel more “secure” in otherwise uncertain times.

But yesterday, as I sat and listened to the stories of appreciation and gratitude, from the Grantee Partners attending the event, the voices and visions of so many of our Grantee Partners and the communities they serve, echoed in my head.

The grants made to the organizations in our community working on behalf of women and girls are anything but luxuries.

The work being done by these organizations, and so many like them, often on already shoe-string budgets, are the heart and life blood of our communities.

They cannot be separated from us or our priorities, even when resources are tight.

Sandy Jibrell, one of the founding members of the AAWGC and member of The Women’s Foundation’s board of directors, spoke about her motivation for participating in the giving circle for what is now her fourth year.  And while I know that I will not capture the eloquence and passion with which she spoke, the message is still an important one:

We are one community. When a woman is able to care for her family and see her children succeed, we all succeed. When that woman stumbles, and those children slip through the cracks, we all lose. Because we are they.

From the time he was on the campaign trail, President Obama talked about not being able to separate what was happening on Wall Street from what was happening on Main Street.  And maybe we all agreed in spirit, but perhaps Main Street and Wall Street were just too far away to feel the real weight of that sentiment.

As we sat on that porch in Cheverly, Maryland, we felt the inextricable tie to Prince George’s County (where CAFÉ is located), to Anacostia (where Ascensions, another AAWGC Grantee Partner, is located), to NE Washington, D.C. and all of the other places that have been touched by grants from the AAWGC.

The ties that bind us to these organizations and these communities are not defined by a proposal or a grant period.  And ultimately, their impact is not about a set of metrics or a report.

It is about how all of us will either rise together or fall together.  Because we are they.

Their survival is our survival. Their challenges are our challenges. Their successes are our successes.

And in times of economic crisis, it is more important than ever to make sure that these organizations have the critical support they need to continue doing what they do.

So when people ask me if I am sure that this is a good time to be recruiting for giving circles, or soliciting donors, my response is, absolutely!

Now, more than ever. And I say that not as a member of The Women’s Foundation staff, but as a donor and someone who knows more than ever that we are they.

So I thank this group of dynamic women for the wonderful food, the good company, and the very important revelation.

Nicole Cozier is The Women’s Foundation’s Philanthropic Education Officer.

Uncertain times inspire me to want to connect, not retreat.

Last Thursday was the kick-off of a new cycle of the Rainmaker’s Giving Circle.

Like many families, ours is considering ways to save more and spend less given the economic uncertainty we are all facing.  This year, I considered saying “no” or “taking a break” for this cycle and waiting to see where things go with the economy and my and my husband’s jobs.

What a funny coincidence that just last weekend, the senior minister at my church gave a sermon titled, “Spiritual Choices in Difficult Times.” He warned against giving in to fear and turning inward by creating a protective shell.  He encouraged us to resist the urge to take cover, and instead asked us reach out our hands, connect with others and live generously–reminding us that small actions and giving of our time can be powerful instruments of change.

For me, today’s kick-off meeting was a crystal clear affirmation of last week’s message.  It was a reminder of how building and maintaining those connections are so important.  In joining together to learn about the challenges and threats facing the women and children in our communities and determining how to distribute the Circle’s funds, I’ve received so much on a personal level.

During my six years with the Rainmaker’s, I became a mother to two wonderful daughters, my family “migrated” across state lines (something we were sure we would never do), and I’ve worked diligently to climb the corporate ladder at work.  Through all of these changes, the Rainmaker’s provided me with a group of supportive women who have been through these phases of life and who shared a belief in giving back to their community.

When I was pregnant with my first child, a fellow Rainmaker sent me a card with a little reminder that the pregnancy would fly by quickly and I would be able to see my toes again and to get ready for all of the positive and wonderful changes that were coming my way.  I was so touched by that card. 

Small gestures can have such a lasting impact.

Every year, I return from site visits we do as part of Rainmakers in awe of the things that organizations and their dedicated staff are doing to provide support to women and children in our communities. It’s a reminder of the powerful impact that a small group of people can achieve when they act collectively.

It encourages me to continue educating myself on these issues, sharing the information with others and to give a bit back to my community.

As we embark on another year practicing collective giving, I am very excited and so glad that I decided to continue participating in this wonderful process. I am thankful that The Women’s Foundation provides this opportunity. 

And, I don’t think we’ve ever had such a large group of participants!

It seems that others must have intuitively felt the need to connect during these uncertain times. I’m looking forward to getting to know the women in this year’s Rainmaker’s Giving Circle and to the inspiration that I’ll feel as learn about and witness all of the wonderful things that are happening in and around Washington D.C. to improve the lives of women and children.

Rebecca S. Manicone has been a member of the Rainmakers Giving Circle for six years. 

To learn more about how you can get connected to your community through giving circles or other collective giving opportunities, contact Nicole Cozier, Philanthropic Education Officer, at ncozier@wawf.org.  There’s a place for everyone at The Women’s Foundation…find yours today!

Giving circles now recruiting those who want to answer the call to service, together.

On Monday, I listened to the President’s first press conference.  I could see that the weight of his responsibilities rest heavy upon him. The enormity of the responsibility that he bears for moving the country through these challenges times is certainly not enviable.

His words that “inaction can turn this crisis into a catastrophe” hung heavy in the air.

But despite the weightiness of the message, I was heartened by his continual reinforcement that we are all in this together.  That the power of our collective efforts knows no bounds.

While very few of us can say that we have been untouched by the challenging economy, the reality is that we are not all affected in the same way. 

Women and girls continue to be the hardest hit in times of economic crisis, so while for some, the realities of this economy are a rude awakening – for others it is catastrophic.

Maintaining our perspective and continuing to believe in our power to make a difference is paramount.

More than ever, The Women’s Foundation’s belief in The Power of Giving Together holds true as an opportunity and a call to action.

For more than six years, The Women’s Foundation’s giving circles have allowed women to pool and leverage their resources to make change.  The outcome is that the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts!  And the beauty of this model is that it enables a relatively small contribution to make a big difference.

We are now in the process of welcoming new members to both of The Women’s Foundation’s giving circles: the African American Women’s Giving Circle and the Rainmakers Giving Circle.  These circles continue to be dedicated to the power of collective giving and the empowerment of making the decision together about how to grant out their funds.

The Rainmakers Giving Circle will be hosting a reception for interested members on February 17, 2009 to learn more.  Please contact me if you’d like to join us and learn more about The Power of Giving Together and how you can make your investment in our community go further.

Now more than ever, we need people to come together to invest in our community and in the area’s women and girls.  We have our call to action from our President and from our community.

Please join us in working toward the solution.

Nicole Cozier is The Women’s Foundation’s philanthropic education officer.

Why women's funds are too (blank) to fail.

Yesterday in Philantopic, Foundation Center President Bradford Smith made the case for which nonprofits are "too big, too important or too (blank) to fail."   In other words, these are the nonprofits that he’d give a bailout to, if he had the choice.

Women’s funds make the list of only 14 nonprofits he named,  including Greenpeace, Oxfam, World Wildlife Fund and Doctors Without Borders.

Not bad company.

Bradford writes of women’s funds, "It started with Mama Cash in the Netherlands, spread to San Francisco with the Global Fund for Women, branched out to Mexico with Semillas, and keeps on growing."


There are 134 women’s funds throughout the world today.  And Bradford putting them on the list begs the question–are they too important or too (blank) to fail?  And if so, why?

I’ve got a few theories, and I’ll even leave out all the (very true) stuff about how investing in women is the best way to improve a community and the world and will come up with some new stuff.

First, women’s funds and the way they do business are shifting the power dynamics of philanthropy.  Philanthropy and community development generally operate on a  top-down model, with program officers or funders making grants to nonprofits who are hesitant to share concerns, ideas, or mistakes with that funder for fear of a future loss of funding.  As a result, the organization doesn’t improve over time and weak aspects of a program or funding strategy aren’t addressed.  Further, the funder loses the valuable input of the organizations working most closely with the people and issues they want to address. 

Women’s funds tend toward community-based philanthropy, using diverse groups of people–whether in a giving circle or on a grantmaking committee–to award grants.  Decision-making is spread throughout the community, which leads to decisions that reflect the true needs and realities of what is happening on the ground, and also makes it possible for the nonprofits receiving the funds to have open, honest dialogue with the fund’s program officers and other staff.  Staff can serve more as advisors, capacity builders and partners than as "bosses."

This model is a win-win for the nonprofits, the funder and the community they’re serving. 

Second, women’s funds are fostering community involvement, ownership and social change.  Because they don’t just give out grants, women’s funds rely on their donors and supporters to be geniunely involved in their work, which requires them to learn more about their community, the issues impacting it and how strategies to address it. 

Whether that individual then stays in that community or moves to another one, or to another charity or nonprofit, they take all that they have learned about effective, strategic giving with them–meaning that every philanthropic dollar they invest is likely to have a greater return than if they had just written a check and never learned about how to make their gift go as far as possible.

Third, women’s funds are risk-taking and innovative, and therefore tend to root out and support the best strategies and organizations.  Due to the wisdom of collective grantmaking, which leads to its ability to seek out, find and fund organizations that may be small, new and/or struggling, they are truly able to elevate the best strategies, programs and ideas to a more visible, effective playing field.  Often when other funders won’t take that risk. 

And, because they foster open dialogue with their nonprofit partners, they are able to see when an effective program is otherwise being hindered by a management or fundraising issue–and help correct it.  And so organizations and ideas that may otherwise never have made it–but prove tremendously effective years later–receive the support they need to be seen beyond the more established organizations and strategies.

So, just off the top of my head, I’d agree with Bradford that women’s funds are too (important) (innovative) (effective) (inspiring) and (gamechanging) to fail.

Would you agree?  What other aspects of women’s funds make them too (blank) to fail? 

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications

Arts are an important investment, even when resources are tight.

Looking at the recent grants issued by our two giving circles, they may seem a bit counter-intuitive given the current economic climate.

Some have asked me why I believe funding the arts for girls is so important when there are many other pressing issues and priorities in our city, and funds are so tight.

But I’m proud of these recent funding choices by our African American Women’s Giving Circle and the Rainmakers, who chose this grantmaking cycle to invest in the Cultural Academy for Excellence (CAFÉ), a music arts program for girls in Maryland, and The Art League, an art mentoring program for at-risk, pre-teen girls in Virginia.

I salute these choices because in tough economic times, so often the arts are among the first cuts made in schools and programs for youth.

And at The Women’s Foundation, it is part of our mission to encourage philanthropy that focuses on filling the gaps where services are most needed and our support can make a unique, significant contribution.

I am a long-time supporter of the arts. I serve on the board of the Cultural Development Corporation, which is committed to supporting artistic outlets in Washington, D.C. that also create economic return for our community.

I personally invest in the arts because I believe that they are a fundamental part of the health and vibrancy of any community, contributing a space for dialogue, reflection, spiritual and emotional growth and intellectual challenge. The arts remind us of our shared humanity.

Similarly, the programs our giving circles have chosen to support use the arts as a means to help our community’s young women to build self-esteem, academic skills, and an expanded sense of their place in their community and the world.

Opportunities like these are all-too-often lost in communities and families where resources are limited and must be directed to more basic needs like food, shelter and clothing.

So, at a time when attention is focused on where to cut back so many programs and opportunities, I’m proud to see our giving circle members taking the lead in recognizing the need for youth in our area to imagine and create a future based on all of their unique talents and potential.

Whether they lie in a book or on a computer, or on a stage or blank canvas.

Phyllis Caldwell is president of The Women’s Foundation.

Giving circles proving a powerful way to give more by giving together–without breaking the bank.

As donors try to think of a way to maximize their gifts at a time of such great need througout the country, a lot of attention is falling upon giving circles as an innovative way to give a lot–as a collective, without breaking the bank–as an individual.

MSN Money recently featured a piece called, "How to give away $500,000," highlighting the African Women’s Giving Circle as one example of how giving circles allow individuals to pool their resources and make their personal gifts go further.  Not to mention have fun and forge inspiring, powerful new friendships.

Additionally, PhilanthroMedia had a post recently on how a giving circle lets everyone be a philanthropist.

And, while not a giving circle, GoErie.com featured a story yesterday on how women in Erie are pooling their funds through the Erie Women’s Fund.  Each woman gives $1,000 a year over five years, resulting in their first grant of $50,000 to the "Listen, Mentor, Act Poverty Reduction Program."

If you’re in the Washington metropolitan area and are interested in learning more about getting involved in this growing trend that can help your individual philanthropy have a bigger impact through the power of collective giving, click here.  We have two giving circles currently recruiting new members.

Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s director of communications.