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.




D.C. Government Slashes Funding for Some of the City's Most Vulnerable Women

Days after the District made the shocking announcement that $20 million had been cut from the homeless services budget for the 2010 fiscal year, advocates and organizations that provide shelter for the homeless are still reeling. One of The Women’s Foundation grantee partners is reaching out for help – as winter approaches and the organizations that assist the homeless face a crisis.

Calvary Women’s Services was notified Monday, September 28, by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) that contract funding for Calvary would be cut by nearly $75,000 beginning October 1st.  These funds support safe housing and other services for 150 homeless women each year.  TCP is an independent, non-profit corporation that coordinates DC’s Continuum of Care homeless services.

Calvary is one of many social service providers notified of cuts to their existing contracts. Emergency, transitional and supported permanent housing programs were all targeted as the city attempted to close an ever-widening budget gap.  The impact of these cuts on the overall homeless services system is going to be severe, with some housing programs reducing their services and others likely closing programs. 

Although these cuts may provide some immediate relief to the city’s budget problems, the real impact of the cuts will be felt by those in need of safe housing and support services.  Women who have already lost their jobs in this economic crisis will have fewer services and housing options available to them. These cuts will make women who are already at-risk much more likely to end up living on the streets or in unsafe situations.

The women who come to programs like Calvary are survivors of violence, women struggling with mental illness, and women working to overcome addictions.  At Calvary we make sure they have access to all of the services they need to address these challenges – in addition to providing a safe place to live.

We know that programs like ours work.  Every five days a woman moves out of Calvary and into her own home.

We have always relied on the support of both public funding and private donations to make our programs possible.  In the past, supporters have helped us close gaps like this one, and I am hopeful that the community will step up once again.  But I am also concerned that this gap may be too wide for our generous donors to close.

The coming months will be challenging ones for organizations like Calvary, as we try to find ways to continue to provide women in this community with critical, life changing services.  More so, they will be challenging months for women who need services like ours, as they face closed doors and reduced services at programs across the city.

 You can make a difference.  Support Calvary – or another agency facing these cuts – today. 

 Volunteer, donate or learn more at www.calvaryservices.org.

Kris Thompson is the Executive Director of Calvary Women’s Services, recognized as a 2009 Leadership Awardee by The Women’s Foundation.  Learn more about them on their Web site or on Facebook.

Wash Post: Rainmakers Grantee Partner does room makeovers for girls in Alexandria!

Things like this make me just love my job.

A few weeks ago, staff from The Hatcher Group, who help out with The Women’s Foundation’s public relations, came in to do hourly one-on-one sessions with select Grantee Partners that we thought would benefit from some training and technical assistance in media relations. 

This is all part of The Women’s Foundation’s approach to "beyond the check" grantmaking, wherein we not only provide grants to help our partners conduct their work, but also support them in doing that work more effectively and efficiently.

We started this particular capacity building effort last year at The Hatcher Group’s suggestion and it was a great success, with a number of the meetings leading to significant media coverage, such as that for Fair Fund around their work combatting human trafficking.

This year, they’ve worked their magic again, and yesterday, new Rainmakers Grantee Partner, The Art League–and their "Space of Her Own" program–were featured in a Washington Post story.

According to the story, Space of her Own was created in 2003 when the Alexandria Court Service Unit and the Art League started it "with the goal of helping low-income girls who were identified by their school as at-risk, including many who had a relative incarcerated. The hope was that adding to the girls’ support systems would help keep them out of the juvenile justice system. This year, 12 fifth-graders on the east end of Alexandria participated in the program, and the group aims to expand to the west side of the city next year."

The program culminates every year in an "Extreme Home Makeover-esque" event in which the girls’ mentors help makeover their bedrooms. 

But the changes from the program go well beyond the aesthetic.  As the article continues, "Ta’Janae, 12, who was working on her room next door with mentor Samantha Sirzyk, described attending a tea party and going ice skating for the first time. She spoke in a whisper but is much less shy after going through the program, said her sister Diamond, 13. "She broke out of her shell," she said."

Leading me to remember Phyllis’ post when the Rainmakers first decided to invest in The Art League, that it’s important to invest in the arts, even when resources are tight

As Phyllis said, "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."


Now, go check out that story to learn more about Space of Her Own and to see the makeover pics!

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

Rainmakers give hope, in addition to grants.

When I saw Becky’s inspiring post earlier this week about the first Rainmaker’s Giving Circle meeting, I couldn’t help but throw in my two cents as well.

Like Becky, I was also struck by that meeting because it was such an indication of hope to see so many women gathered around the table that we had to scramble for chairs and space to squeeze everyone in.

Given the recession, I had been concerned that we’d have the opposite problem.

Instead, not only was the room packed with women who had, as Becky said, given serious thought to their commitments and decided to reaffirm their investments in The Women’s Foundation, the Rainmakers and our region’s women and girls, but the group was seriously committed to thinking through how to best invest their funds so that they would be of the greatest impact.

As I sat and listened to the dialogue about how to best help nonprofits serving women and girls in this economic climate when increasing needs would make decision-making and prioritizing even tougher than in the past, I was struck not by the bad news that was at the core of the conversation, but by a sense of overwhelming hope.

For the conversation was not only an indication that women in our region are ready to continue to prioritize their investments in our region’s women and girls, but also that the wisdom, intelligence, thought and strategy that they put into how they invest will help ensure that funds invested in women and girls through women’s philanthropy, will, without a doubt, have a tremendous impact on our community.

Phyllis Caldwell is President of The Women’s Foundation.

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.

Congrats Doreen, and thanks for being an inspiration to so many!

I’m so thrilled to hear of Doreen being recognized as a 2008 Washingtonian of the Year!  This is so well-deserved.

I recall first meeting Doreen in an early round of the Rainmakers Giving Circle, and was so impressed by how thoughtful and engaged she was in the circle’s work, which was fairly demanding, time-wise.  Knowing how complicated her schedule was, her example motivated me to strengthen my commitment to The Women’s Foundation.

If she could make that meeting downtown, I had better get there!

Through the years, it has been delightful to witness her effect on others as well.

I remember how moved I was to see Grantee Partners beaming as they had picture after picture taken with her at a house event.

At a Washington 100 breakfast at her home, a Grantee Partner told our group how, after meeting Doreen at a previous event, she stopped watching her regular Spanish newscast and started watching Doreen’s. Not only did her English improve, but now her sons also watch Doreen.

And just last month at the board meeting, Covenant House’s Executive Director, Judith Dobbins, broke out with a huge smile as she recognized Doreen during our otherwise routine, round-the-table introductions.  We all had to laugh.

Because of Doreen’s personal graciousness and the respect she garners throughout our region, The Women’s Foundation’s good work is amplified every time she represents us.

But Doreen also has a tremendous fun side that I’ve had the pleasure to get to know as we’ve worked together as co-chairs of Washington 100.  Given how organized and poised she is, you probably would be surprised that half the time I feel like we’re Lucy and Ethel.  We spend a lot of time laughing, just scrambling to keep up and improvise with our latest version of a "plan", which is often a work in progress.

Thank goodness Doreen is a rare combination of extremely dependable and organized, mixed with go-with-the-flow and a really wry sense of humor.

I’m so proud of her earning this prestigious award.

Doreen, you make us all proud!  Congrats on this dazzling accomplishment.

Barb Strom Thompson is co-chair of The Women’s Foundation’s Washington 100 network and a board member. In her professional life, she is a child development specialist.

Congratulations to Doreen Gentzler, Washingtonian of the Year!

It is just like Doreen to accept an honor as huge as being named Washingtonian of the Year by turning the attention back to The Women’s Foundation and the NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo—two community efforts she supports tirelessly.

But that’s exactly what she did Monday night on the news when her co-anchor, Jim Vance, proudly announced her award. Doreen’s response was about how pleased she was that the award brought attention to Washington Area Women’s Foundation and the NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo.

Having worked with Doreen, who serves on our board of directors, I echo Jim’s statements about Doreen’s commitment and efforts in our community.  She has been a tremendous force in fostering The Women’s Foundation’s success, serving first as part of our Rainmakers Giving Circle, and then as a board member and co-chair of our philanthropic leadership network, Washington 100. She also brings an amazing presence and energy to our Leadership Luncheon, which she graciously emcees every year.

As just one example of Doreen’s commitment, she—along with her co-chair, Barb Strom Thompson—helped solidify Washington 100 by recruiting more than 100 founding members to kick off the network in 2007. Many of the current members will say that they were impressed and inspired to join and to remain part of the network by Doreen’s outstanding positive energy and dedication to our work.

In addition to her tremendous talents as a communicator and her knowledge of our community, Doreen brings humility, humor, grace and passion to everything she does, and I know that I speak for everyone in The Women’s Foundation’s community who has had the opportunity to meet or work with her that we are very fortunate to have her involved in our work and mission.

Doreen, here at The Women’s Foundation, we are tremendously proud of you and are thrilled to see your contributions to our region acknowledged by this award.  Thank you for your continuing service to help improve the lives of our region’s women and girls.

Congrats Doreen, and to all the other 2008 Washingtonians of the Year. We’re grateful for the work you do to make our community a better place to live and work.

Read the article on Doreen’s award here.

Phyllis Caldwell is president of The Women’s Foundation and a member of Washington 100.

Washington Middle School for Girls gets a little help from friends.

The Washington Post reports today that the Washington Middle School for Girls received a little sprucing up from about 40 volunteers from Chesapeake Surgical who came in to paint classrooms.

The Washington Middle School for Girls is unique to Washington, D.C. in that there are no other all-girls independent schools in any underprivileged part of the city.  The school was founded to provide a high quality education for young girls who show academic potential, but who are at risk of terminating their education prematurely, and also provides important support to the girl’s parents.  For example, during the course of its first mother/daughter book club, seven of the mothers pursued and completed high school equivalency programs.

Washington Middle School for Girls is also a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation through support by the Rainmakers Giving Circle.  In 2004, the Rainmakers granted funding for the addition of a fourth grade to the school.  In 2005, the Rainmakers provided funding to supply the 4th and 5th grades with supplies, books, teaching materials, and a reading specialist and teaching aid.

The Women’s Foundation is thrilled to see Washington Middle School for Girls receiving the sort of community support exhibited through the volunteer efforts by Chesapeake Surgical, and hopes that this inspires further support among the community for the organizations and strategies that are improving the lives of women and girls.

Grantmaking through a giving circle: inspiring, intense, and lively!

Last Monday, I met with 12 other women for three hours and discussed our shared goal: improving the lives of young women in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

This might sound like wishful thinking, but it was much more than that.  We are members of The Women’s Foundation’s Rainmakers Giving Circle and have pooled our charitable contributions in order to make a bigger impact than we would by writing individual checks.

Our task on Monday was to review and sort through 34 proposals from nonprofit organizations seeking funding from our circle and narrow the field to those we want to consider further and visit.  It was daunting, but we were up for the challenge.

I left the meeting feeling overwhelmed by the vast needs of so many at-risk populations in this area but, at the same time, exhilarated by the circle’s collective energy and humbled and inspired by the good work of the 34 organizations we reviewed.

This is my fourth year as a Rainmaker, and the proposal review meeting is my favorite part of the grantmaking process.  I love the free flowing sharing of ideas, as well as the dynamic and organic nature of the discussion. The conversations take unexpected twists and turns, are always lively and sometimes intense, but never contentious.

Many questions are raised, discussed, partially resolved, discussed again and sometimes even left unanswered.

Do we want to find the “diamond in the rough” where our money will help a program get off the ground?  Or should we support an established organization with a strong track record and add our name to a reputable list of funders?  Should we decline a prior grantee organization that seems to be having managerial problems?  Or stick with it so as not to abandon the organization at a fragile time?  Does a particular issue push our buttons, tug at our heartstrings and compel us to say, "Yes!…Let’s keep that organization on our list"?  Or, should we ignore our emotions and just look at the statistics?

These questions and many others make the review process exciting, frustrating and, ultimately, rewarding.

The Rainmakers have a few requirements for the proposals, such as the age of the target population and a specific geographic focus, but we have a lot of discretion in reaching our decisions—and that discretion generates rich debate.  I have learned that grantmaking is an art,  not a science, and the life experiences of each member as well as the “pulse” of the circle as a whole make a tremendous impact on the decisions that we reach.

By the close of our meeting, we had narrowed our 34 organizations to eight that will remain on the docket and receive site visits in the next phase of our grantmaking process.

We didn’t raise our hands to vote or record our preferences on pieces of paper that were tallied.  Instead, we reached our decisions by consensus, ultimately selecting a slate of organizations that likely does not match any one individual member’s dream list of organizations, but represents the collective thinking of our giving circle.

Since we have joined together to leverage our charitable giving, I can’t think of a more fitting or satisfying result.

Debbi Lindenberg is co-chair of the Rainmakers Giving Circle.  In her professional life, she is an attorney working as a grantmaking consultant to foundations.