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.

Weekly Round-Up: News and Analysis on Women and Poverty (Week ending August 14, 2009)

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, a national foundation-led initiative, is excited to collaborate with The Women’s Foundation to bring you the latest news and analysis on women and poverty.

Spotlight is the go-to site for news and ideas about fighting poverty.

For daily updates and links to past articles, check out “Women and Poverty.”  It’s a new section of our site with a comprehensive collection of recent news and analysis on women and poverty.

Along with these daily updates, continue to visit TheWomensFoundation.org for our weekly rundown of the top news stories on women and poverty every week.

Here’s this week’s news:

To learn more about Spotlight, visit www.spotlightonpoverty.org.  To sign up for our weekly updates with the latest news, opinion and research from around the country, click here.

The Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity Team

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity is a foundation-led, non-partisan initiative aimed at ensuring that our political leaders take significant actions to reduce poverty and increase opportunity in the United States. We bring together diverse perspectives from the political, policy, advocacy and foundation communities to engage in an ongoing dialogue focused on finding genuine solutions to the economic hardship confronting millions of Americans.

We'll give you a purse, you'll help us make change for women and girls!

You know how they say you should be the change you wish to see in the world?

Well, now you can make the change you want to see in the world for women and girls!

And, becoming a change agent for our region’s women and girls will only cost you your spare change!


Through The Power of Giving Together, The Women’s Foundation combines gifts of all sizes to make larger gifts that really make a difference for women and girls in our community.
So, while your spare change may not seem like a lot, when we combine it with everyone else’s, it is!

And, it will help fuel our work, which helps make make financial literacy, better jobs, health and safety, and affordable, quality child care and early education a reality for our region’s women and girls.

So, click here to ask us for your free change purse.

We’ll send it to you, you’ll fill it up and then mail us a check or make a gift online for the amount of change you gathered.

Then, we’ll combine it with the gifts of others to change the lives of our region’s women and girls!

And you can keep the purse as a reminder of how you helped make change for our region’s women and girls!

If you have any questions or would like to request a number of change purses for a group activity, feel free to contact me at lkays@wawf.org or 202.347.7737 ext. 202.

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

Girls' lack of access to sports often signals even greater disparities.

The other day, Phyllis mentioned a New York Times article to me on how girls in New York weren’t able to participate in sports because they had to stay home to baby sit and do other chores within the family.

I looked it up immediately, because it seemed so impossible to me.  It sounded too much like the same dynamics at work that prevented girls from finishing school in Africa, which I’ve posted about before.

And yet there it was in the New York Times, the exact same dynamics at work preventing girls from accessing sports, which can and do play a critical role in the development of self-esteem, healthy habits, physical strength, friendships, and academic success.

The article explains, "Soledad’s after-school routine is different from that of her cousin Karl Pierre…who plays basketball nearly every day after school and says he dreams of earning a college basketball scholarship. Karl lives in an apartment with Soledad, her father, their grandmother and other relatives. But boys in the family are not asked to baby-sit.  ‘It’s not fair,’ said Soledad, who also hopes to play college basketball. But if she were to complain, she said, ‘They’d just make me stay home for a week.’"

In addition to the unequal chore divide, girls’ parents also tend to resist their participation in sports due to concerns about safety.

The article states, "Tiffany’s father had reason to be suspicious, Mr. Mariner said later, because she had previously used basketball as a cover when she wanted to leave the house. Mr. Binning said he relented that day because ‘the coach showed me she’s in good hands.’  Parents rarely question their sons’ whereabouts, Mr. Mariner said.  ‘I could take my boys to another state, and I wouldn’t get these calls,’ he said. ‘They’d probably say, ‘Oh, you’re back so soon?’”

As a teacher in West Africa, I used to hear these arguments all the time, only about how these were barriers to parents sending their girls to school.  "We need her at home to get water," they would say, or, "The school is too far, it’s not safe for her to walk."

Just like the girls in this article, the girls I taught in Benin didn’t have the ability to contradict or combat these challenges. 

And no one seemed very interested in considering making the route to school safer or having their sons share the duties of fetching water.

So their daughters stayed at home.  They dropped out of school.  They watched their brothers go on to complete school and compete in soccer games, when they could get away from their chores long enough to do that.

When I am reminded that these trends also exist here, I grow concerned that what we’re seeing in sports could soon be–or is already–reflected in the arts, in access to clubs and extra curricular activities, then in access to study time and, eventually, academic success.

In our work here at The Women’s Foundation, we see the impact of this as well, which is why we’re funding programs that provide access for girls to tennis and other sports and arts opportunities. 

For me, a true understanding of the importance of access to sports came when I was speaking with Sister Mary Bourdon, the head of one of our Grantee Partners, the Washington Middle School for Girls (WMSG). 

Like the schools described in the New York Times article, WMSG can’t afford fully funded sports teams for the girls.  They provide what they can, but it’s sporadic and not nearly at the level of what suburban schools provide.

As a woman who grew up in public schools where girls’ sports were funded and available (though I still regret that there was no girls’ soccer team once I hit high school), the impact of this had never fully hit home for me until Sister Mary explained that when her girls move on to high school, it’s challenging for them to relate to or build friendships with the girls they meet in their new high schools because they don’t have the athletic skills to be on the teams where so many of those bonds and friendships are formed.

And their peers have been playing these sports for years.

A few weeks later, I had the pleasure of meeting with Joey, a student at WMSG, who would speak at our Leadership Luncheon that year.  When I asked her what she’d do if her school had enough funds, one of her top priorities was sports.

"Some sports teams, " Joey told me, "Especially a track team!  I would love that because I love to run. I even run faster than all the boys in my neighborhood!"

As many are taking stock of the progress made from and the challenges still to come with Title IX, Joey’s words still ring in my ears as the most compelling case to make sure that girls have equal access to sports as boys.

Because given equal ground, girls can outrun, or at least run with, all the boys!

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

Grantmaking for women and girls is gaining, but still hasn't caught up.

And, on the heels of our announcement of $400,000 in new grants and more information on how women are increasingly impacting philanthropy,The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that grants for women and girls are growing faster than other foundation giving.

The Chronicle writes, "Giving by grant makers who specifically focus on helping women and girls has grown more rapidly in recent years than giving by all foundations, according to a new study released today by the Foundation Center and the Women’s Funding Network."


Though there is still a lot of work to be done.  As The Chronicle reports, "As a share of all foundation grant making, grants to benefit women and girls reached a high of 7.4 percent in 2000 and 2003 and has hovered between 5 and 6 percent since 1990."

7.4 percent.  As the high.

Given that we’re still half of the population, that isn’t nearly enough.

Still, progress is progress. 

And while this is a reminder of how far we have yet to go, it’s also an inspiring tribute to how far we’ve come, and how possible change is.

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

A young feminist describes her personal philanthropic power.

As a follow-on to today’s earlier post on how women are increasingly driving charitable giving, I couldn’t help but also post this link to a Feministing post by Miriam, on her own personal giving.

I was grabbed by Miriam’s description of her own personal giving not only because she describes her motivations honestly (the economy, being involved with nonprofits), but also because she explains how her own perception of philanthropy has changed from including just the uber-wealthy to encompassing regular people just like her.

Miriam writes, "When I used to think of philanthropy, I’d think of really really rich people giving huge sums of money. The culture of giving has changed, thanks to online donation programs and groups like MoveOn.org or the Obama campaign, who encouraged people to give even small amounts understanding that if many people did, it would make a big impact."

Pretty much exactly what we aim to do through The Power of Giving Together

How refreshing to have it described so eloquently by a young feminist out there doing her own thoughtful, philanthropic thing.

Thanks for the inspiration, Miriam.

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

Women increasingly in the driver's seat when it comes to charitable giving.

The In Good Company blog took some time yesterday to explore how women are impacting the world of philanthropy, with some interesting findings I thought I’d share to get the week started:

First, In Good Company reports, last year, anonymous donations were made to at least 20 universities.  All were earmarked for scholarships for women and minorities and were all given to schools whose presidents are currently women.  Mysteriously cool.  Speculation is that these donations are coming from a woman, or group of women, which is great.

But I still have to ask–why anonymously?  Why not proudly attach names to these empowering gifts for women?

Then, did you know that single women are more likely to give more than single men? 

Fascinating, given that still, single, women-headed households are far more likely to be living in poverty, and that women are still earning less than men

So I guess it makes sense then that when women are married, they influence their husbands to give more than they would if left to their own devices. 

We’ve seen how a few of those stories might be happening among our donors.

So, married or single, it seems the increasing reality is that women are giving more, influencing giving more and generally changing the philanthropic landscape as we know it. 

To get plugged into this powerful movement in the Washington metropolitan area, learn more about our work here.  Elsewhere?  Find your local women’s fund through the Women’s Funding Network.

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

Congratulations to the Catalogue for Philanthropy Greater Washington's 2009-2010 Class!

Every year, the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington chooses our region’s best, brightest and most promising nonprofits to feature. 

The list is a prestigious one given that organizations are vetted by a diverse, knowledgeable group of stakeholders throughout the community who know our region, its issues and the organizations and work that is making a difference–much like the volunteer committees and giving circles that participate in The Women’s Foundation’s grantmaking processes.

Not only is The Women’s Foundation proud to have a number of staff members who volunteer on the review committee, but each year, we are always thrilled to see our own Grantee Partners make the list!

Last year, there was a lot of overlap, and this year is no different.  Today, when the Catalogue of Philanthropy: Greater Washington Class of 2009-2010 was announced, we were proud to note the following Grantee Partners listed:

Centro Familia, which engages immigrant families in early care and education
Urban Alliance Foundation, which facilitates year-long professional internship opportunities for at-risk youth
ASHA for Women, which empowers South Asian women to live free of abuse
Through the Kitchen Door International, which provides life and employment skills training that changes trainees’ lives
Women Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE), which provides legal, economic, counseling and educational services for domestic violence victims
Pregnancy Aid Center, which provides prenatal and health care for women and newborns in need
Doorways for Women and Families, which provides shelter and services for homeless families and domestic violence survivors
Silver Spring Interfaith Housing Coalition, a transitional and supportive housing program serving homeless and low-income people
Tahirih Justice Center, which protects immigrant women and girls who are fleeing gender-based violence
Computer C.O.R.E., which provides job-readiness training in computer and life skills for low-income adults
Jubilee Jobs, which provides compassionate, skilled job placement and ongoing support
STRIVE DC, an employment program transforming the lives of disadvantaged people in Washington, D.C.

The Women’s Foundation is proud to partner with these organizations doing outstanding work on behalf of our region’s women and girls, and congratulates them and all of the 2009-2010 Catalogue Class, which represents the effective, innovative work The Women’s Foundation is proud to support throughout the Washington metropolitan area.

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

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. 

2009 Stepping Stones Research Briefing audio and presentations now available!

We’re pleased to announce that the audio and presentations from the 2009 Stepping Stones Research Briefing are now available online, thanks to our partner and co-sponsor, The Urban Institute.

This year’s briefing focused on the realities facing low-income women and their families in the current recession, as well as strategies to help them cope. 

Speakers at this year’s briefing included Heather Boushey from the Center for American Progress, Ed Lazere with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Marty Schwartz with Vehicles for Change and more.

The briefing was also live-Tweeted @TheWomensFndtn with hashtag #SSRB.

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