We're celebrating $1.1 million in grantmaking this year!

As school lets out for the summer, there are many proud moments to celebrate, whether it’s a graduation milestone, a decent report card or the beginning of something new.

Here at The Women’s Foundation, we’re celebrating meeting an ambitious goal: maintaining our grantmaking as we close out the fiscal year!  With our most recent approval of grants, we hit our goal of granting $1.1 million to nonprofits working to improve the lives of women and girls in our region.

Our Stepping Stones grants support critical work in the areas of financial education, job training and early care and education, all of which provide the essential tools and support needed to assist low-income women and their families during these tough economic times.

Organizations like Community Tax Aid, Doorways for Women and Families, and Manna, Inc. will continue their work with low-income, women-headed families by providing them with the financial education and tax prep assistance needed to start them on a path of economic success.

SOME and Year Up are providing the job training that is essential to putting women on a career pathway.

Food stamps are an important work support and play a critical role in moving a women and her family out of poverty.  DC Hunger Solutions will continue its advocacy work to ensure that eligible women and their children are receiving food stamps.

Another key work support is access to quality child care. Montgomery College Foundation, Prince George’s Child Resource Center and WETA will work to improve the quality of early care and education.

Now more than ever, nonprofit organizations face a myriad of challenges and navigating complex systems can be overwhelming. The Human Services Coalition of Prince George’s County will work to improve public policies so they enhance, rather than hinder, the effectiveness of the work nonprofits do on behalf of low-income, women-headed families in Prince George’s County.

Through our Open Door Capacity Fund, we’re funding capacity building work that aims to shore up the long-term sustainability of organizations. This work is essential to ensuring that these organizations have the necessary resources to address key organizational and operational improvements, while maintaining the much-needed services they provide to our region’s at-risk women and girls.

Please take a moment to review our most recent grants and take pride knowing that together we’re making a difference in the lives of women and girls in our community.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is the Vice President, Programs at The Women’s Foundation.

CARECEN: The gift of communications from The Women's Foundation.

Thanks to the support and collaboration of Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) has moved quickly ahead in the area of communications capacity over the past year.

CARECEN provides direct housing counseling and legal services, as well as citizenship education and community economic development to 8,000 area Latino residents per year, while also reaching thousands more through outreach efforts.

An Open Door Capacity Fund grant in 2008-2009 provided a key source of support needed to allow CARECEN to focus on communications as a priority.  In May 2008, CARECEN met with Lisa Kays, The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications, to talk about emerging strategies for enhancing communications in nonprofit organizations, and CARECEN also participated in the highly informative July 2008 workshop on “Communications and New Media” put on by The Women’s Foundation. 

Over the past year, Mi-Young Kim, an extraordinarily dedicated volunteer skilled at Web site design, worked closely with Ana Negoescu, Director of the Citizenship Program, to redesign our Web site.

CARECEN also embraced e-communications, and starting in February 2009 launched a monthly e-newsletter for a community of 1,000+ friends and supporters, including more than 100 volunteers who contribute annually to the organization.

With artwork by Salvadoran-American artist Hugo Bonilla, the new Website is designed to reflect the community CARECEN serves, consistent with the organization’s mission and cultural heritage.  Still a work in progress, it aims to help people understand the historical roots of CARECEN as a community-based organization dedicated to serving the Latino immigrant community.  It also encourages interested constituents to participate in educational activities and advocacy efforts.  In addition to providing the opportunity to recognize and honor our community partners, sponsors and supporters, the site focuses on helping members, volunteers, and friends stay updated on CARECEN as well as key issues such as immigration reform.

In the area of fundraising, in addition to the Website, CARECEN is also adopting Web2.0 generation tools such as Facebook and Change.org as a way of engaging new supporters and facilitating awareness of CARECEN, not to mention the ability to recognize and thank donors.

These low-cost communications and outreach strategies, and the ability to assemble lists of supporters with simple tools such as Constant Contact, help in building visibility of the work of community-based organizations like CARECEN. 

Still, our challenges continue, particularly in the realm of bilingual communications, given that Spanish is the first language for the majority of our constituents. 

Also, we cannot forget that many Latino area residents, particularly adults, lack easy access to the Internet, a fundamental tool in accessing employment and services, and in resolving basic financial issues.

Latina women, a vital force in our community, are active participants in CARECEN programs and activities.  Women are frequently leaders in local tenant associations, and are often the first in their families to pursue citizenship.

The support of The Women’s Foundation helps to provide more opportunities for empowering women, strengthening families, and building communities in our region.

Hilary Burger is Director of Development at the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.

Shift in Open Door Capacity Fund signals focus on sustainability.

You’ve seen the headlines. You’ve watched the stock market drop.  You’re well aware that the country is in a recession and our economy is the worst it’s been since the Great Depression.

Additionally, late last year, analysts predicted that more than 100,000 nonprofits nationwide could close over the next two years.  Many have asked: What does this mean for our region’s nonprofits.

The Women’s Foundation is asking: What does it mean for our Grantee Partners?

The Women’s Foundation has spent considerable time thinking about that question and asking ourselves what role we could play in helping our Grantee Partners remain sustainable over the course of this downturn. 

First, we looked internally and confronted our own long-term sustainability.  Remaining 100 percent committed to maintaining our grantmaking this year, we made several difficult decisions. 

In December, our President Phyllis Caldwell announced the first of these decisions—postponing an office expansion, saying, “This is a time when strategy, smart investing and sacrifice are going to be required of foundations, just as they are of individuals, to ensure that the impact of our giving is as meaningful as possible.”

Further sacrifice came in January, when The Women’s Foundation made the difficult decision to eliminate two staff positions

At the same time, we meticulously examined operating expenses and made further strategic cuts, including reexamining the costs incurred as a result of meeting space and food.  Lastly, cost-sharing mechanisms for employee health benefits were instituted.

Taken together, we believe these decisions will allow us to weather this economic storm and ensure our long-term sustainability.

To that end, now more than ever, we remain focused on our mission to support our region’s nonprofits as they work to change the lives of women and girls.

Many of the organizations we support are small, or just starting to establish themselves.  They have lean staffs and do their programmatic work on a shoestring budget.  Few have the time or resources to step back from the day-to-day grind and think creatively and strategically about what they need to do to shore up their long-term sustainability. 

Our region has demonstrated tremendous leadership in addressing the plight of nonprofits by providing a host of educational, hands-on tools to help “weather the storm.”

The Women’s Foundation is pleased to announce one more tool in this arsenal: a funding opportunity that will provide our Grantee Partners the time and the resources to undertake sustainability planning. 

Today, we released a request for proposals (RFP) through our Open Door Capacity Fund.  This RFP, open to the majority of our Grantee Partners, seeks to fund sustainability planning and activities and is designed to encourage our Grantee Partners to think outside of the box and ask themselves: How do we make it through a recession and poise ourselves for recovery?

It is our hope that not only will this focus on sustainability help our Grantee Partners to continue to do the critical work they’re doing for our region’s women and girls, but that it may also serve as a model to other funders throughout our region and the nation, and that together, we’ll be able to help turn this challenging time into an opportunity to make the nonprofit sector–and the work it does on behalf of our communities–stronger and more effective than ever.

What are you doing differently to ensure your sustainability?

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is The Women’s Foundation’s Vice President, Programs.

Leadership Luncheon provides a moment to focus on hope, instead of worry.

Last week’s Leadership Luncheon was as powerful as ever, but also a bit peculiar, in a good way.

Perhaps it was because it provided our community a much needed break from the pessimistic news we’ve been pummeled by, and offered a moment – or a few hours – to reflect on the possibility of hope.

The timing of this event was indeed propitious.

Who knew that October 15, 2008 would find itself ensconced within an economic environment full of unknowns alongside not a small amount of gloominess for leaders in our nonprofit and foundation community? What a better time, then,and what a grand opportunity for us as a philanthropic comunity to collectively take a deep breath–something that we’ve been deprived of through September and October.

Last week’s event allowed for a moment to relieve the pressure of the markets, those 401Ks and all those uncertainties, and look in a different direction.

What we saw were 10 people who told the story of The Women’s Foundation’s community’s history and future and who surely represented everyone gathered in the room. But those 10, and the event itself, also represented our community’s nonprofits, foundations, corporations, and individuals who all make our region a better place to live as a result of their investments and gifts.

Whatever may lie ahead of us as we look to the weeks and months beyond October 15, it was well worth declaring together that there are strong foundations (in more than one sense of the word) like The Women’s Foundation that serve as a mooring to keep us afloat, pointed in the right direction and moving forward.

I am proud to be associated in some small way with this work.

Eduardo Romero is Director of Membership at the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington. He also sponsored the 2008 Leadership Luncheon and serves on The Women’s Foundation’s Program Committee.

First round on grantmaking committee highlights rigor, hard work that goes into investing wisely.

I always knew the Women’s Foundation’s grantmaking process was rigorous, but it wasn’t until I joined the Open Door Capacity Fund Committee that learned why it is so successful in identifying the most deserving organizations and in holding each of them accountable for the greatest possible impact in their community.

My first round on the Open Door Capacity Fund Committee was this past spring, and I’ve been reflecting on it lately since we’re about to head into another round in a few weeks–what will be my second as a committee member. 

The committee makes relatively small grants to existing Grantee Partners for capacity building.  Because the applicants have already been vetted by The Women’s Foundation, I figured the process would be somewhat relaxed.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Each organization that applied for a grant was asked to provide detailed information about the history and operation of the organization, its governance, financials and the project for which the money would be used.  Each member of the committee was then assigned to do a detailed evaluation of the information provided and present that analysis at a committee meeting in which all members assessed and questioned the organization, the information provided and the merit of the project proposed.

Next, site visits were set up and two members of the Open Door Committee met with members of senior management at the applicant organization’s headquarters to see the operation first-hand and discuss the committee’s findings, any reservations and questions.  Detailed site visit evaluations were then completed and the committee mets one last time to make final decisions on the grants.

It was so inspiring to me how hard this committee works to ensure that each donor dollar is devoted to the worthiest, most vibrant organizations and the projects that would make the greatest difference.

Cathy Isaacson is a member of The Women’s Foundation’s board of directors and serves on the Open Door Capacity Fund Committee.  She is also a member of Washington 100.

The Open Door Capacity Fund is now accepting proposals from eligible Grantee Partners.

How a strategic plan can change a woman's life.

A strategic plan for a nonprofit can change a woman’s life.

We can prove it.

Computer C.O.R.E. (CORE), which helps low-income adults acquire the computer and life skills they need to pursue career aspirations, received grants in 2006 and 2007 from The Women’s Foundation to support a strategic planning process.

The process helped the organization redirect its mission from one that just provides computer training to one that also focuses on moving CORE students into better jobs—and the other skills needed to meet that goal.

Later in 2007, Donna Harrington received a significant promotion as a result of this planning process and CORE’s new focus.

A single mother and native Washingtonian with a 14-year-old daughter, Donna came to CORE with only a part-time job as a reservationist.  She began attending classes twice a week in July, spending two hours every night along with 11 classmates mastering Microsoft Office.

As a result of the new mission and focus, one hour each night was also devoted to the other skills required to advance a career: resume writing, interviewing and communication.

The investment paid off
Donna’s investment, and CORE’s investment in her, paid off.

Two months after graduation, she was promoted to the position of Transportation Supervisor at Senior Services of Alexandria. She now oversees six employees and the program’s billing.

Janet Barnett, executive director of Senior Services and Donna’s supervisor, says, “Because of Donna’s incredible desire to improve herself, she sought out the skills she needed and gained expertise. The position she holds today used to be held by two staff, but, because of Donna’s computer skills, she is able to efficiently and effectively handle all the tasks.”

The role of The Women’s Foundation
Just like CORE gave Donna a step up in her career, CORE credits The Women’s Foundation with supporting its growth and success over the years—positioning them to help Donna, and students just like her, in an increasingly effective manner.

And it wasn’t just about the initial funding. In fact, aside from a Leadership Award in 2003, CORE has received funds only to work on their own infrastructure and capacity—not their programs.

The Women’s Foundation is committed to investments like these because funding for operational support is difficult to find, yet crucial to the effectiveness of any nonprofit—particularly small, up-and-coming ones.

Therefore, all Grantee Partners of The Women’s Foundation are eligible to apply for Open Door Capacity Fund grants to improve their infrastructure, staffing and scope. The support CORE received to conduct their strategic planning process and hire their current executive director came through this fund.

“We are grateful to The Women’s Foundation for their strong support, financially and in expertise, throughout CORE’s development,” says Lynn O’Connell, executive director of Computer C.O.R.E.

The expertise Lynn refers to came following their Leadership Award, which brought CORE into The Women’s Foundation’s Grantee Partner community, where they had access to training, resources and support “beyond the check.”  And even beyond their Open Door grants. 

“The resources—media training, executive roundtables and a leadership retreat—were just what CORE needed to become an established organization in the community,” Lynn says. “The Women’s Foundation really went beyond merely being a funder and became a strong partner with CORE.”

Just as women like Donna need training and skills to open doors to higher salaries and better careers, nonprofits like CORE need training and funding to support their growth.

And their ability to serve our region’s women and girls.

And for them, The Women’s Foundation is proud to be able to open doors through the Open Door Capacity Fund.

June 2008 Open Door Capacity Fund grants: $145,000
10 year Open Door Capacity Fund grant total: $745,000