Giving Compass’ Take:
• Dallas Women’s Foundation and Chambers Family Fund provide a comprehensive guide to starting a women’s fund to benefit communities everywhere.
• Is the time right to start a women’s fund in your community? What partners could help you launch a successful fund?
• Learn how women’s funds can change the face of philanthropy.
The success of a women’s fund stems from an understanding of the opportunities and barriers for women and girls in the community. A thorough needs assessment should be conducted as early as possible in the creation process. An understanding of the economic and social profiles of women and girls in the area to be served, including their needs, current services available, organizations participating in service delivery and any apparent gaps or new opportunities for assistance, becomes a road map. Once a clear picture of the needs of women and girls is defined, the women’s fund can use the information to establish its mission and focus its activity on addressing the needs of women and girls by raising community awareness and making grants.
For funds established in a community foundation, its commitment and support is important to the success of the fund and needs to be firmly established from the beginning. The leadership of the community foundation must value and support the mission and strategies of a women’s fund, believe that gender-based grantmaking is an important contribution to the health and future of a strong community and be committed to the financial success of the women’s fund. Although some funds may choose to become independent once they are financially able to do so, others, due to circumstances such as geography and the nature of philanthropic support in their community, may find it more beneficial to remain within the community foundation.
An understanding of the differences between the community foundation and the women’s fund in grantmaking focus and fundraising activity will be beneficial to both organizations. This is also true of the community foundation’s commitment to support the women’s fund in establishing its own identity and philanthropic positioning. Clear policies, documentation, roles and responsibilities, operational and marketing support and the provision of financial and human resources must be discussed on an ongoing basis through open communication between the women’s fund and the community foundation.
A strong, engaged and well-trained board or advisory board for the women’s fund or stand-alone foundation is another critical key to its success. The selection of a diverse board brings a wide variety of resources to the women’s fund. The board’s most important responsibilities include actively fundraising, grantmaking and promoting the women’s fund. In addition, the board’s input on the women’s fund’s strategic plan, governing documents, marketing activity and fundraising plans will be necessary. For a fund within a community foundation, regular communication between the women’s fund’s advisory board and the community foundation is one effective way of maintaining mutual understanding.
There is no question that an endowment is ideal for a women’s fund. It establishes a permanent source of grantmaking dollars that eliminates an annual cycle of fundraising for granting dollars that can drain both staff and volunteers. And, while development goals and fundraising strategies will change over time, a secure endowment allows the broader fundraising efforts of the women’s fund to be targeted as needed while the availability of grantmaking dollars from the payout of the endowment continues to be ensured. A women’s fund within a community foundation will most likely be required by its agreement with the community foundation to create an endowment. However, standalone women’s foundations may choose whether or not to create an endowment. For those that choose to forgo an endowment, it will be necessary to raise money each year for grantmaking and may be more difficult to launch an endowment campaign while also meeting grantmaking expectations from the community.
Grantmaking is the most important role of the women’s fund. It is the process through which the needs of women and girls documented in the needs assessment and then translated into the women’s fund’s strategic plan are addressed. The women’s fund can build a strategic grantmaking program by creating and clearly communicating specific grantmaking priorities that are aligned with its mission and inviting appropriate organizations serving women and girls to apply for grants. Grantmaking raises the fund’s visibility in the community and generates awareness of issues affecting women and girls.
Communications and marketing influence the success of a women’s fund from the moment it is created. All communication has an impact on how the women’s fund is perceived in the community by current and potential donors, grantees and the women and girls it has been established to serve. Key messages are most effective if they are well-defined and consistent in all tools used. While the women’s fund’s messaging may change over time, the core identity and purpose of the women’s fund will remain the same. Communication and marketing activities strengthen its position in the community from launch. Marketing is also effective when used to support the women’s fund development goals and strategies.
Raising visibility of the women’s fund and establishing its identity in the community is vital. A stand-alone women’s foundation will need to do this on its own, building a reputation of effective grantmaking, thorough research and social change. For a fund within a community foundation, it will be important to maintain some flexibility in its identity. At times, it will be most effective for the women’s fund to cultivate a distinct identity in the community. Other times, a fund within a community foundation will benefit from highlighting its identification with the community foundation. In this case, it is critical that the community foundation supports the women’s fund’s strategic communication goals with an understanding of its unique position and identity.
We have looked at the three phases of creating a women’s fund or foundation: PLANNING, ESTABLISHING and BUILDING. There are lessons to be learned in each phase and sometimes the lessons learned in one phase resurface again later in a slightly different form. However, the end result – the creation of a funding source dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls in the community – is very worthwhile.
Our experiences have led us to a greater understanding of and appreciation for the positive impact women’s funds can make in a community. We hope that sharing what we have learned along the way will help others in their efforts to create women’s funds.
In this guide, we provide two distinct courses of action – to set up a women’s fund within a community foundation or to set up a standalone women’s foundation. The guide takes the reader through the succession of phases for each: PLANNING, ESTABLISHING and BUILDING. However, since the decision to create a women’s fund within a community foundation or a stand-alone women’s foundation must be thorougly researched in the PLANNING phase, we recommend all readers begin with PLANNING.