I find myself at a crossroads. I’ve had the honor of serving on the board of Women Moving Millions for six years and now my term is over, though my involvement won’t be. My second round on the board of The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio – a total of 16 years with a break – will end in June. I’m debating where to put my energy next. I find at this stage of my life, I want to make sure I have time for my family and relationships while continuing to feel as if I’m making a difference.
I attended an all-girls school, an all-women’s college, and was director of a women’s career center, a series of experiences which have directed my philanthropic journey. I’m old enough to remember when I was asked for my father or husband to sign for a credit card, asked about my marital status to get birth control, and asked my typing speed on a job application. I became indignant about the disparity between the questions I was asked and those asked of men but didn’t have a focus until I joined the board of the newly formed Maine Women’s Fund. There, I discovered other women with similar outlooks who worked for social change for women and girls.
When we moved from Maine to Columbus, Ohio, I looked for a women’s fund, but was told, “we don’t need one here”. There wasn’t any organization to counter the male-dominated leadership nor to recognize that women and their children represented well over a majority of people below the poverty line. When a few prominent women gathered to talk about forming a women’s fund, a concept they’d heard about, I was delighted to join them and bring my Maine experience. We founded The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio (WFCO) in 2001, doing research, making grants, and raising awareness of issues around gender equality. One concept we introduced, for example, was gender norms, implicit assumptions around feminine and masculine behavior and roles. Not only did the programs we funded benefit women and girls, but the education about the issues changed the conversations in Central Ohio. A community that had at first felt there was no role for a women’s fund now realized just how powerful their focused efforts could be.
Later, when I joined the board of the Women’s Funding Network, an association of women’s funds around the world, I saw the effects of different approaches to problem-solving and the need to be able to share resources and information. Women’s funds are often willing to support organizations and programs which may be overlooked as too experimental or grass-roots for larger funders. I value that they may fund in a variety of areas from wage gap, to childcare, to bullying, to women’s leadership, all relating to disparities in gender equality.
In 2007, I started making my biggest gift to the Women’s Fund, a process which changed my life. An inheritance enabled me to pledge a million dollars, but I had also inherited from my family a strong message of, “we give, but we give quietly.” Making this gift public was breaking a family taboo, but it gave credibility and visibility to WFCO. As I had hoped, others saw the power of giving to support women and girls and also gave, at different levels. One woman I didn’t know approached me to let me know she had been inspired by my gift and had stretched from a $25 annual contribution to a $50 one. It is all of us coming together which makes the difference.
It was at this time that Helen and Swanee Hunt were campaigning to get more women to give at the million-dollar level, a campaign which led to the creation of Women Moving Millions (WMM), so I got to be part of that initial group. Later, I was thrilled to join the board of WMM and be part of this amazing tribe of women working in so many different ways to effect social change for women and girls around the globe.
Recently, I decided to make a new million-dollar commitment to WMM’s Give Bold, #Get Equal campaign because I saw the impact of my first commitment, both to the Women’s Fund and to me personally. While some of my money will continue to go to WFCO, I’m also in the process of considering other areas where I might put my time and treasure. There are so many issues that need attention and which interest me. Which direction I might go from this crossroads, I’ve not yet decided.