Fund for Women and Girls marks 15 years of grantmaking
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Posted by: Amy Seasholtz
July 22, 2012 | By CHELSEA M. REYHER firstname.lastname@example.org
How hard can it be to give away $20,000?
"It’s a lot harder and it’s a lot of responsibility,” said Heidi McPherson, and every fall the Girls Advisory Board assumes that responsibility. "They take it very seriously.”
McPherson is the president of Chester County Fund for Women and Girls, a grantmaking organization that gives to existing nonprofit organizations that serve women and girls. GAB is a grantmaking program within the fund, and it is a group of 15 to 20 high school girls who must give away $20,000 by consensus.
"It was really hard as a group of high school girls to all agree,” said Erin Duffy, 22, a member of GAB during her junior and senior years of high school.
While GAB didn't start until 2005, nine years after the mother organization was founded, including girls as grantmakers was always important to the fund.
"Girls are the future,” said McPherson, so it was important to the founding members that girls understand the importance of philanthropy and have a voice in the process.
Members of the 2011 GAB Class
Nine new 10th and 11th grade girls from Chester County were selected for the 2012 Girls Advisory Board at the Fund's GAB Selection Meeting held on July 25. Eleven girls from the 2011 GAB class will be returning as well.
"We recognized systemic change has to happen from the bottom up,” said Barbara Jordan, founding chairman – and now honorary chairman – of the organization.
When the fund got a grant through the Kellogg Foundation to help pilot GAB, "we just jumped at the chance, said McPherson. "We really do believe that philanthropy can change the world … Deciding how and where and when and what the priorities are for giving away any amount of money is an important process, and for girls to be able to decide and to learn about that process is important.”
"I learned more about programs and organizations that I didn't even know existed,” said Duffy. And while she had volunteered at nonprofits before GAB, she learned from this program that "no amount of money I can give is too small. Every dollar counts, and every volunteer helps.”
GAB draws from all over the county. Members of GAB apply, interview and are then accepted into the program. Girls can apply as sophomores, juniors or seniors and may stay on the board through their senior year.
"It is a very intensive and multi-year commitment,” said McPherson.
The program runs from September through December. The girls don't do any fundraising, but they work collaboratively to make a grant application, make site visits to the organizations that responded to the needs application sent out by the girls' group, and decide how to give the $20,000 allotted to them by the fund.
"I walked away with was a sense of empowerment that has really stuck with me,” said Duffy.
"They learn a lot more than they thought they were going to learn,” said McPherson. "I think they learn that there are a lot of similarities between the different communities in the county than they thought and that there are a lot of issues for girls in different parts of the county.”
The issues that the girls come to understand are the reason that the fund was created in 1996. The fund started with a group of about eight women meeting around kitchen tables, coffee tables and boardroom tables who noticed a lack of awareness of the needs for women and girls in the county.
At its beginning, one of the most prevalent unaddressed issues was homelessness, particularly for single mothers, said McPherson. "When we started there were, I think, a handful of beds for homeless women in Chester County. This is a county with half a million people in it. We're not exempt from poverty; we're not exempt from homelessness.”
The fund started as part of the Chester County Community Foundation and then spun off on its own a few years later. Today, the fund addresses issues ranging from women with financial instability, to young mothers, to bullying and to drug use.
"We started with nothing,” said McPherson, and in May, the fund celebrated 15 years of grant making. Every year, they have always increased their grant funding.
"We have taken risks all along the way that have been educated risks and exciting risks that have paid off continuously,” said Jordan.
The organization has seen a lot of growth since its founding and hopes to continute that growth, said McPherson. They are also excited that Duffy joined the board of directors in May and is the first GAB alumna to do so.
"Bringing that young voice and perspective to the board, I think it will be quite enriching for all of us,” said current Board Chairman Catherine Swift Sennett.