Catalist Conference 2020: Spotlight on ninety-nine girlfriends

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As WaWF prepares to host 350 – or more! – women from all over the U.S. for the 2020 Catalist conference on February 23-25 2020, we wanted to shine a spotlight on one of WaWF’s sister organizations to help everyone appreciate the breadth and scope of the women’s collective giving movement.  One fantastic example of the power of this model is an organization in Portland called “ninety-nine girlfriends”. Founded just four years ago, ninety-nine girlfriends took inspiration from WaWF in Seattle as well as another powerhouse Catalist affiliate called Impact Austin.

Co-founder Deborah Edward jokes that “ninety-nine girlfriends started on a dare!”  She met Eileen Brady for the first time at a party and struck up a rapport chatting about Portland and philanthropy. Deborah, who was new to Portland after 40 years in Texas, knew about the Impact Austin model of women’s collective giving, which had been greatly influenced by a close relationship with WaWF (for instance, they adopted our Discovery Days program, which we have renamed as Intersect). Deborah explained how this idea has taken off in places like Austin and Seattle to ultimately engage a whole new group of women in civic activities and philanthropy. Eileen, an active long-time Portlander, said, “We can do that here!” and they got a group at the party to commit to making it happen that night. After doing considerable due diligence by consulting with Impact Austin and Washington Women’s Foundation, as well as the other Catalist (then WCGN) affiliates at the 2015 conference in Charlotte, they formed “ninety-nine girlfriends” using a friend-to-friend model, gathering 117 women in their first year.

ninety-nine girlfriends

Just four years later, ninety-nine girlfriends is now 480 members strong, and very proud of their growth, reach, and grantee partners. They’ve been able to continue a spirit of connection, collaboration, shared leadership, and a learning orientation. As an all-volunteer organization, their leadership is continuing to evolve. The grantmaking structure engages more than 70 women in grant review and supporting grantee partners, and this year they’ve reached their goal of being able to give $100,000 grants in each of the five focus areas. Their member education programs are focused on one learning question each year: this year’s focus is how members can get engaged. They’ve been sharing stories and tips about nonprofit board service, getting on public boards and commission; providing opportunities for engagement within our organization and with their grantee partners; and building skills for community leadership.


One great example of their success is captured in an annual “e-zine” (e-magazine) called “Ripple Effects” that tracks some of the impact of their investments and connections to grantee partners. Members have stepped up to help grantees outside of the grantmaking, resulting in some amazing connections. Their Implicit Bias workshops and Cultural Awareness Project are important elements to helping members appreciate diversity and inclusion within the membership and with the applicants and grantee partners. They also run a young fellows program aimed at engaging next generation philanthropists.

As ninety-nine girlfriends approaches their 5 year anniversary they have a special interest in how to manage their phenomenal growth and maintain a diverse and friendly culture. They are thinking strategically about where they might want to go to leverage the power and influence of their members and the membership as a whole. They also are thinking about how they might take to heart new thinking in philanthropy as they continually re-assess their grantmaking.

And here’s a really fun fact: WaWF’s Aviva Stampfer, a native Portlander, has two aunts and a cousin in Portland who are members of ninety-nine girlfriends! Perhaps you also have Portland family, colleagues or friends who can enjoy the magic of collective giving the way you do here in Seattle by joining ninety-nine girlfriends. In fact, thanks to the Catalist network, it’s easy to see how women across the country – and in Melbourne, Australia! – can engage in their communities in meaningful ways by joining, or even starting, a group in their community. Check out the 70+ Catalist affiliates in 30 states represented by the 17,000 women who have made grants of more than $125 million since 1995 when WaWF was founded.

We hope you take pride in WaWF’s role as the leader in this national movement of women’s collective giving as we approach our 25th Anniversary next year. Please join us in welcoming your “sisters” from around the country who are excited to come to Seattle February 23-25, 2020 to connect and learn at PowerUP! The Spark That Ignites Change. You can register now!

Thanks for sharing in our excitement!

Laura Midgley and Bo Lee, Catalist Conference 2020 co-chairs

 Laura Midgley and Bo Lee
Catalist 2020 Conference Co-Chairs

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