As we finally reach the end of 2020, our 25th year of grantmaking at Washington Women’s Foundation, I have had the opportunity to reflect more deeply on our current strategic plan and what we have together accomplished over the last two years. The foundation of this plan was the visions and hopes of our members, who helped inform the decision-making of our Board of Directors. So I thought it was time to report back to you on what has transpired since 2017 and what remains to be done as we move into a new decade.
For our first 23 years, Washington Women’s Foundation funded organizations that demonstrated their ability to effectively address urgent and critical needs and to launch bold new ventures or develop innovative solutions to long-standing community issues. In spite of all of these investments, we saw inequality continuing to grow – not just economic inequality but disparities in education and environmental impacts, disparities in access to health care and housing, barriers to creative expression, political participation, and civic engagement. Through our collective grantmaking, we also were learning how institutions and systems marginalized people of color, Indigenous people, immigrants, refugees, and women.
In 2017, WA Women’s Fdn’s Board of Directors launched an intensive strategic planning process to guide the future of grantmaking at Washington Women’s Foundation. As part of this process, which lasted for more than a year, we hosted member focus groups, conducted member surveys and interviews, and engaged in external community conversations.
Through this process, we learned that many of you, our members, wanted the Foundation to change – to become more responsive to community needs, more nimble and flexible, more focused on reducing disparities and advancing equity. You also wanted to see more diversity in our membership, something that has long been an unachieved goal of the Foundation.
Our Board of Directors believed that in order to respond to your requests and the needs of the community, our organization required a strategic framework for the transformation of the culture and focus of the Foundation to appeal to a broader demographic of philanthropists and to center the needs of the community in our grantmaking. That is what the Board of Directors adopted in the summer of 2018, “WA Women’s Foundation’s Strategic Framework 2020.”
Our Strategic Framework 2020 was grounded in a new mission statement that still carried forward the founding legacy of WA Women’s Foundation:
Washington Women’s Foundation is a strong and inclusive collective of informed women who together influence community transformation. We do this through individual and collective discovery, by respecting and listening to all voices in our community, and through high-impact grant making.
It also was grounded in a new set organizational values or commitment statements:
IN ALL THINGS, WE WILL
Build relationships – elevate or amplify the power of all who identify as women – be bold – share power – embrace discomfort – advance equity – counteract the systems build and maintained by systematic oppression – enter partnerships and conversations with a learning mindset – support and celebrate each other – be in community
When adopted in 2018, the Strategic Framework 2020 also shifted our collective focus to increasing equity and reducing disparities in communities across Washington State. Since then, the global health pandemic and the current racial reckoning in our country have made these disparities all the more obvious and the call to philanthropy to respond, all the more urgent. So we were fully prepared to respond to the crises of 2020, and as a result, through our 2020 Pooled Fund, made grants to some of the communities most impacted by COVID-19.
Overall, our Strategic Framework 2020 established four main goals:
- For Nonprofits – WA Women’s Foundation will fuel a thriving nonprofit sector working to advance equity
- For Our Membership – Together, we will grow an inclusive community of powerful agents for change
- For WA Women’s Foundation – The Foundation’s Board and staff will create and model an organizational culture and structure based upon partnership and power-sharing
- For Our Community – WA Women’s will focus on reducing disparities and increasing equity in Washington state
After these goals and some supporting strategies were agreed upon, it was my job, as President & CEO, to develop annual business plans to move the Strategic Framework forward. Two years later, we have completed or made much progress on many of the priority items, especially those related to the transformation of our grantmaking to be more responsive to the needs of the nonprofit sector.
Goal: Nonprofits – Fuel a thriving nonprofit sector working to advance equity
One of our key strategies was to redefine our Pooled Fund grant criteria with greater specificity and clarity to increase the transparency of our process for both members and the community. Thanks to the leadership of our Grants Program Manager, Aviva Stampfer, and the efforts of many past and present members of the Pooled Fund Grants leadership team, we have accomplished this objective, although we continue to refine the criteria each year using feedback from a post-Pooled Fund Participation Survey. That survey and the learnings of our Pooled Fund Grant Committee and Impact Assessment Committee (IAC) over the past two years are also helping us with another strategy, that of centering the needs of nonprofits in our grantmaking and programming by engaging them in ongoing dialogue and seeking their continuous feedback. As a direct result of that feedback and dialogue, we launched our new Capacity Building Fund as a pilot initiative this year, structured one of last fall’s partner grant projects to fund internal Diversity, Equity & Inclusion work in arts organizations, and are working to develop a new fund to support Black Women Leaders in the nonprofit sector.
We also committed to streamlining and simplify our grantmaking, which social distancing forced us to do this year. We waived reporting requirements, moved IAC site visits to phone check-ins, and conducted Pooled Fund site visits virtually. Another of our commitments under the Strategic Framework 2020 was to increase the flexibility in number, grant amount, and type of funding while continuing to invest dollars in general operating support. I am aware that the Board’s decision to retire the Foundation’s individual grant program was not universally popular or understood among our membership and that we have lost members as a result of this decision. However, if the Board hadn’t made this bold decision when it did, then we would not have had the funds to carry out this strategy, which we did by doubling the size of this year’s Pooled Fund Merit Awards, fully funding the grant pools for the Arts & Equity and Community-Building in Native Communities Partner Grant Committees last year, funding the Capacity Building grants this fall, and making two special response grants to enable our members to participate in a state-wide grantmaking effort related to the 2020 Census.
The Strategic Framework also incorporates another initiative proposed by members – the creation of a new fund to make grants to organizations working on a specific issue selected by vote of the membership. The Board of Directors allocated $50,000 from members’ 2019 contributions to this fund at this beginning of this year, but design and implementation have been delayed until 2021 due to the pandemic. So there will be more new grantmaking opportunities for members next year!
We have made progress against our other goals, in spite of the pandemic lockdowns that have affected all of our programs and activities for the majority of this year.
Goal: Members – Grow an inclusive community of powerful change agents
Key accomplishments include increased educational offerings throughout the pandemic. Thanks to Morgan Dawson, our Strategic Partnerships & Programs Manager, we had produced through June of this year as many educational programs and events as we did in all of 2019. This programming, and the efforts of Aki Shibuya, our Operations & Memberships Manager, increased our overall new member count in 2020. We gained more new members this year than we did in either 2019 or 2018, and members’ giving to our Annual Fund this year exceeded our goal by more than 40%. Total giving to the Foundation, beyond member contributions and including one bequest, was more than $550,000 as of the end of November 2020.
Goal: WA Women’s Foundation – Create a culture and structure based upon partnership and power-sharing
Key accomplishments include restructuring our business model, the completion of two phases of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion work at the Board of Directors level, piloting a participatory grantmaking project with Potlatch Fund, and developing new process and procedures for new Board member recruitment, screening, and onboarding. I also want to recognize the efforts of our CFO, Kathy Wehle, who not only helped the Board of Directors work through decisions related to our business model but also closely monitored the performance of our investment assets during a very volatile stock market early in the pandemic, helped us complete our first virtual audit, got our IRS Form 990 filed on time, and most importantly, ensured that we had adequate internal controls in place while working remotely this year.
In addition to continuing to work on our Strategic Framework, in 2020 we stretched beyond those goals to respond to the request of our national network to host the biennial network conference, which occurred in late February, just weeks before the first pandemic shutdown. We also were nimble enough to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to expand our grantmaking portfolio to include the WFA Fund for Women, which was created with a terminating grant WA Women’s Foundation received from Women’s Funding Alliance when they ceased operations earlier this year.
There is definitely still more work to do. Two member-driven initiatives did not get launched this year – an Advocacy Committee and the Issue-Focused Grant Committee mentioned above. We also want to engage members in grantmaking from the WFA Fund for Women next year. Even with the ongoing work, I am still confident that the time is right to hand the baton to the next leader, who will have the unique skills and stamina required to run the next leg of this race for WA Women’s Foundation. For me, it has been a privilege to have played a very small role in connecting the visions and resources of our members with the leadership and needs of communities across Washington state. I look forward to seeing what further transformations occur under the leadership of the next generation of WA Women’s Foundation members. Thank you for your membership in WA Women’s Foundation and for being part of my personal and professional journey. Wishing you good health and happiness in the new year!