At Washington Women’s Foundation, we aspire to be a collective where members push themselves daily to learn and grow, a place where they consistently ask themselves, “What can we do better as community members?” as we respond to new challenges. Three years ago, we changed our grant criteria to focus on addressing racial and gender equity. This past year has shown us why this deep, embedded, actionable commitment to equity is so vital. The COVID-19 pandemic magnified long-existing social and economic inequities that have disproportionately impacted communities of color – all against the backdrop of the ongoing movement against racial injustice.
Philanthropy today has an opportunity to demonstrate what it means to listen, learn, and use our resources to support community organizations who have long been leading efforts to reduce disparities. That is what we must strive to do, and it is what we learn from our incredible grantees that should guide our work.
I would like to share some highlights from this past year with you.
The all-virtual grant cycle was more inclusive and accessible to our members including some of our newest members who are younger with full time jobs, leading to a 73-member Pooled Fund Grant Committee (PFGC)! The synergy created by the discussions between grant veterans and new members was heartening, constructive and valuable. The virtual meetings called upon the skills of our outstanding work group leaders to knit their members into cohesive working groups. Each grant committee member rose up to meet the challenge with flexibility and creativity, and a deep commitment to equity. Despite differences, work group members were open to listening and accepting alternate views while sometimes changing their perceptions based on these new viewpoints. The spirited conversations during the meetings touched upon many topics including but not limited to band-aid solutions vs real systemic change, wider impact versus deeper but narrower impact, direct services versus policy/advocacy, true meaning of root causes, race vs ethnicity, movement building work. A point to note is that while we firmly believe in the on-the-ground expertise of our grantees and trust their leadership and decision, there still tends to be a preference for organizations with clearly defined programs that are easily understood.
The virtual Site Visits were also appreciated because they were felt to be less burdensome on the organizations while abating some of the power dynamics that are so challenging in-person. The passion and commitment of the organizations shone through clearly in the virtual meetings. The recordings of the Site Visits gave members the much-appreciated opportunity to view the conversations for themselves.
As always, we want to reflect on what we learned this past year and what could be improved upon. Many of these have been mentioned in the past, but still bear repeating.
The limitations posed by our current grant categories continue to be a struggle given the complexity and intersectionality of so many of the issues facing the communities we seek to serve.
There is need for further clarifying the grant criteria, making them crisp, clear and easy to understand and apply, both for our applicants and our own committee members
Reducing the onerous burden placed on the applicants, especially in the full proposal phase, remains uppermost on the minds of grant committee members.
It is also time recognize and appreciate the importance of advocacy, and expand grants to organizations where advocacy is woven into the fabric of their work. Advocacy has become an integral and critical aspect of their work, helping raise the visibility of the communities they serve.
It is a privilege to be part of an organization that has committed our resources to reducing disparities and advancing equity, is willing to have honest though challenging conversations, allowing us to learn and grow as we strive for a more meaningful lasting impact on the communities we seek to serve.
It has been my honor to serve as Chair of the PFGC this past year and I am deeply grateful for everything I have learned from my fellow committee members. I would like give heartfelt thanks to Past Chair Lorraine del Prado for leading us with her wealth of knowledge, sagacity and deep understanding of the issues, coupled with her warmth and generosity of spirit. My best to 2022 Grant Chair Nicole Stellner and Vice Chair Alisa So. I have no doubt the PFGC will reach new heights under their leadership. My heartfelt thanks too, to the small but mighty Washington Women’s Foundation staff whose keen intellect, kindness, and unflagging support we simply could not do without. Aviva Stampfer and Isabelle Shively, PFGC owes you a debt of gratitude for shepherding us through another remarkable year. And to our fearless leader, President and CEO Maria Kolby-Wolfe, we can’t wait to see where your bold leadership will take us! And finally, to each and every one of the PFGC members – thank you for your deep commitment, your innate curiosity, your collaborative spirit, and the joy you bring to this work.
With deep appreciation and gratitude,
– Aru Chandorkar