Last Thursday, September 29, more than 200 members and guests of the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara gathered at the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort to hear from six of the seven nonprofits that the Women’s Fund collectively awarded $470,000 last Spring.
The grantees were: The Academy for Success, Doctors Without Walls - Santa Barbara Street Medicine, Easy Lift Transportation, Isla Vista Public Improvement Corporation, Isla Vista Youth Projects, Garden Court, Inc., and TRADART Foundation.
An all-volunteer, collective donor group with 700 members, the Women’s Fund combines the donations of its members into significant grants focused on the critical needs of women, children and families in south Santa Barbara County. It is a field of interest fund of the Santa Barbara Foundation which provides fiscal and administrative support.
Over an eight-month period, its research committee conducts in-depth research of programs at nonprofit organizations and submits a ballot of finalists to the members for a final vote. The minimum grant size is $50,000. The group funds a wide array of organizations, from small, grassroots nonprofits to large, established ones. It funds new and existing programs as well as capital campaigns. Since its beginning in 2004, the Women’s Fund has made grants totaling more than $5.6 million to 78 programs.
At the event, each grantee gave a short update on the use of the funds and then participated in a lively panel discussion moderated by former grantee liaison Carla Whitacre. A couple of the participants shared stories about how funding from the Women’s Fund had benefited their organizations far beyond the direct benefit bestowed by the grant. Because of the Women’s Fund’s reputation of thoroughly vetting the programs and projects it considers, a grant from the organization confers legitimacy that can translate into funding from other sources. Both Kelly Choi from the Academy for Success and Caleb Chadwick from TRADART Foundation shared how the funding had gotten others at their schools and in the community more interested in their programs.
The Women’s Fund is a philanthropic organization, the only “volunteering” is within the organization. The panel discussion, however, did touch on ways the women could get involved beyond writing checks. Each organization had plenty of ideas of ways for members to get involved.
Site visit chair Shelley Hurst rallied the members to increase membership and the size of the grant pool to address the multitude of community needs from Goleta to Carpinteria. She highlighted the unique features of the Women’s Fund which is an all-volunteer organization that has no galas or benefits, and “guards its grant pool like it’s Fort Knox,” so that the funds raised go to those in need, not to administrative expenses.
Other distinguishing features of the group are that members get to vote on what programs and projects receive their funds, and members have the opportunity to become educated on the needs in the community and the organizations addressing those needs.
The program concluded with a collective shouting of the organization’s motto, “Changing Lives Together.”
A reception followed in the Rotunda where members and guests could view the use of two of its grants: a mobile medical clinic of Doctors Without Walls and a passenger van of Easy Lift Transportation.
Doctors Without Walls (DWW) uses the van at its weekly clinics in Alameda Park and Pershing Park where it treats the homeless. Now patients can be seen in the privacy of the van instead of in the open-air parks. Last year, DWW had 855 visits at its street clinics. The van is also used to transport women to its Women’s Free Homeless Clinic at Transition House three Fridays per month, and in its Companion Care Program which provides follow-up care at area healthcare facilities for patients first seen at the street clinics and at the women’s clinic. The van will also be used by DWW’s 24/7 on-call medical teams.
Following the event, members were invited to sign up for visits at each of the grantees over the next two months to learn more about the work of the organizations and how their grant funds are being utilized.
Membership in the Women’s Fund is open to any woman. For more information, go to womensfundsb.org.
By Gail Arnold