On January 24, the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara hosted a reception for new and prospective members to meet others and learn more about this volunteer-led collective donor group of 900 Santa Barbara-area women. Held at Garden Court and sponsored by Mission Wealth, the evening began with a lively reception. Then Membership Chair Lynn Karlson welcomed the 130 guests and shared how the Women’s Fund supports the critical needs of women, children, and families in south Santa Barbara County. Areas of support include early child development, education, domestic violence, employment skills, food and nutrition, homelessness, juvenile justice and violence prevention, mental health, and seniors.
Karlson, who began her career as an economist and later served as executive director of YMCA Youth and Family Services, shared some startling facts about the needs here: “California is tied with Florida and Louisiana for the highest poverty rate in the country — due in part to the high cost of living — and almost 29 percent of children in Santa Barbara County live in poverty. Sixty percent of students in Santa Barbara County are eligible for free or reduced-price meals at school. Hunger is real in Santa Barbara — for children and their families — and in 2018, the Women’s Fund awarded $95,000 to the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County for a new refrigerated box truck that collects, stores and distributes fresh food.”
She also noted that the juvenile felony arrest rate in Santa Barbara is higher than Los Angeles County. Last year, the Women’s Fund provided CADA (Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse) $75,000 to provide mental health support to youth in their Teen Court program, which seeks to prevent reoffending and incarceration. Grants from the Women’s Fund last year totaled $535,000 and went to seven nonprofits. This year’s grants will once again exceed $500,000.
Karlson touched on how the Women’s Fund strives to build a community of inspired, educated, and engaged philanthropists and closed by sharing the powerful mantra of the Women’s Fund: Changing Lives Together.
The venue host, Garden Court Inc., received a $100,000 grant in 2016 for its capital campaign to build Gardens on Hope, a low-income senior housing and services facility, which broke ground last year. In an interview, Garden Court Executive Director Chris Tucker related how the impact of the Women’s Fund grant went far beyond the $100,000 awarded. According to Tucker, because the grant making community as a whole holds the Women’s Fund research and voting process in such high regard, its grants are extremely valuable seals of approval. He explained that Women’s Fund grants build awareness of critical community needs and attract funding from a wide range of other sources.
Over the course of nearly a year, the 16-member Research Committee conducts in-depth research on nonprofit programs and projects and then submits a ballot of finalists to the general membership for a vote on the ultimate grantees. Any woman may join as a group member by making a minimum donation of $275 and for each $2,750 the group raises, it gets one vote. Women can also join as individual members with a $2,750 donation.
Most women’s commitment is limited to writing a check, but many volunteer opportunities exist for those who want to be involved. There are also interesting educational opportunities. Grants are awarded in the spring at the Celebration of Grants reception and then in the fall, members gather to hear presentations from grant recipients on the impacts of their grants. Small group visits are offered to recipients’ sites, where members see firsthand the work of the organization and the impact of their grants. This past fall, more than 300 members went on two dozen site visits.
The Women’s Fund holds no fundraisers; all funds come from member contributions. Since its founding 15 years ago, the Women’s Fund has donated $6.6 million to 93 nonprofit programs and projects, with most of the grants in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. For more info, go to womensfundsb.org.
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By Gail Arnold