Christine Grumm

(WOMENSENEWS)–The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, based in Minneapolis, is using its $15,000 grant to cover the operating costs of its new Hmong Women’s Giving Circle, which will raise money for programs for women and girls in Hmong communities.

The San Francisco-based Global Fund for Women is earmarking its $20,000 to market a nine-minute video that features U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosiand Queen Noor of Jordan. The Maine Womens Fundis using its $20,000 to help pay for a staff member for its new fund started by young female philanthropists.

These projects are examples of the ways that the Women’s Funding Network, a San Francisco-based association of nearly 100 foundations devoted to women and girls’ philanthropy, has begun helping many of its members with small but significant cash infusions.

Like the Hmong Women’s Giving Circle, many of the projects that are being funded are designed to increase fundraising among women who aren’t typically in the donors’ circle: young women, women of color, as well as rural, immigrant and lesbian women.

The basic philosophy of giving numerous, relatively small grants, is that even a little bit of money can really help all organizations, from those with almost no capital to those with millions.

“It’s all focused around the fact that this is community philanthropy,” says Christine Grumm, executive director of the Women’s Funding Network. “And everyone is a philanthropist. All you have to do is give people the chance and give them something that fits within their understanding of what giving back means.”

The Venture Fund

Through what it calls its Venture Fund, the Women’s Funding Network has since December 2003 given out $200,000 in grants to 10 of its member foundations. During the next four years, it will dole out an additional $800,000 in small grants to its member organizations through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, based in Battle Creek, Mich., a philanthropy organization which was started in 1930 by the cereal giant.

The focus of the first set of grants is to reach groups who historically have not given money to women and girls’ foundations.

In earmarking $15,000 for the operating costs of its new Hmong Women’s Giving Circle, the program hopes to increase the participation of Hmong women in the foundation.

Tens of thousands of Hmong, many of them refugees from Laos, have migrated to the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis in the last 30 years. The group has established themselves as an important minority with a strong presence in the local business community.

Mala Thao, an administrative coordinator at Minnesota’s foundation and the founder of the Hmong advocacy group, says a growing number of Hmong families can afford to be charitable. But many view philanthropy as paying for weddings, funerals and homes for family members. The challenge, Thao says, is getting them to invest in Minnesota’s women’s foundation so that they can have a voice in how money is spent in their community.

“We’ve always been recipients of welfare, state funding and federal funding,” says Mala Thao, an administrative coordinator at Minnesota’s foundation and the founder of the Hmong advocacy group. “Now it’s time to turn around and say, ‘Let’s give back to the community.’ This is where you put Hmong women in the driver’s seat,” she says. “This is a vehicle for them to be involved in philanthropy, social change and activism in the community.”

By the end of May, Thao hopes to have 20 women in the giving circle. To join, they each must pay $500, which they are encouraged to muster through their own fundraising.

Giving to the Global Fund

The Global Fund for Women, a grant-making foundation that supports women’s human rights organizations around the world, on the other hand, has already raised $10 million of its $20 million goal for its Investing in Women Campaign.

Though the $20,000 grant the fund received from the Women’s Funding Network seems small by comparison, Nicky McIntyre, vice-president of development, says the San Francisco-based fund has been able to pay for marketing and a video about its campaign to provide a large infusion of funds in the next three to five years to women’s human rights projects around the world.

“It’s the kind of money that’s hard to raise elsewhere,” she says, explaining that most donors want to give directly to the cause and not to operating expenses.

The nine-minute video, which includes Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Queen Noor of Jordan, outlines what McIntyre calls a growing crisis for women around the world in which religious extremism and warfare in countries such as Pakistan and Sierra Leone have stripped women of their human rights and put them at increased risk for assault and death.

Since the video premiered in March during the official launch of the campaign, Kavita Ramdas, the Global Fund’s president, has used it nearly daily in speaking engagements and donor meetings.

Seeking Younger Philanthropists

The Maine Womens Fund has taken on the challenge of cultivate philanthropy among women in their 20s and 30s. “When you say philanthropy, in most people’s heads they see a white haired man or woman of a certain social class providing support for good works,” says Karin Anderson, executive director of the Portland-based fund.

To dispel that notion, the Maine fund started a class on leadership, feminism and philanthropy for young women four years ago. To Anderson’s surprise, the New Girls’ Network classes have struck a nerve and already a couple hundred women have graduated.

Then last year, one of the graduates approached the Maine fund about starting a New Girls’ Fund and offered to provide seed money. A planning group of a dozen women met and decided to raise $20,000 a year for the next three years. Already, they have raised $13,000. And with a grant of $20,000 from the Venture Fund, the Maine Women’s Fund has been able to hire a staff person to work solely with the New Girls’ Fund.

“This is our greatest success,” says Anderson. “We are creating the future leadership of Maine.”

In fact, it’s so successful, says Jo Ann Madigan, a consultant to the Venture Fund that “keeping up with them is the key problem.”

Other projects being funded include increasing philanthropy among African American and Asian women, Latinas and lesbians through leadership councils set up by the Chicago Foundation for Women. Working with a staff member paid for by the Venture Fund, each council of 10 to 15 women will come up with a strategy for raising money within each of their communities.

Reaching Out to Rural Populations

Two separate projects by the Women’s Foundations of Oklahoma, Montana and Wyoming and the Iowa Women’s Foundations are working on marketing notions of philanthropy to rural populations.

A project by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation For Justice in New York is fostering partnerships between activists and lesbians with wealth.

Luchina Fisher is a freelance writer and producer living in the New York area.

For more information:

Women’s Funding Network–
Women’s Funding Network Launches Venture Fund
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Global Fund for Women–
Investing in Women Campaign:

Maine Womens Fund–
The New Girls’ Network: