Area Women Gain Philanthropic Education Through Women’s Fund OPTIONS Program
By: Julie Vincent
Ten years. Two hundred fifty area women. Donations totaling $450,000 to help women and girls in central Indiana. Now those are some impressive stats. It’s all about women owning their own businesses, learning how they can give back to their communities and then doing it!
You’re probably familiar with the Women’s Fund. If not, it was founded in 1996 and is a special interest fund of the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Its mission is threefold: one, to be the expert resource for researching, compiling and communicating issues impacting women and girls in central Indiana; two, to create options and opportunities for women and girls by awarding grants to organizations who serve them; and three, to engage and educate current and potential women donors.
That third mission is being accomplished, in a big way, through the Women’s Fund OPTIONS Program. OPTIONS is a philanthropic education program geared toward women ages 25 to 45 who want to find out more about the needs of area women and girls and then do their part to help. It’s a year-long program involving a class of 20 women who meet once a month. They participate in classroom sessions and site visits to organizations that serve women and girls. Each participant makes a contribution of at least $250, and at the end of the year, the group works together to distribute the funds as they see fit. But it doesn’t stop there. Each year means another group of 20 entrepreneurial and influential women sets out to give back to their communities in ways that meet area needs and mesh with individual passions.
Jennifer Pope Baker is director of the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana and is responsible for all aspects of the multi-million dollar endowment. She is also involved on a national level with planning and presentation for the Women’s Funding Network. She was named an Indianapolis Business Journal Forty Under 40 recipient in 2002.
“I think women are seeking ways to engage in their communities in a thoughtful and meaningful way, and it’s clear our OPTIONS participants want to become strategic philanthropists,” Jennifer said. “I have been with the Women’s Fund for more than 12 years and I am thankful for the privilege of helping donors find joy in their giving.”
Jennifer says the program educates the class about current women’s issues and needs, as well as organizations that serve those needs, and then guides participants through the development of a strategic personal giving plan. She says there are significantly more women currently seeking to participate in OPTIONS than the program can accommodate, a true sign of its success and the “high-quality experience our donors have with the Women’s Fund.”
“OPTIONS really opened my eyes to the needs of our community,” said Kari Strolberg, owner of Eventful Marketing Solutions. “It’s one thing to read about an organization or a particular issue affecting women and girls. It’s another to experience the organization firsthand. It’s a very different view behind the doors.”
Kari, also an Indianapolis Business Journal Forty Under 40 recipient in 2009, started her event production and planning business in 2000. Many of her clients are in the nonprofit arena, so she knows firsthand about their struggles during these trying economic times, where funds are low and need has never been greater.
“Being part of OPTIONS really opened my eyes about the nonprofit world in and around Indianapolis,” Kari added. “There are so many great organizations out there and many ways to give.”
Raquel Richardson, owner of Carmel-based Silver Square, a full-service marketing firm, agrees. “Giving back isn’t always about writing a check. There are lots of ways to volunteer services,” she said. “I have found that volunteering is a win-win experience — not at all one-sided. And I try to become more well rounded by volunteering outside my comfort zone. I often volunteer doing things I don’t know that much about and always find I get back as much as I have given.”
Raquel, who currently serves on the OPTIONS alumni board, encourages everyone who can to step up to do so during this economic downturn. But giving still needs to be strategic — not merely a shot in the dark.
“OPTIONS taught me that giving every time you get a request is not a strategy,” she said. “Businesses can get inundated with requests — many worthy — but to be effective takes knowledge, passion and a plan.” She and her employees at Silver Square strive to have at least one pro bono account at all times.
Sue Russell, founder and CEO of Mayfair Lane, a provider of fun and innovative gift products started in 2008, feels the same way. She moved to the Indianapolis area from the East Coast about 10 years ago and wanted to learn as much about the area, its needs and its charities as she could. She was driven to help women get on their feet and better their lives.
“With all the solicitations we get, it’s hard to know how to be selective,” she said. “OPTIONS has helped me figure out what is most important to me and to the community so I can be as impactful a possible. I just completed the program last year and my greatest takeaway was learning how to use the successes of my company to better the lives of women and girls in and around Indianapolis.”
Sue says it’s great to be bombarded with requests but quickly added “You must have a plan of attack to make a difference.” She said OPTIONS took her “bird’s eye view” of organizations and issues and changed it into a hands-on experience — one she is trying to bequeath to her two boys, ages 5 and 7.
“I know the boys are a little young, but I am already trying to help them understand how fortunate they are and that not everyone is as fortunate. I so want them to grow up being philanthropic, too,” Sue said. “I am trying to instill in them the value of money and, although they are still young, we talk about the idea of giving to charity.”
Thanks to the generosity of donors to the Women’s Fund endowment, since 1999 more than $3.2 million has been distributed to about 90 women- and girl-serving organizations through 236 grants, according to Jennifer. Current funding priorities include care giving, domestic violence, insufficient income and needs of girls. Long-term issues include women’s health, economic empowerment and self-development.
“OPTIONS is perfect for women who are interested in exploring more about their personal philanthropy and the needs and issues facing women and girls in central Indiana,” said Jennifer. “We also ready participants to engage as leaders on our board, on committees and with other organizations in our community. We seek women who are interested in giving their time, talent and treasure to make a difference. This is consistent with our mission to be the most influential funding organization creating transformative and substantive change for women and girls.”
Women between ages 25 and 45 who have an interest in learning more about OPTIONS or applying for the next class should visit www.womensfund.org/philanthropy-options or call 317-634-2423, ext. 157.
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