Meet Karen Gentleman, former Board member, Founding Mother, and passionate member of the Women’s Fund family.

How did you get involved with Women’s Fund?

I was very fortunate to be a “Founding Mother.” In the couple of years before Women’s Fund was officially founded, Dr. Diane Brashear gathered a group of women together to think about how this might happen. At the time, I was the youngest one in the room, so I felt very privileged to be at the table. I was there, in part, because my business is market research, and the first thing they wanted to do was undertake the first needs assessment. At the time, it was called “On Shaky Ground,” and when it has been republished, it’s called “Still on Shaky Ground,” but I got to work on that first needs assessment to talk about how the fund should be formed and make a lot of those very early-on decisions; it was very exciting.

How have you seen Women’s Fund grow over the years?

When Diane Brashear wanted to start Women’s Fund, she met with Lilly Endowment Fund and she asked all the male leaders if they could name all the female leaders in the Indianapolis community. They came up with seven names and she said “this isn’t right.” There were hundreds of women working in the community, the light had just not been shone on them. Now look where we are. In every way Women’s Fund has grown, from financial to an endowment. From not having any money at all, to having enough money to give out grants for the first time in 1999. I’ve seen it grow in terms of its capabilities. They have reached out to all kinds of different areas like education of young people with the GO funds and education of all of us in so many things. Women’s Fund really stays on top of the whole community and make sure we all know what’s going on. One of the early decisions we made was if we wanted to affiliate with The Indianapolis Foundation or stay independent because there are many women’s funds throughout the United States that aren’t affiliated with anyone. It was a big decision because The Indianapolis Foundation at that time, in the early ‘90s, had always been run by old white guys and we wondered how that was going to work. The answer is it worked fabulously. The support The Indianapolis Foundation provided and legitimacy in the early days was a key to the success of Women’s Fund.

Are there any organizations that serve the central Indiana community that you learned about through Women’s Fund?

I’ve learned about at least half of the grantees over the years. I served on the grants committee for a while, so I got to see who they were granting to up close and personal. I might have known only half of them without having been exposed to them through Women’s Fund. Also, not only giving the grantees money, but educating us about what they do shines a spotlight on the good work that is happening in the community. I learned about Exodus Refugee and its work for the first time from Women’s Fund and I can imagine their work is only getting more important and more complicated with things like the Afghani population that is now down at Camp Atterbury, I would think Exodus is continuing to be a more important player.

Are there any areas of support or organizations that particularly interest you in the central Indiana community?

That’s such a hard question because they’re all so important. I wish we could give them all every dollar they need. However, the caregiving organizations are nearest and dearest to my heart, having had three children and to an extent, helping older parents. I remember, there was an assessment of childcare availability and it’s staggering how much of a need there is and I would think with COVID-19, it’s only gotten worse, trying to provide childcare to people who need it.