From the 2011-2012 Annual Report of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation. "Growing With It" Women's Fund Transitions from Grassroots Funder to Statewide Leader
Five women nervously awaited their turn to speak before a crowd of more than 800 in Oshkosh.
Each told a personal story about the challenges they face. To read the expressions on the faces in the audience is to know that the speakers hit a nerve. The common thread of their stories expressed the physical and mental anguish of isolation — the feeling that they are alone in the world, disconnected from the community — a condition that in some cases spirals out of control with disastrous consequences.
This presentation in spring 2012 was the Women’s Fund of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation’s unofficial launch of a regional social awareness campaign focused on the issue of isolation.
A social awareness campaign is a heady task for this small organization run by volunteers and one part-time paid staff member. Its passionate leaders, however, are determined to bring about social change for women and girls.
“It’s very exciting to be on the cusp of something that’s never been paid attention to or made note of,” says Bonnie Behnke, vice president. “To commit ourselves financially and physically, to put all of our efforts into (this social awareness campaign) is very invigorating for everyone involved.”
Founded in 1998, the Women’s Fund has transitioned from a small grassroots field of interest fund to an organization that has by all accounts come into its own.
The Women’s Fund is widely known for innovation in grantmaking, collaboration and leadership. It holds the premiere fundraising luncheon among Women’s Funds in Wisconsin, packing the local venues to overflow capacity with speakers such as Erin Brockovich, the real-life inspiration behind the movie “Erin Brockovich” and Leigh Anne Tuohy, whose family’s relationship with football star Michael Oher inspired the movie “The Blind Side.”
The organization has steadily climbed to reach each of its financial goals, from raising $50,000 to gain a matching grant in its inaugural year, to hitting the $1 million mark in 2005 and the $2 million mark in 2011.
Its mission to foster a sense of philanthropy among women is part of a larger movement worldwide of more than 145 public, private foundations and funds within community foundations with collective assets of $465 million and granting power of more than $60 million a year, according to the Women’s Funding Network.
“Our team thinks in a progressive way about what granting should accomplish and we’re looking at all ways to improve that, everything from where our grant dollars go, to where we need to spend our time and resources to make the greatest impact within our community,” says Kelly Laux, president.
This progressive thinking has allowed the Women’s Fund to forego its typical granting cycle this year and focus on the isolation campaign, an effort derived from another innovative project launched at the organization’s 10-year anniversary mark. The Power of 10 initiative brought together 10 groups of men and women representing diverse segments of the community and engaged them in a process to award a $10,000 grant to help their local peers overcome the challenges they face.
The initiative led to the creation of new programs and projects to fill voids in the community and provided tremendous feedback. Each of the 10 groups identified isolation not only as the source of the challenges in their lives, but as a contributor over time to much more serious situations, like a snowball effect.
“I think the Power of 10 allowed the discovery of what the needs are in the community,” says Phyllis Leach, longtime Women’s Fund supporter. “I was involved in the first group of elderly women , and it really touched me a lot because their main concern was isolation. They’re alone.
“I’ve been without my husband for 19 years now. I know exactly how they feel.”
The campaign presents unchartered territory for the Women’s Fund, and a significant risk in terms of achieving a goal that’s difficult to define.
“The goal will be to reach as many people as possible, to make people understand what isolation is, how they can help make a change, how they can get involved,” says Laux. “The result is going to be measurable — we will have more people who are knowledgeable about the Women’s Fund, we will have more people that are giving to the Women’s Fund, we will have more grants that are identified with isolation. But what’s the big picture result? I don’t know. I think from all those small elements, we’re going to see something unfold and what we have to do is recognize it as it’s unfolding and grow with it.”
To access the full 2011-2012 Annual Report from the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, click here.