Strategic Planning

Rainier Club

by Beth McCaw, President

This year marks the end point of our current strategic plan and thus, brings an opportunity for our Board of Directors to establish new goals and objectives for WA Women’s Foundation.  Because WA Women’s Foundation is your Foundation, we will be asking you to help us with our planning process.  Before doing so, I wanted to report on our progress against our current plan.

When I joined the staff in September 2014, we had just begun the implementation of our 2014-2017 Strategic Plan, which was developed under the leadership of my predecessor. Our strategic plan has three goals:

  • Increase financial strength and sustainability;
  • Engage more women in philanthropy and leadership; and
  • Build our institutional knowledge or community needs and our capacity to respond to them.

To increase financial strength and sustainability, we set a goal of maintaining a solid financial position, now and in the future.  Strategies for doing so included managing our operations in a cost-effective and efficient manner and broadening the base of fundraising support for the Annual Fund and sponsorships.  On the operations side, we performed better than budget in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, much of our success was due to your generous support of our 20th Anniversary Annual Fund Campaign, which exceeded goal by more than $40,000. Did you know?  Members’ $500 annual contribution toward operations covers less than 38% of our operating costs?  The rest is paid for by the Annual Fund, a payout from our endowment and reserves, and, to a very small extent, corporate sponsorships.

In order to engage more women in philanthropy and leadership, we made a commitment to maintain high-quality programming narrowly focused on philanthropy and leadership.  We host more than 40 workshops and events each year. One of our signature events is Discovery Days, and due to the efforts of members Amy Michaels, Nicole Resch, Rosalie Gann, and our entire 2016 Discovery Days Planning Committee, last fall’s event had record attendance.  Our audiences and speakers were our most diverse ever, and this clearly was a program very relevant to its time.

In our 2013 membership survey, you told us that you wanted us to vary the timing and location of our events and programs.  Last year 43% of our events and programs were somewhere other than the 2100 Building, and this year, 2 of our 5 Pooled Fund Work Groups are meeting downtown. We also understand that you want more opportunities to network and build relationships even while working on grant making so more “social” components are being included in almost all of our programming.

We are fortunate to have a 91% member retention rate. However, the number of new members joining declined in 2015 and 2016.  As of December 31, 2016, we had 469 paid members.  Did you know?  We’ve never quite reached the 500 paid member mark.  We have, however, had $500,000 in the pooled fund for several years now, primarily due to additional gifts, including IGRs, designated by members to the pooled fund.  2017 marks the first year in which member contributions also are covering the amount of our Pooled Fund Merit Awards.  Last year, we funded those awards from operations.  Between 2010 and 2016, our cash reserves and operations funded more than $170,000 in grants (Pooled Fund, Merit Awards and Partner Grants).

While the number of members participating on the Pooled Fund Grant Committee has declined the past two years, we are seeing growth in participation on the Partner Grant Committees and increased civic engagement and leadership by those Committee members.  Members of last fall’s Diversity Partner Grant Committee continue to personally contribute and raise funds for TEACH, a higher education program run by the Black Prisoners Caucus at Clallam Bay Correction Center.  Members also are engaged in ongoing advocacy in support of Washington CAN’s efforts to reform the Legal Financial Obligations and parole systems in Washington state.

In order to build our institutional knowledge of community needs and our capacity to respond to them, we are looking for opportunities to build new partnerships and deeper relationships with other philanthropic organizations.  Last fall, we partnered with the Social Justice Fund for the first time, and this fall, we partnering again with Women’s Funding Alliance. We also are participating in the Central Washington Conference for the Greater Good in Yakima next week. I will be meeting with Yakima nonprofit leaders and well as women from the Yakima area who are interested in collective grant making, trying to extend our reach into Eastern Washington.

We also have increased our engagement with our own network – the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network.  Board members Laura Midgely and Kathy Edwards joined me in presenting at the Network’s National Conference in Jacksonville, Florida, last month.  Colleen Willoughby was on a plenary panel and member Jackie Bezos gave the keynote on the first evening of the conference. Board member Bo Lee and former Board member Alison Wilson also attended. Did you know? Washington Women’s Foundation is the oldest collective grant making organization in the country and while we are still leading in terms of dollars granted each year, many of the other organizations within the Network have memberships very close to the size of ours.

Beyond the goals of our strategic plan, it’s important to note that all together collective giving and grant making organizations are having an impact on women’s philanthropy, which has now been studied and documented by researchers at The Center on Philanthropy at the University of Indiana.  We are achieving the vision originally set for us by our founders – to change the course of women’s philanthropy through the power of collective giving. Our own data support the conclusion that the collective giving model of Washington Women’s Foundation has changed the course of women’s philanthropy over the past 20+ years.

So what comes next? This is the question that our Board of Directors is considering as we begin working on our next strategic plan and as this conversation begins, we hope to hear from you. We are planning on sending a few short surveys to the full membership to better understand what more you want to learn, what experiences and opportunities you hope WA Women’s Foundation will make possible for you, and what relationships and networks are important for you to build to support your philanthropy and community engagement. 

Two decades ago, our founders saw an opportunity to create something new – the result was an innovative, inclusive model of women-powered philanthropy. Now that we’ve become a model for others around the country, how can we challenge ourselves – and others – to up our game? Thank you for your membership and thank you for helping us continue to move boldly forward.

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