Spokane Journal of Business

Women Helping Women adopts collective giving

Pandemic prompted shift to year-round fundraising

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-—Virginia Thomas
Women Helping Women Fund executive director Heather Hamlin says the organization is taking a fresh approach to fundraising, but it isn’t abandoning its popular annual luncheons.

Women Helping Women Fund has transformed its model to a collective-giving community, a model the organization says gives more power to its donor members.

Heather Hamlin, executive director of the Spokane-based nonprofit, says the COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity for the organization to evolve. WHWF traditionally has held an annual fundraising luncheon, but the pandemic prevented that for two years.

“COVID gave us an opportunity to sit back and envision what Women Helping Women Fund could grow into,” Hamlin says. “That break of COVID and not planning a big luncheon gave us an opportunity to sit back and say, how do we engage the community year-round?”

In November 2020, WHWF launched a collective-giving community, also known as a giving circle. A collective-giving community is a democratic charitable-giving model in which members of a philanthropic organization contribute to a grants pool and vote on recipients of grants. WHWF uses ranked choice voting to express how they’d like to prioritize programs categorized into 10 focused-funding areas. Focus areas include youth enrichment, food and basic needs, and domestic violence education and outreach. 

Hamlin says collective giving via grants is a philanthropic model that is gaining popularity in the U.S.

“It’s shifting power back to donors to make funding decisions,” Hamlin says.

Members pledge $300 or $600 a year to become part of WHWF’s collective-giving community. 

“When all of those funds are pooled together, and we can award larger grants, it’s transformational for our community,” she says.

Because WHWF identifies focus areas before inviting programs to apply for funding, applicants know ahead of time whether their proposal is likely to receive funds.

“When we open our grant application for nonprofits in the fall, nonprofits know what the key priorities are going to be and what we’re most interested in funding,” Hamlin says.

This year, about $300,000 will be awarded to 23 grant requests as well as $15,000 in scholarships and $12,000 in small grants called InstaGrants, Hamlin says.

To raise funds and celebrate WHWF’s 30th anniversary, the organization held an event earlier this week which included speeches from the authors of “Notorious RBG: The Life and Time of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” and a performance by Spokane Symphony musicians, followed by a cocktail hour and a push for more fundraising through one-time donations.

“The format is no replacement for the annual luncheon that everybody has loved for all of these years, but it’s to celebrate in a unique way,” Hamlin says. “It’s likely that we’ll return to the traditional luncheon format in 2023. It all depends on what the community enjoys most.”

The annual luncheon typically has been headlined by a well-known woman. Previous luncheon speakers include Elizabeth Smart, Glennon Doyle Melton, Naomi Judd, Gloria Steinem, and Carrie Fisher.   

Six Spokane women founded WHWF in 1992: Mari Clack, Marcy Drummond, Vicki McNeill, Shirley Rector, Janet Skaden, and Vivian Winston. Hamlin says that the six were lunching one day when they decided to make the changes they wished to see in the area and invite others to join them.

“Vivian Winston’s husband was the founder at Winston & Cashatt (law firm), and they stomped into his office and incorporated the nonprofit right then and there,” Hamlin says. “These were women you didn’t want to say no to. These were women who were powerhouses, mavericks, pioneers in leading the community.”

Winston’s granddaughter, Stephanie Baumann, currently serves as WHWF’s board secretary.

“They would be amazed to see what this has grown into,” Hamlin says.

WHWF expanded its physical footprint in early 2020, when the organization moved to its new headquarters at 3704 N. Nevada, where it occupies 6,000 square feet of space. A 3,000-square-foot space on the first floor of the building is set aside for events, while the remaining space on the second floor is dedicated to offices, meeting space, and a studio for filming informational videos and hosting livestreamed events. 

WHWF had been based out of a 300-square-foot office in the Eldridge Building, downtown, since its founding.

When the space became vacant in the North Nevada Street building, which is owned by Hutton Settlement and also houses Logan-Lidgerwood Head Start through Community Colleges of Spokane, the organization was eager to expand.

“We are very involved in child care advocacy and funding different child care initiatives, so the fact that this is attached to a Head Start building made a lot of sense for us,” Hamlin says.

Hamlin says she hopes the next phase of growth for the organization will include more funding to disperse.

“We have about five times the need versus what we can fund in our grant pool every year,” Hamlin says. “Instead of giving out $300,000 to $400,000 a year, I would love to give out $1 million a year. The need is there.”

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Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the health care industry. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys traveling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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