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- The Network
In 1972, Gloria Steinem and her co-editors at Ms. Magazine started the Ms. Foundation for Women. It was the first and largest national women's fund. Their aim was to redistribute profits from Ms. Magazine to the grassroots women’s movement.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, following the creation of the Ms. Foundation, the idea of "women’s funds" – organizations focused on granting money to women and girls – gained momentum. New funds were created – from regional funds like the New York Women’s Foundation to family foundations such as the Sister Fund and the Daphne Foundation. In the US, this work was spurred by women including Helen LaKelly Hunt, Abigail Disney, and Tracy Gary, who wanted to channel inherited wealth into a transformation in opportunities for women and girls. They saw that it was time to step up to the plate and invest their own money in new financial institutions to power the women’s movement. Soon these newly created organizations were collectively giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars to nonprofit programs, including women’s workforce initiatives and domestic violence projects.
In 1985, Women's Funding Network was formed to capitalize on a huge growth spurt among women’s funds. At this time, there were more than 60 women’s funds spread across the US. Women's Funding Network was charged with giving member women’s funds the tools, connections, and clout to develop and thrive, and began holding annual conferences as well as offering a growing range of trainings and services.
From Women's Funding Network's inception, women’s funds began collaborating on key shared themes and issues. For example, in the early 1990s, the Network collected best practices on tackling domestic violence, publishing a research paper on the issue and dedicating a conference to developing shared positions. Women’s funds also played a pivotal collective role at the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in 1994.
The women's funding movement flourished – driven by growth in the US and across the globe. By 2000, Women's Funding Network numbered 94 funds with $200 million in collective assets. In the past decade, women’s funds formalized their shared values, including a commitment to a democratic vision of philanthropy, and distilled a "social change" philosophy that prioritizes investments capable of making lasting and proven changes in the lives of women and girls, by fixing systems not symptoms.
These shared values were strategically underpinned by concrete tools that consist of innovative leadership programs and offer a wide range of consulting and training services, such as a trail-blazing impact measurement system, Making the Case™ In addition to supporting the growth of women’s funds, the Network is engaged in a number of key efforts to increase the visibility of women-led solutions. Examples include: a successful web platform for women activists to advocate for change; co-founding the highly acclaimed SheSource media database of women experts; and establishing shared strategies for combating poverty worldwide through investment in women. Together, these innovations have created a coherent movement for women’s leadership, fortified by a new definition of women’s philanthropy for social change.
Today, more than 160 members of Women's Funding Network make grants of over $65 million per year and have collective working assets of $535 million. We are poised to make a new decade of history, with a target of reaching $1.5 billion in collective working assets by 2018. The new infusion of funding represented by these targets will mean lasting change in women’s human and economic rights, as well their access to healthcare and education in communities everywhere.