A donor who gets out of her comfort zone, learning about her own power along the way

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

Cynthia Nimmo, WFN’s President and CEO Interviews Carol Andreae, philanthropist and a founder of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio

Carol  Andreae, a founder of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, formerly on the Women’s Funding Network board, currently on the Women Moving Millions board, the list goes on. For over 40 years Carol has put her money where her mouth is, from strategizing to start women’s funds to going public with her gifts. In this interview with Cynthia Nimmo, President and CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, Carol discusses her journey which included moving out of her comfort zone and learning about her own power along the way.

You’ve sat on so many platforms for women. With all that’s going on today, what do you see as the future of women’s leadership?

I am very hopeful. My impression is that younger women assumed women would continue moving into leadership positions and didn’t question what was hard- fought for in the 1960s and earlier. Who would think we would be arguing about birth control today? We’re still fighting for the same things but there is more awareness now that we need women on boards, in advertising, in film, as directors, and more. I have great hope for women’s leadership.

You are very politically active. Why?

People are so polarized. I think in many cases we share concerns like maternal health and education, but we get bogged down in our doctrine. Infant mortality is a big issue in Central Ohio. The former Governor had a commission look into it and concluded that poverty and lack of access to good birth control are factors. Then he signed a law to de-fund Planned Parenthood!

I look for ways I can make a difference. I’m excited right now about a network for elected women which was started by a woman running for Congress. She realized as woman candidate you often have a team of women helping you get elected. Once you’re elected, they disappear and women are left to deal with issues men don’t have. What happens when you’re in grocery story with your kid in the cart and a constituent comes up and starts lambasting you for something? How do you juggle child care with the legislative sessions? Networking with each other is important.

Tell me about helping to start the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio.

After graduating from Smith at the end of the 60s, I looked for a job. I was asked if I could type. I knew men were not being asked that question. That was the moment I became a feminist.

I got a job at a museum. Most of my coworkers were male and I told them about my job-hunting experience. We were at lunch one day and a new guy walked in. He saw me and said, “here, type this up.” All the men quietly got up and walked away. I politely said no and that was the moment I started taking vocal stands. I didn’t activate in any organized fashion, but I changed my views.

We moved to Maine in the 1970s and I became the director of a women’s career center at a small liberal arts college. The Maine Women’s Fund had started with a part-time Executive Director and I was asked to join the Board. I was on that board for six years.

In 1995 when we moved back to Columbus I thought to get involved in the women’s fund there. But when I asked around I discovered there wasn’t one. Through friends I met with two women who were part of the “porch ladies” – a group that was discussing the idea of starting a women’s fund. The fact that I had experience with a women’s fund was useful and I became one of the founders. We officially started in 2001 and I was on the Board for 10 years, then stayed on the grants committee. Now I am back on the Board.

Why do you support women’s funds nationally?

Social services are important but I want to make social change. I want to be upstream and keep people from going in the river, as they say. We need to change the issues that are causing people to drown. Women’s funds are crucial for this. Every women’s fund is community based, even those that fund internationally. They are close to the ground and are in touch with the issues and the solutions. Women often know what the answers are, they just don’t always have the resources to implement them.

A lot of things that are presented as “women’s issues” are really community issues, yet systems devalue what women bring and don’t enable them to contribute and make powerful differences for the whole community.

I joined the Women’s Funding Network board because I believe WFN enables all women’s funds to be more powerful. I later joined the Women Moving Millions (WMM) board which enabled me to see how the two organizations could support each other.

You are one of the few women I know who doesn’t shy away from giving big and letting it be known. What moves you to do so?

When I inherited some money I wanted to make a difference. I took a big leap and said I would give the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio $1,000,000 over time. I had planned to leave this gift in my will. Helen LaKelly Hunt hosted a meeting for women donors at a Women’s Funding Network conference and a woman there said she had been thinking about putting her gift into her will and then realized she wanted to see what happened to her money during her lifetime so she changed it. That got me thinking. I wanted to see the impact so I talked to my lawyer and changed my will too.

I grew up with the mantra, “we give back, but we give quietly.” In my family this was a really strong message. When I gave the million dollar gift I said they could only tell the Board. The ED asked if she could announce my gift at an event. I said no. That would have revealed more of me than I was comfortable with. My coach at the time asked me to consider if the things that were holding me back were holding others back as well. She said my stepping forward could allow them to step forward, so I decided to do it. When the ED made the announcement in front of 100 people there was a loud gasp. I was the first person to give to the women’s fund at that level publicly.

A woman I didn’t know, came up to me and said I’d inspired her. She’d been giving $25/year and was going to stretch and give $50/year. This is what moves me. What I discovered was not only was I hiding my money, I was hiding my power.

It has been a transformative journey for me. I would say to any donor: by letting it be known that you are giving money to support an issue—whether it’s $100 or $1,000,000—you are taking a stand and saying this issue is important and you are making a difference.

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