Data and Tears: Deciding How to Help Women and Children across Central Texas
We invited the co-chairs of the grants committee for the Women’s Fund of Central Texas to share their memories and thoughts about the process of selecting which nonprofits helping women and children receive grant funds. A program of the Foundation, the Women’s Fund aims to improve the status of women and children in our community.
When you read about the Women's Fund's 2016 grantees
and their programs, you might think that choosing them was a slam-dunk. Far from it--Central Texas is blessed to be home to hundreds of nonprofits that perform near-miracles every day on tight budgets.
Recently, when we as co-chairs announced a record $136,000 in grants to be awarded to ten local nonprofits at a celebratory breakfast, we both got to enjoy a rewarding and inspiring end to the Women’s Fund of Central Texas’ latest cycle of grant making.
The breakfast, attended by nonprofit representatives, Women’s Fund members and Austin Community Foundation leadership, marked $1.3 million invested over 12 years into community organizations that serve the needs of women and children. That money comes from the collective donations of Women’s Fund members
How were these ten amazing organizations selected?
The grants cycle started last August, when a long list of nonprofits submitted Letter of Inquiry applications. This year, the 14-member Grant’s Committee reviewed 120 applications and went through a process of elimination, selecting 31 agencies to submit more detailed proposals.
These dedicated committee members each visited two or three agencies to ask questions and get a closer look at the programs and needs. They talked with staff, volunteers, board members and sometimes even clients. Actually seeing first-hand what an agency does was more impactful than just learning about it from an application or a website.
Committee members reported on their visits during meetings throughout the fall. Thoughtful discussion led to the ballot presented in December for a vote by the full Women’s Fund membership, and to the ten agencies ultimately awarded grants.
That’s the cut-and-dried explanation.
It doesn’t begin to fully describe the actual experience: tears during site visits when we saw women and children in situations we couldn't personally imagine and were ashamed that exist in our community; frustration as we debated how to cut our recommendation list; angst--were we making the right decision when choosing one deserving agency over another? At the end of the process, there was happiness and satisfaction to be able to do something--although never enough--to make a difference for women and children whose lives are so different from ours.
Always there was passion--about the needs we see, about our community, about the responsibility to be good stewards of money entrusted by fellow Women’s Fund members.
While the Women’s Fund is proud of its work in the past 12 years, we aren’t resting on our laurels.
Granting was more strategic this cycle, based on research from the Stronger Women, Better Austin report released last year. If you haven’t read this report, please do--it’s an eye-opening look at the status of women and children in our city. The report identified six areas of impact--basic needs, economic security, education, health, leadership and safety--that guided the committee’s deliberations.
How will the 13th grants cycle be even better? Can the process become more effective and efficient so we can help more groups or write bigger checks?
These issues will be explored in the coming months. By fall, the Women’s Fund of Central Texas will announce new ways to make a greater impact. We hope you’ll join us for the next phase.
Kirsten Voinis founded K. Voinis Communications with a vision to provide public affairs guidance by uniting her passion for and previous experience in politics and journalism. Kirsten draws on communications skills and media relationships developed over more than two decades to raise awareness and understanding of her clients’ issues among the media, the public, lawmakers and other target audiences. Kirsten served as co-chairman of the Grants Committee of the Women’s Fund of Central Texas in 2014 and 2015 and volunteers for Austin Pets Alive! and Saint Louise House.
Jessica Balladares-Bennett is Vice President at JHL, a firm that provides services in public affairs, events and communications. Jessica has led a mental health professional association and worked for the House Committee on Defense and Veterans’ Affairs during the 85th Session under the chairmanship of Rep. Jose Menendez. Jessica serves in leadership roles in the Junior League of Austin and Women’s Fund of Central Texas. She has also volunteered with Cheyanna’s Champions for Children, Con Mi MADRE, Dell Children’s Council and the Women’s Symphony League.