Women funding women: SVCF donor circle empowers women in Silicon Valley


Since its founding in 2005, the Women Giving Opportunity (WomenGO!) has awarded over $1 million to support low-income women and girls in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties through education, job training and leadership development.

WomenGO! joined Silicon Valley Community Foundation in late 2017 and meets monthly at the SVCF office in Mountain View. "We've been impressed with the support and access to SVCF experts," says circle member Wanda Ginner. The goal of the donor circle is to advance the economic security of women and girls, and during monthly meetings members engage in discussions about local issues, organize nonprofit site visits, and work together to determine grantee organizations.

"We're so appreciative of the work our grantees do, and the care with which they do it," continues Ginner. "Organizations like SOMOS Mayfair, Puente de la Costa Sur, and Nuestra Casa build with and within the communities they service, while organizations like Breakthrough and Girls to Women support girls and young women, giving them foundations to set and reach higher goals."

The best way to understand the impact of WomenGO! is to follow the progress of a grantee relationship. For example, WomenGO! made their first grant to SOMOS Mayfair in 2006 to support an experimental theater project in which women devised plays to deliver educational messages to their community about domestic violence. Since then, WomenGO! has supported SOMOS Mayfair with several additional grants, particularly focused on the development of women leaders or "promotoras" who work closely with their neighbors on issues including early education, literacy, parent support and community organizing. SOMOS Mayfair has grown into a key part of the San Jose community and is now a model for other organizations. WomenGO! member Norma Alvarez now serves on the SOMOS Mayfair board, where she helps foster collaborative relationships with other nonprofits.

Through a gender lens

WomenGO! focuses on funding on small, grassroots organizations that are deeply embedded in the Silicon Valley communities they serve. From an organization's programming to its board, they look at everything through a gender lens and always consider the impact on women. The circle conducts thorough research – going on site visits, examining a project's other funding sources, and analyzing financial data – before deciding to grant.

WomenGO! is willing to take risks and support innovation, but they are also willing to fund general operating costs. Instead of focusing on trendy new projects, they often decide to fund meaningful community projects that are already underway. They encourage all grantees to collaborate by discussing and learning from each other, since many have overlapping goals and serve similar demographics. Because they're deeply invested in the success of these local organizations, individual circle members often stay connected to the nonprofits, even after the official grant period has ended.

"Many of our grantees have programs that work with young women who might otherwise never get past high school.  The best part is watching the effect ripple out — one success story first energizes the siblings, then the cousins, then the friends, eventually energizing the community," says Ginner.

$1 million in impact

In 2016, WomenGO! Celebrated their 10 year anniversary and surpassed $1 million in total grantmaking. 

"Collective giving is powerful," says Michelle Cale, donor circle member and board president of The Women's Foundation of California. "I enjoy the process of learning from my peers and our grant partners, and developing a consensus around our grant making.  Giving together enables us to have greater impact. Our money can do more as one large donation than as many small ones. We support our grant partners and save them administrative costs at the same time. I love the efficiency."

Unlike some funders, “We don’t push our agenda on the grantee organizations,” says another donor circle member. "We are there to listen, not to tell them how to run their programs." The group is aware of the power dynamics between funders and grantees, and takes a humble approach, asking questions, learning, and engaging in conversations with the organizations they partner with.

What’s next?

WomenGO! takes pride in being a supportive community where women can learn together, have fun, and have a positive impact on the community.

"Philanthropy well done is hard work." says Ginner, “Members of WomenGO! share the work, ideas and enthusiasm, making it all fun and rewarding in the process. I want to see us continue working together toward awarding our second million."

“I appreciate the thoughtfulness and care each member brings to our discussions,” says member Joan Karlin. “We come from different backgrounds and life experiences but share a deep commitment to the importance of economic security for girls and women. And we try to have a little fun while we are at it."

If you're interested in the economic security of women, girls and families, the Women Giving Opportunity donor circle is currently inviting new members to join!

Members must make a minimum contribution of $5,000 per year to the donor circle’s fund with Silicon Valley Community Foundation. If you would like to support the circle but lack the time for monthly meetings and site visits, contributions are still welcome and all donors will be kept informed of the circle's work.

To join or learn more, please contact Sawako Sonoyama Clarin by emailing sclarin@siliconvalleycf.org.