The amount of attention that women’s issues received in the recent cycle of elections is exciting for Jeanne Jackson, the President/CEO of the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. “I think this was the Year of the Woman,” she said. “Our feeling this whole year has been that the public has woken up to some of the issues we have been working on for about 15 years, and that’s exciting.”
Founded in 1996 by Lin Carlee, the Woman’s Fund of Greater Birmingham was a designated fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham until last year, when it became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
According to Jackson, the move towards independence was because the Board of Directors of the Women’s Fund wanted to raise more funds, and be “ a stronger voice in the community.” Jackson said, “Our board is a very professional group of women. We’ve got attorneys, business women, CEOs. This is a group of women who are looking for tangible results.”
Jackson describes the the goal of the Women’s Fund as being twofold. The first is to encourage women to understand their power as philanthropists, and the second is to use that power to improve the lives of women and girls.
“Anybody can write a check for $100 or $200, but how do you really move the needle?” she said. “How do you move from band-aid approaches to real systemic changes? This is the big picture.”
The Women’s Fund’s approach to this problem was to become a more data-driven organization. They funded a study written by Dr. Michael Howell-Moroney at the Department of Government at UAB that focuses on the economic security of women in Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, Walker, and Blount Counties.
The study, entitled “Stepping Up for Women’s Economic Security: Challenges and Prospects for a More Secure Future in Greater Birmingham,” was published just a few weeks ago. Its findings are informative and at times startling.
The study showed that while men and women have roughly the same levels of education, the earning level for women was much lower. On average, women nationally earn just 69 cents for every dollar earned by men. In Walker County women earn 52 cents to every dollar men earn. The study also showed that 30 percent of single mothers in the Greater Birmingham area lived in poverty.
Jackson says the research targeted single moms who had some education, but then dropped out. “We found out that the reason women drop out of nursing programs, or out of Jeff State or UAB is because of childcare,” she said.
The information from the study has driven the Women’s Fund to focus on a two-generation approach. “We are trying to help Mom get a higher-wage job through training,” she said, “and at the same time we are trying to provide the childcare that can support that.
“We are really interested in collaborative efforts. We want to see at the end of the year that a number of women have moved into higher-range jobs, and that those women have their children in a safe day care.”
One benefit of the change in the Women’s Fund’s focus to economic issues has been an increase in corporate interest. “It ties really well with workplace development and getting a more skilled workforce,” she said.
An example of the interest of corporations can be seen in the Collaboration Institute, which is set to start next spring. Funded largely by Wells Fargo Bank, the Collaboration Institute is an effort to reward innovators using the two-generation approach.
While corporate interest has increased, the majority of money raised for the Women’s Fund still comes from individual donors. This year marked the first “Smart Party” fundraiser, where donors could contribute using smart devices like phones and tablets. About 400 people attended the fundraiser held at Workplay, with another 866 people making up a virtual audience online. Plans for another “Smart Party” are in the works for next October.
More information about the Women’s Fund for Greater Birmingham can be found at www.womensfundbham.org.