How This Women's Foundation Plans to Amp Things Up

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, President and CEO, Washington Area Women's FoundationEvery community across the U.S. has unique features, but the challenges facing women tend to be depressingly familiar. For example, in the Washington DC region, like so many other places, many women are just barely getting by economically. Women make up about two-thirds of all low-wage workers in the D.C. area, earning $10.10 an hour or less.

“There is a tremendous gap between what many women in our region are earning, and what they really need to survive and take care of their families,” says Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, President and CEO of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, which serves as a hub for on-the-ground services and advocacy for women and girls in the greater D.C. metropolitan region.

This is a mandate that many women’s foundations take on—bridging the gap for low-income women so that they can not only get a job, but also get ahead, with services that help with child care, housing, and asset-building, all ways to build more financial stability into their lives, and the lives of their families.

As part of this work, the Washington Area Women’s Foundation is one of the 28 women’s foundations across the country that have joined together in Prosperity Together, and pledged to collectively invest $100 million over the next five years to improve the economic security of women and girls of color. The funding investment was made in partnership with the White House Council on Women and Girls in November 2015. 

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Now, under the leadership of Lockwood-Shabat, the foundation has mapped out a five-year strategic plan called Together We Thrive, that will amp up the resources available to help women and girls, and broaden the range of practices and financial tools—including donor-advised funds—to make the foundation a more powerful giver, convener, and influencer in the D.C. area.

The Washington Area Women’s Foundation has been around since 1998, starting out in their first year with $35,000 in funds raised, with half of that being redistributed in grants to the community. The foundation does not have an endowment and instead raises and redistributes its funding yearly. 

In 2014, the Washington Area Women’s Foundation granted $1,015,000 in DC, Maryland and Virginia. But this milestone is small compared to Lockwood-Shabat's hopes for the foundation—which is to quintuple its grantmaking to $5 million a year over the next five years, essentially adding another million dollars in funding every year by persuading more donors to put their money toward funding for women and girls. 

Where does Lockwood-Shabat see this funding coming from? “We’ve been taking a long look at the role of women in philanthropy, and how we connect women in our region who, in many ways, have made it—they are at the pinnacle of their careers, and they are looking for ways to give back.”

Estimates of the net worth of women in the D.C. metro region are at $253 billion, said Lockwood-Shabat. “That number is projected to grow to $500 billion in the next 10 years, so harnessing the power of those resources, and catalyzing those resources toward women and families who need a little bit of investment to lift themselves out of poverty, is our goal.”

One difference in empowering women financially is that the money gets more fully reinvested in the community. “Studies show that in female-headed households, women will reinvest as much as 90 percent of their new income back into their families, so for every dollar that we’re able to raise the income of low-income women, a great deal of that is going back into their families and to their children. This is really about improving the entire community.”

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The foundation has a long list of grantee organizations, many of which are providing much-needed child care, educational, and workforce development services on the ground in the community. The Women’s Foundation currently supports places such as SOME’s Center for Employment Training, which works to get more women into good jobs, and the YWCA of the National Capital Area and College Success Foundation of DC, two organizations that are partnering to provide academic, social-emotional, and financial support for students and their families—a two-generation approach that serves middle school-aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers. 

The foundation also takes a more systemic approach to social issues that impact women and girls, with funding for advocacy through organizations like Voices for Virginia Children, which fosters public policies that ensure all children, particularly those that are disadvantaged, are prepared for kindergarten, and a partnership between DC Appleseed and DC Fiscal Policy Institute to advocate for high-quality child care for low-income families in DC. 

The foundation is also looking to expand its partnerships with government, businesses, and philanthropy to encourage and influence funding programs with a gender lens. 

 “We have a number of corporate partners that participate in our Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative," Lockwood-Shabat said. "These are private, family, and corporate foundations pooling their dollars, all to invest in early care and education across the region.” She added that the Early Care and Education Collaborative is just one example of a partnership designed to educate and influence others about the unique barriers faced by women in the region. 

Partnerships with corporations and others are not just about funding, said Lockwood-Shabat. “Sometimes it’s about influencing how a corporation thinks about their own workplace policies and how they can better support women in their workplace. Or it’s about influencing how a government agency administers a program. That kind of education and influence is critically important, just as important as the dollars going out into the community.”

Lockwood-Shabat also wants to target the foundation’s dollars more specifically on piloting new methods of philanthropy, and community engagement. She sees great potential for this coming from the unprecedented power of female philanthropy. “Women want to be very connected to the work, they want to see it, to touch it, to feel it. It’s not just about the impact today or a year from now, but a deeper focus on significant long-term impact. Many of our donors have a deep understanding of the need for advocacy at the same time that we focus on direct service.”

Overall, Lockwood-Shabat is at the helm of a quickly-evolving women’s foundation, one that is hoping to take off and really fly, tapping into piles of new wealth in the hands of DC-area women. For Lockwood-Shabat, much of this is about cultivating the next generation of women leaders who can bring more gender equity and economic stability to our nation’s capital region. 

“The more we can do to invest in young women, to strengthen their voices and their leadership skills early on, the better,” she said. “At a very grassroots level in their neighborhood or school, we can encourage young women to use their voices for greater things.”