Women's Fund: Empowering Women & Inspiring Girls


Bring women together and there is no limit to what they can accomplish.


Women’s Funds throughout the country believe by investing in women and girls they can accelerate positive change in communities. The more than a dozen Women’s Funds in the state of the Wisconsin have adopted the same philosophy. They provide grants to support initiatives and community programs that impact ladies of all ages.


According to Lori Namur, executive director of Fond du Lac Area Women’s Fund, Women’s Fund organizations in Wisconsin have more than $10 million in assets that are leveraged across the state to improve the lives of women and girls.


Each Women’s Fund is dedicated to influencing the lives of females, but how they each go about this is unique. They may prioritize education or leadership or safety — responding to needs or trends in their community.

Each Women’s Fund is dedicated to influencing the lives of females, but how they each go about this is unique. They may prioritize education or leadership or safety — responding to needs or trends in their community.


The organizations are also structured a little differently. Some are part of community foundations, while others operate independently. Women’s Fund leaders may be paid executive directors — primarily part-time — or volunteers that are passionate about its purpose. Committee volunteers provide the necessary support to market the organization or help pull off annual events.

While no two Women’s Funds are identical, the Wisconsin organizations get together annually. In early November, the Green Bay, Fox Valley, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac Women’s Funds met with fellow Women’s Fund leaders from across the state to share successes, discuss best practices and learn from one another.


Women’s Fund leaders from Green Bay, Fox Valley, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac kindly agreed to provide a closer look at their organization, including their mission and programs, as well as share a little about themselves.


Fond du Lac Area Women’s Fund

The Fond du Lac Area Women’s Fund promotes positive change for Fond du Lac area women and girls through grants and education. “Grant funding priorities are education, leadership development, financial self-sufficiency and safety, dignity and freedom from violence,” says Namur. “We also engage women in philanthropy and create community awareness of strengths and challenges of women in the Fond du Lac area.”

Namur reveals nearly $125,000 in Women’s Fund grants to local nonprofits will be at work by 2015, supporting programs that benefit women and girls in its funding priorities.


Educating the community on issues affecting local women and girls is also an important part of the organization’s mission. The organization advocates for general equity and opportunity.


Each spring, the Fond du Lac Area Women’s Fund holds its Power of the Purse luncheon fundraiser, drawing a crowd of nearly 300. Past events include a screening of “Miss Representation,” a documentary about the personal and societal effects of media portrayals of women, and a well-being presentation promoting health and wellness.


Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region

The Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region invests in women and girls through grants, advocacy and education.


According to Becky Boulanger, executive director of Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region, they have granted more than $1 million to area nonprofits, granting more than $100,000 each year. The annual competitive grants have funded 190 different programs at 75 nonprofit organizations.


This fall, the annual Women’s Fund luncheon celebrated its 15th year and welcomed more than 1,100 community members. Boulanger says, “The luncheon is our biggest fundraiser and provides significant funding for our annual operating budget. It is also an amazing opportunity to share information about Women’s Fund and the needs of women and girls in the Fox Valley.”


She reveals she’s also proud of the Women’s Fund annual Girls’ Grantmaking Project. For the last four years, local high school girls have had a hand in granting $10,000 to programs they feel address issues impacting girls in the community.


Women’s Fund of the Oshkosh Area

Women’s Fund of the Oshkosh Area is focused on improving the lives of women, girls and all community members through philanthropy, grant making and education. Karlene Grabner, executive director of Women’s Fund of the Oshkosh Area, says, “We truly believe that strong women foster strong communities and families. Leadership, empowerment, hope and compassion are at the core of everything we do.”

To date, the Women’s Fund has given over $1 million in grants. Grabner reveals the organization is focusing on education and advocacy in the work it does and is partnering with community agencies.


The Oshkosh group hosts the Power of the Purse luncheon every other year. The highlight of the May 19, 2016, event will be presenter Lori Greiner from Shark Tank.


“We strategically hold these events every other year so that in the off years we can focus on stewardship and strategy with our donors and initiatives,” adds Grabner. “Since we only get in front of the public every other year with our message, it is important that we get the highest level of visibility.”


Women’s Fund of Greater Green Bay

As a part of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, the Women’s Fund of Greater Green Bay grants to local organizations focused on leadership and self-esteem initiatives that empower women and inspire girls.


The organization began as a grassroots effort 20 years ago. Nancy Thompson, president of Women’s Fund of Greater Green Bay, says, “Through the help of donors and special event fundraising, our endowment is now $2.2 million, which enables us to grant approximately $90,000 each year to organizations and programs that directly help women and girls in the Greater Green Bay community.”


The Women’s Fund has awarded grants totaling more than $395,000 to more than 70 local initiatives and community programs since 1995.

To raise funds, the Women’s Fund hosts a Power of the Purse luncheon every September. Nearly 900 guests attend, enjoy an inspirational speaker and learn about the organizations that received grants the past year. New for 2015, the Women’s Fund was the charitable beneficiary of the inaugural Bellin Women’s Half Marathon. w



Q&A with Becky Boulanger

How long have you worked with the Women’s Fund?

I’ve been with the Women’s Fund since the spring of 2004. I started as a temporary employee working 4 hours/week when my youngest child went to school. By the next year the hours had built up to 20/week and I was offered a permanent part-time position. I didn’t know anything about the Women’s Fund when I started work here, but I loved it from the start.


What has been your greatest contribution to the organization?

I do feel that I have a knack for pulling together random ideas and coming up with a plan of action. Our donors and board of directors have so many great suggestions and dreams for the Women’s Fund. I’ve been able to take those and articulate them in a comprehensive and cohesive way.


What are your goals for the Women’s Fund this year?

One goal for the coming year is to invite more women to join our WillPower Society by making a provision to support the Women’s Fund in their will or estate plan. We have 20 women who have shared their intentions to make a legacy gift to the Women’s Fund so far. We also want to launch our initiative for young adult women.


What does a typical day look like for you?

It is rare that I have a day without meetings with Women’s Fund committees or individual donors, or represent the Women’s Fund at meetings of different nonprofits or grant funders or at community events. I love meeting with people and learning about what is going on in the community that can inform our work at the Women’s Fund. Fundraising is a part of most days. We are already planning the 2016 Women’s Fund Luncheon.


Tell me a little about yourself.

I’m originally from Wausau and have lived in Appleton since 1997. I met my husband when we were students at UW-Madison. We ended up in Oshkosh and then Appleton because of his job. I love living in Wisconsin and am one of the few people who openly admits to not minding winter.

I’ve been married to my husband, Peter, for 24 years. We have twin sons, Alex and Nick, who will be 21 in December. They are both juniors at UW-Madison. We also have a daughter, Madeline, who is a senior at Appleton West.


What do you like to do in your free time?

I wish I had more time for hobbies. I have a scarf that I’ve been knitting since 2006. I love to walk and hike. I joined a book club two years ago and that has gotten me back in the habit of reading for pleasure. We just read “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I actually still have my copy from high school with my notes in the margins. w




Q&A with Karlene Grabner

How long have you worked with the Women’s Fund?

I am the Executive Director of the Women’s Fund. Previous to becoming staff I sat on the Board of Directors and a committee. Eileen Connolly-Keesler, President/CEO of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation at the time, tapped me for this opportunity more than 10 years ago.


What has been your greatest contribution as a part of Women’s Fund?

One of the greatest contributions of the Women’s Fund has been the Power of 10. We received a $100,000 gift and went out and asked those that we served “what are the issues that you face every day?” We talked to elderly women, 16-year-old girls, women in poverty, single moms, and by being on the ground level we were able to uncover lots of good stuff. Each group then was able to give away $10,000 to help others in their same situation. Through this celebration of our 10-year anniversary, we uncovered and implemented lots of projects; we started the Girls Granting Initiative and our work in the conversation of isolation.


What are your goals for the Women’s Fund this year?

The headline I hope to read for our Women’s Fund in the future is that we continue to be bold in the ways that we attack problems for our women and girls.


What does a typical day look like for you?

No two days are the same, which for me is a wonderful issue to have. We spend a large amount of time stewarding our donors, understanding what makes them tick and what drives them to be philanthropic in the first place. Then we work to make programs that will excite them and make them come alive.


Tell me a little about yourself — what keeps you here?

What’s kept me here all these years are the amazing donors and volunteers that surround the Women’s Fund table. We smile, argue, laugh and challenge each other every time we are together. I have always wanted to be surrounded by a team that is not a “yes” team, but rather a team that pushes each other to be bolder and think harder about how we go about changing lives. We take many calculated risks for an organization of our size and they have turned out to be great strategic moves for us.

I have a fabulous husband named Christopher Leitch. We have an 8-year-old girl named Anika Leitch and a 7-month-old boy named Audrik Leitch. We love playing games together (particularly board games) and we surround ourselves with family and friends.


What is something few people know about you?

I am a self-help/business book junkie. My entire library is filled with how to be a better employee, wife, mother and how to get smarter at everything I do. I love to learn and improve. w



Q&A with Nancy Thompson

How long have you worked with the Women’s Fund?

I have been involved as a volunteer with the Women’s Fund since 2008. I attended Power of the Purse and decided to get involved the following year as a member of the event committee. My primary responsibilities are to provide leadership to the organization through implementation of our strategic direction, align limited resources, build strategic relationships and be a good steward of the Fund.


What has been your greatest contribution as a part of Women’s Fund?

Prior to becoming President of the Women’s Fund, along with Martha Ahrendt of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation I co-chaired the Impact Grant Teams. The first Impact Grant team listened to community experts, studied data and talked with over 100 community members about the current needs of women and girls in the community. The second Impact Grant team reviewed local community organizations’ responses to a Request for Proposal, interviewed the finalists and awarded the Impact Grant to the Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes and the Boys & Girls Club of Green Bay.


What are your goals for the Women’s Fund this year?

Our Imagine the Future Campaign raised over $1.2 million in a year which enabled us to do two things: 1) Launch an Impact Grant program for young girls in our community with the leadership of two collaborative organizations and their partners, and 2) Move from an annual grant cycle to twice a year and double the dollars granted to organizations and programs that research has shown are of the greatest local need.


What does a typical day look like for you?

I am a principal in a retained executive search firm, Signature Search. While managing my own business, I devote time to volunteering for the Women’s Fund.


Tell me a little about yourself.

I grew up in the Milwaukee area as the oldest of five girls. I moved to Green Bay from Bitburg, Germany, where we lived on an Air Force base. My husband entered private practice with a Green Bay law firm after serving five years in the Judge Advocate General Corps. Green Bay has been a great place to raise our three children. We became involved in our community, church and have some great friends.

My husband, Jay, and I have been married 39 years. Our oldest son, Jack, lives with his spouse, Katerina, in Dublin, Ireland, where he teaches at the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin. Our daughter, Katie, is a psychotherapist in private practice and lives in St. Louis with our granddaughter, Grace. Our youngest son, Michael, lives in Madison and is with Trader Joe’s.


What do you like to do in your free time?

Time spent with my husband, children, granddaughter and friends is treasured. I enjoy cooking, working out, biking, hiking, reading and traveling. w




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