June 2010Volume 4Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Chicago Foundation for Women

Editor’s Note: On September 24, 2009, the Chicago Foundation for Women held its 24th Annual Luncheon. The summary below was taken from opening comments provided by its Executive Director, Kelly White.

More than 24 years ago, the Foundation was created by four visionary women—our inimitable Founders: Marjorie Craig Benton, Lucia Woods Lindley, Iris Krieg and Sunny Fischer. They were frustrated with the low level of philanthropic dollars going to support programs specifically addressing the needs of women and girls. At that time only about 3% of philanthropic dollars went to programs addressing issues such as domestic violence, reproductive health, women’s economic security, sexual assault, and other issues critical to the well-being of thousands of females in Chicago, and by extension thousands of families. Women were getting short shrift.

Women have made great strides over the past 24 years, as has the Chicago Foundation for Women. Many times, the Foundation has provided the first critical seed money—taking a chance on innovative and creative programs designed to address under-served populations and communities—programs like Apna Ghar, which means “Our Home” in Hindi and Urdu. When it opened 20 years ago, Apna Ghar was one of the country’s first transitional shelter and social agencies serving Asian survivors of domestic violence. Today, Apna Ghar not only offers multilingual, culturally appropriate services to any woman who walks in their door, they also provide a safe space for supervised child visitation and offer the women they serve opportunities to achieve economic security and independence. They are a model program that offers training to other service providers statewide. Chicago Foundation for Women is proud to say that we were some of the “first dollars in,” enabling Apna Ghar to take root and to grow.

The Foundation has distributed more than $17 million in grants to hundreds of organizations all across the Chicago Metropolitan area. Our impact has been powerful.

However – we still have a long way to go. In 2003, only .6% of aid dollars had gender equality as a principal objective. A 2006 report by the Association of Women in Development reported that only 7.3% of U.S. foundation-giving in 2003 went to “women and girls” programs or initiatives.

Yes – you read that right – only 7.3% of American Foundation dollars in 2003 went to “women and girls” programs or initiatives. That is a 100% increase from when our Founders first started, but still less than 10% of foundation-giving in the U.S. This is the state of philanthropic activities directed to women and girls, despite the facts that:

• Women are still making less money than men. In Illinois, women are only paid 73 cents for every dollar paid to men—lower than the national average. Over a lifetime, the pay gap shorts women $700,000 if they have high school degrees, and even more for those with college or professional degrees—$1.2 million and $2 million respectively. That’s real money! And for women of color, the gap is even wider.

• Domestic violence providers in Illinois are understaffed and underfunded. A recent one-day survey found that Illinois’ programs served nearly 3,000 victims of violence, but 1,000 other requests for help that day went unanswered for no other reason than limited capacity due to lack of dollars.

• 80% of cases of child sexual abuse investigated last year in Illinois were perpetrated against girls. And on the other end of the spectrum, 70% of elder abuse victims in 2008 were women.

And this is the situation despite the fact that the complexity and intersection of the issues and problems associated with women and girls are interrelated.

To give women and girls a chance, we must provide consistent financial support and effect systemic change in our health care, educational, criminal and civil legal systems. And perhaps more difficult, we must change the attitudes and beliefs that women and girls are inferior and weak.


We know the only way to achieve our vision of a safe, just and health community for all women and girls is through a multi-layered and systemic approach.

We are also advocates for women’s philanthropy, for the strength of women helping one another, for the “power of the purse.” More women now control more wealth in the U.S. than ever before and, more and more, they are beginning to give that wealth to support other women.

The Women’s Funding Network, of which Chicago Foundation for Women is a member, launched the “Women Moving Millions” campaign in November 2007. They launched with a goal of raising $150 million, by asking individual women to donate $1 million or more. They shattered that goal this last spring when they announced they had surpassed their goal by $30 million—raising $180 million—and they are still going strong!

In the next three years, the Chicago Foundation for Women plans to raise more money, give out more grants and larger grants, help our grantees grow, foster diverse women’s leadership and philanthropy, use our voice to pinpoint major women’s issues, spotlight the solutions—and do it all with integrity and accountability.

We believe that lifting up women is core to the health of our community. We know that if women have a roof over their heads, a home free from violence, and affordable quality health care then so do our children. Chicago Foundation for Women isn’t just in the business of building up women and girls – we are in the business of building up our community. ■


ABOUT CHICAGO FOUNDATION FOR WOMEN: Chicago Foundation for Women envisions a community and world in which all women and girls have the opportunity to achieve their potential and live in safe, just and healthy communities.

Since 1986, we have awarded more than 2,700 grants, totaling nearly $17 million, to hundreds of organizations that make life better for women and girls in the Chicago metropolitan area.

The Foundation’s core values include equality, empowerment, diversity, collaboration and integrity. Our work is rooted in three principles of women’s human rights: economic security, freedom from violence, and access to health services and information.

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