Election Update: Voting Underway for 2016 Grant Recipients

The Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) is currently holding elections for grant recipients of its inaugural year funding program. Winners of the 2016 grant awards will be announced November 1st. OWF was the dream child of Ojai residents Karen Evenden and Peggy Russell. In less than nine months Evenden and Russell gathered a team, created a grants-making organization to fund Ojai nonprofits with membership donations, and signed on almost 300 Ojai women to participate in its first year of shared giving. OWF surpassed its initial goal of $35,000 by raising a total of $56,000 to distribute among five local grant recipients currently being chosen by member votes.

The Ojai Women’s Fund shared giving concept is based on the very successful Santa Barbara Women’s Fund. Member dollars are pooled and member votes determine the programs to receive financial grants. This approach to philanthropy makes it possible for women of all economic levels to participate and be proactive in their own community. Each vote represents a $1000 donation: members may choose to contribute the entire amount to earn an individual vote, or donate $100 or more and join a shared giving group to participate in a collective vote. Either way, each woman has a voice and a vote on where her money is directed.

OWF is about caring relationships with each other and the community. Rewards are threefold: members benefit through a shared approach to research, decision-making and giving; local nonprofits benefit through financial grants to help fund critical programs (organizations not selected to receive grants still will benefit from raised profile and greater awareness of good works); and Ojai benefits immeasurably from a concerned, involved population of women and their valuable contributions to the many local programs that assist and sustain our community.

Ballots for the 2016 OWF Grant Cycle are now in the hands of individual members and group captains. OWF groups are now gathering to discuss the candidates researched and nominated by the OWF Grants Committee. Out of this year’s 33 nonprofit applicants, 11 are on the ballot and five will be selected. The goal of the Ojai Women’s Fund is to designate one financial grant to each of five categories: Arts, Education, Environment, Healthcare and Social Services.

OWF 2016 elections close October 25th and grant award winners will be announced November 1st.

On December 1st, the Ojai Women’s Fund will host a celebratory 2016 Grant Awards Presentation at St. Thomas Aquinas Center, 183 St. Thomas Dr., Ojai. Everyone is invited and may order tickets online or call (805) 746-3096. A $20 per person donation is requested. Visit www.ojaiwomensfund.org for tickets and details, or for more information on Ojai Women’s Fund membership, grants, tax-deductable donations, community involvement, volunteer opportunities and more.


Santa Barbara Foundation Hosts Regional Convening of Women’s Funds

Sharing was in the air on July 14, when the Santa Barbara Foundation hosted the women’s funds and giving circles in the region including Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County, Ojai Women’s Fund, Women’s & Girls’ Fund of the Kern Community Foundation, and the Women’s Legacy Fund of The Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County. Forty-five women came together in support of “connecting missions and fostering conversations” at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.

Ojai Women's Fund leaders Kyle Crowner, Karen Evenden, and Peggy Russell

Ojai Women's Fund leaders Kyle Crowner, Karen Evenden, and Peggy Russell

“This was a dream of mine – to bring together women who are passionate about philanthropy and who’ve made a significant impact on women, children, and families in our communities – to share and learn from each other,” said Jan Campbell, Chief Philanthropic Officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation.

Tracy Gary, a philanthropic advisor and leader in the women’s funding movement, kicked off the afternoon with a keynote presentation. She noted that there are 180 women’s funds throughout the nation and 300 women’s giving circles. All of them are identifying problems in their communities and driving the solutions. Gary emphasized that, “It has been proven again and again that women-driven philanthropy accelerates change, yields exponential returns, and brings powerful partners to the table.”

The afternoon was filled with deep dialogue and discussion around advancement and innovation in fundraising, as well as managing leadership, goals, and transition. Successful practices and lessons learned were shared by many of the attendees. Donor education emerged as a constant theme throughout the day and Gary noted it as an area that should be prioritized. She encouraged the women to be students and to study the women’s funding movement. “For us to have a breakthrough, we really need to own the issue of women and girls,” Gary said.

The engagement in women’s philanthropy continues to grow in numbers and influence in this region of California and throughout the nation. “Community foundations are ideally suited to support these efforts as partners in grant making, fiscal sponsorship, and administration,” said Heidi McPherson, Chief Executive Officer of The Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County. “We are looking forward to collaborating with the Santa Barbara Foundation in hosting future conversations and continuing to learn from each other.”

For more information about the Santa Barbara Foundation’s collective giving programs, please contact Jan Campbell, Chief Philanthropic Officer at JCampbell@sbfoundation.org.

Our First Grants Cycle!

OWF Grants Committee

OWF Grants Committee

The Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) is proud to have our first grants cycle underway.  Our goal this year is to raise $50,000 for distribution in 2016.  We’re delighted to report that we now have over 200 members and approaching $40,000 in donor donations!  With about six weeks left until the 2016 Grant Cycle-OWF Membership closes on Sept 1st, we urge you to help us meet our goals by inviting more women to join and donate during OWF’s inaugural year.  Donations received after Sept. 1st will be applied to 2017 grants.

While final decisions about grant recipients will be made by OWF member-donors, the Grants Committee is now conducting careful preliminary selections. OWF’s Grants Committee, composed of twenty-one diverse women from our Ojai Valley communities, has been working hard for months to develop the needed elements of a grants cycle.  The committee designed the online grant application, spread the word about the open application period, and reviewed protocols for confidentiality and fairness in the evaluation process, all in preparation for receiving the first batch of applications. 

The OWF Steering Committee established five funding priority areas: arts, education, environment, health and social services.  In collaboration with the Grants Committee, the selection criteria were established.  “It’s a lot of work to get all of this up and running in the first year,” said Margo Haas, a member of the Grants Committee.  “We wanted to make the process as inclusive and fair as possible while maintaining high standards of performance for ourselves and for prospective grantees.”

Thirty-one grant applications came in this year!  The Grants Committee is currently reviewing them.  “The proposals are impressive,” said Grants Committee member Mary Ann O’Connor.  “They demonstrate real needs here in the Ojai Valley and contain imaginative approaches to meeting those needs.” This year, there was a fairly even distribution of proposals across the five funding priority areas. Proposal requests are in the $5,000-$10,000 range.

The Grants Committee typically meets as a whole, but is also divided into research working groups.  Currently, review of the grant applications is being conducted by the smaller research working groups. These groups delve much more deeply into one area – say Social Services in the Ojai Valley – and then closely examine the applications submitted in that category.  They research the organizations and conduct site visits to those organizations being advanced for further consideration.  Each research working group then reports its findings and decisions at a full Grants Committee meeting.  After the full Grants Committee has identified all of the proposals to go forward on the donor ballot, they will present their recommendations to the Steering Committee for ratification.

“It is a careful review process,” O’Connor noted. “There are two rounds of deliberations in the research working groups.  After each round, a presentation is made to the full Grants Committee.  There are opportunities for questions and insights.  It’s excellent training for the committee members in analyzing non-profit organizations and programs; in presenting to a group; and in being educated philanthropists.  It’s hard work, but everybody seems to be enjoying it.  The energy at our meetings is terrific!”

The ultimate decision on grant recipients belongs to our donors, of course.  Once final nominees are identified, the Grants Committee will prepare a ballot and send to donors to make a choice in each of the five funding areas.  The ballot will include descriptions of each organization and proposed program.  “It will be a difficult choice,” said Haas, “they will all be worthy organizations and well-designed programs.  Our hope is that donors will be inspired to be even more generous in the coming years when they see what great work is being done here in the Ojai Valley.”

 “Donors should know that grant recipients will be held accountable,” O’Connor added.  “There will be final reports including measurable outcomes required at the end of each grant year.  In every way – from the grant applications to the research to the final reports we are trying to make sure that every dollar donated is well spent.  And we’re doing it all without paid staff – amazing!”

OWF Member Profile: Meet Sandi White

As we place special emphasis on membership this summer, it makes perfect sense to cast a warm spotlight on Sandi White, our Chair of the Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) Membership Committee.  You’ve probably already met, spoken with, or at least heard Sandi speak at one of our functions or meet-and-greet events.  Yes, she’s the gal who seems to have it all – brains, beauty and poise.  But don’t mistake her sense of ease for a life of ease.  Sandi is one hard working gal!  Her focus on philanthropy is both a professional and personal one. Her career as a professional fundraiser has included leadership roles at such non-profit organizations as Court Appointed Special Advocates, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Westmont College and, currently, UCSB.

“I've been working in non-profit fundraising as a professional for more than 20 years, and have experienced how beneficial additional funds can be to a small non-profit as well as to a larger organization," she says. "Most times, non-profits are continually in need of more funding and many times administrators of the services provided are wearing multiple hats; they may also be the person who writes for grants and tries to secure funding through various avenues.  I've been in that position and know that every dollar raised makes a difference.”

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sandi’s upbringing helped to mold her lifelong values of commitment, compassion and community. The collective giving concept on which the Ojai Women’s Fund is built provides Sandi an opportunity to embrace personal philanthropy based on her core values. 

“Giving back is something that was instilled in me as a child," Sandi says. "My parents, while not wealthy, always made it a point to be charitable to their passions and to their community. To this day, if I receive a gift of money from my parents, they remind me that 10 percent should be given to charity!  As a professional fundraiser working for non-profits, I've seen and know the joy that our donors receive when they generously offer support to others. They see first hand how their gifts truly change the lives of children, families and students. I believe we all feel satisfaction when we help others, and through the Ojai Women's Fund we/you will become a part of a group of women who will touch the lives of many and you can take joy from knowing that!”

Sandi was recruited in the concept phase of Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) by friend Karen Evenden, co-founder of the Ojai Women’s Fund, and gracefully accepted the challenge to chair the OWF Membership Committee.  In her spare time (i.e. evenings, weekends and daily roundtrip commutes from Ojai to Santa Barbara!) Sandi contributes ideas, insights, experience, writing, speaking, technical- and event-planning savvy to help establish, expand, position and promote OWF.  Prior to joining the Ojai Women’s Fund Sandi was a two-year member of the Santa Barbara Women’s Fund, the organization on which OWF patterned our own philanthropic group. Her passion and commitment to proactive community efforts are genuine and, quite frankly, contagious!

 “I believe the Ojai Women's Fund is a wonderful way to provide much needed funding to area non-profits," she says. "As women living in the Ojai community, I think it’s our responsibility to do what we can to support the efforts of local non-profit organizations that provide services and goods to benefit those in need.  When we gather resources collectively we’re able to make valuable and positive differences in our community. And, as I've said before, how fun to be able to work together as a group of caring women!” 

When she’s not actively engaged in an OWF project, or commuting to or from, or working at UCSB, Sandi enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, or on the tennis court. She shares her life in Ojai with husband Scott, a marketing director for a laser company, and daughter Lexi, an architect, who lives and works in Los Angeles. Sandi loves to share the good news about the Ojai Women’s Fund and explain its brilliantly simple construct.  To learn more about OWF membership, contact Sandi at (805) 746-3096 or ojaiwf@gmail.com.

Also, Sandi wants to remind us of two more upcoming opportunities to gather our gal pals and attend cozy informational evenings on “Creating Your Giving Group.”  If you’re a member without a group; are considering membership; or reaching out to friends and acquaintances to join OWF, please spread the word and plan to attend one or both gatherings to meet other women looking to join individually; to join a group; to join as a group; or to create a new group. 

Sunday, July 17, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

Call or email for address
RSVP at (805) 746-3096 or info@ojaiwomensfund.org

Thursday, August 18, 5:00-7:00 p.m.
Call or email for address
RSVP at (805) 746-3096 or info@ojaiwomensfund.org

*  *  *  

Become a Member

Ever heard of the Pixie Chicks? The Wonder Funders? How about the Tenacious Ten? These are just some of the fun names of groups that make up the OJAI WOMEN’S FUND (OWF), an organization of philanthropic Ojai women who have come together to distribute grants to non-profit organizations in need within our community, be it the arts, education, the environment, health and social services. Sounds great, but I don’t have the financial resources to be a philanthropist, you might argue.  Well, as a member of the OWF it’s easier than you might think.  Whether you donate $100 or $100,000 you will have a vote in seeing that the money raised goes to an Ojai non-profit nearest and dearest to your heart. To date, the one-hundred plus members of the OWF have raised more than $20,000.  But we have a larger goal for 2016 and hope to up our membership to 250 and raise $50,000 by this year’s deadline of September l. 

To meet those goals, we welcome with open arms all who would like to become a member now, either as an individual or as a member of a group.  The group option allows members an easier way to reach the $1,000 minimum donation.  A group of up to ten members (an affordable $100 each) can donate; five members would be $200 each and so forth (of course, individual donations of $1,000 or more are happily accepted).  Just complete this form and make your donation.  You won’t have to endure a single black-tie event. You won’t even have to wheedle donations of wine and cheese for smaller “fundraising” events or bake a cake. 

That’s how easy it is.  And, you never need to leave the comfort of your home… unless, of course, you want to! 

Don’t want to make a donation online? Take advantage of the option to download the form and send it to: Ojai Women’s Fund, PO Box 310, Ojai, CA 93024.  And, with each group donation, please provide whatever clever name you’ve chosen for your group, and indicate your group leader.  If you want to be involved in more than one group, go for it.  If you want to donate more than $100 to your group, you can do that, too.  Each individual membership or group, no matter how much donated over the $1,000 minimum, will have one vote as to how the money will be distributed.  One member, one vote.  One group, one vote.

Many current members of the OWF have formed groups with an array of whimsical group names as well as the aforementioned Pixie Chicks, Wonder Funders and The Tenacious Ten.  We have ABCD, Andy’s Angels, East Enders, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, Kick Ass Girls, Ojai Book Women, Ojai Pixies, PAX, The Gratitude Group, Three Generations, Three Generations of O’Connor Women, and the Transplants.  Form a group and have some fun doing it!

Here are just a few quotes from some of our members on why they joined the OWF:

      “When you’re retired, there’s a limit to how much time you want to spend with your beloved.  Now I have a really good excuse to get out of the house and meet some great women!”  Kyle Crowner

      “A community is only as good as the people in it.  We try to help every endeavor in our community in its goal to be the best it can be.”  Margo Haas

      "Timing is everything, as they say. The OWF came along just as I was feeling the need to give back to the community in some way."  Heidi Dietschi

      “I joined the OWF to be in the company of women I respect and trust to put my monetary contribution to good use in the areas that need it the most.”  Joy Brown

      “What captivated me to join the Women’s Funding Group was to find out areas of need in our community that maybe I wouldn’t have known about otherwise, and the fact that each of our contributions will add up to a sizable amount collectively!  It will be wonderful to be able to see that our funds are making a big difference right here in the Ojai Valley – very exciting!”  – Liz Forbess

      “You can give back and you won’t even need a new wardrobe.” – Ilona Saari

 Should you want to form a group and need help to do so, you can email us at: info@ojaiwomensfund.org or call:  805-746-3096.

Ojai’s natural beauty has given our valley the nickname Shangri La ever since Frank Capra filmed “Lost Horizon” here so many years ago.  But Shangri La can also describe the beauty of our caring Ojai community as well.  And becoming a member of OWF is an important way to give back to the community we all love so much.

We’re Taking Grant Applications Now! Closing Date is May 13

The new Ojai Women’s Fund opened its online grant application process on March 29.  It will remain open until 5:00 p.m. on May 13.  All non-profit organizations serving the Ojai Valley – from Casitas Springs to the Upper Ojai – are encouraged to check out the website, and to apply if they fit the selection criteria. “It is very exciting!” said OWF co-chair Karen Evenden.  “We want to spread the word as widely as possible about this new opportunity.”

The OWF Steering Committee, composed of women volunteers from around the Ojai Valley, identified five funding priorities: education, arts, health, environment and social services.  “These are not rigid categories,” said Evenden. “We expect that some projects will involve multiple priorities at once.  We definitely invite this, and we are also enthusiastic about collaboration among non-profits.”

The OWF Grants Committee is responsible for careful review of grant proposals that are submitted.  For the past few months, Grants Committee members have been educating themselves about various community issues, designing the online application, creating the evaluation process and establishing procedures for ensuring confidentiality and fairness.  “We have benefited a great deal from the experience and materials developed by the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara,” said committee member Margo Haas.  “Our process is different from theirs in some key respects, so we have had to develop our own materials, but we were certainly helped by all that they so generously shared.” 

Ojai Valley

The grant application is paperless. “This is the environmentally sound way to do it,” said another Grants Committee member, Mary Ann O’Connor. “We are, however, prepared to make exceptions if there’s an organization that cannot complete the application online.”  O’Connor also emphasized that applicants are free to contact the OWF for assistance with the process.  “It’s our first year,” she noted.  “We have done our best to create a smooth application process, but there may be changes in future years.  So far, so good.”

The most important thing now is to spread the word about this new grant opportunity.  Let your friends, family members, and colleagues know about the new Ojai Women’s Fund and its open grant application period.  Contact grants@ojaiwomensfund.org for more information.

OWF Group: Three Generations of O'Connor Women

There are many ways to form a donor group: with friends, co-workers and family. Do you have sisters, a mother, a daughter who would like to join you as a donor? Think of the fun you'll have filling out the ballot together!

Three generations of O'Connor women

Three generations of O'Connor women

Mary Jo O'Connor, age 85, said she donated when her daughter, Mary Ann, proposed it. "I thought it was for a good cause. I've certainly enjoyed the services for seniors in Ojai. I feel everybody who can, should help. We must help people in need."

Mary Ann, age 60, is a donor and a member of the Ojai Women's Fund Grants Committee. "I believe in the power of women's philanthropy," she said. "I learned gratitude and generosity from my mother, and I have tried to convey that learning to my daughters."

All three of Mary Ann's daughters - Clare, age 32; Helen, age 30; and Alice, age 26 - have joined in supporting the OWF. Helen said, "I like that we get a say about where the dollars are going." Alice said, "The Ojai Valley is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I loved living there, and now I love visiting. It's important that the spirit of the place matches the physical beauty. We have to send out love in the Ojai Valley. We have to meet the critical needs." 

To find out more about forming a family donor group, contact Sandi White.

Living in Ojai: What Works, What Doesn’t

Ojai Women’s Fund hosts illuminating speakers’ forum

The Ojai Women’s Fund (OWF) drew another impressive crowd to its second community gathering on Tuesday, March 29th, at the Ojai Presbyterian Church.  Area experts shared personal concerns and professional insights with over 100 Ojai Valley women, spotlighting overlooked problems and underfunded programs in local arts, education, environment, healthcare and social services.

Guest speakers at OWF's 3-29 community forum (l-r): Rebecca Benard; Deborah Pendrey; Jena Collins; Michael Addison; Karen Kaminsky; Haady Lashkari.

Guest speakers at OWF's 3-29 community forum (l-r): Rebecca Benard; Deborah Pendrey; Jena Collins; Michael Addison; Karen Kaminsky; Haady Lashkari.

Speakers included Michael Addison, Chair, City of Ojai Arts Commission; Jena Collins, Ed Therapist & Founder/Dir, The Literacy Room; Deborah Pendrey, Prog Dir/Treas, OV Green Coalition; Haady Lashkari, Chief Admin, Ojai Valley Comm Hospital; and Karen Kaminsky, Prog Dir, CAP, HELP of Ojai, Inc.

Ojai resident Rebecca Benard, Dir of Foundation/Corp Relations, Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care of Santa Barbara, introduced the speakers after sharing ideas on how Ojai could best serve its own:  “Particularly through programs like the Ojai Women’s Fund, because it draws together passionate, compassionate people … smart, concerned and responsive.  (Together) we make a difference.”

OWF membership donations fund the annual grants awarded to area nonprofits. Deadline to submit a 2016 Ojai Women’s Fund Grant Application is May 13. For more information please call (805) 746-3096 or write info@ojaiwomensfund.org.




What an Incredible Turnout!

Ojai Women’s Fund Inaugural Meeting
Draws Packed Attendance

Zhena Muzyka, of Zhena's Gypsy Tea, center, flanked by Karen Evenden, left, founder of Ojai Women's Fund and Peggy Russell, OWFBoard Member. 

Zhena Muzyka, of Zhena's Gypsy Tea, center, flanked by Karen Evenden, left, founder of Ojai Women's Fund and Peggy Russell, OWFBoard Member. 

Nearly 200 women attended Ojai Women’s Fund’s (OWF) inaugural meeting Jan. 26th to learn how they could join with like-minded, compassionate-hearted female friends and neighbors to better serve their beloved Ojai community through the concept of collective givingOWF founders Karen Evenden and Peggy Russell were thrilled to find Ojai women so willing to show up and demonstrate OWF’s philosophy that women together can create powerful, healing, life-changing impact upon community. “The more women who stand with us, the more women, children and families we can help and the greater difference we can make right here in Ojai,” said OWF founder Karen Evenden. And OWF membership chair Sandi White added: “The beauty is that it’s simple and affordable.  To join, each woman gives $100 minimum. One vote [for grant recipient] is $1000. So, one woman can donate the entire $1000, or ten women can pool their $100 donations and cast a group vote. As a collective everyone has a vote and a voice.”