The 2018 year begins with a few exciting changes for the Ojai Women’s Fund leadership. Co-chair and co-founder Peggy Russell stepped down from her position at the end of December and will continue to serve as Finance Chair. Anna Wagner has stepped up to co-chair the organization with Karen Evenden. Anna has been involved with the OWF steering committee as Volunteer Coordinator for one year. She is currently Director of Development at the Ojai Music Festival and lives in Ojai with her husband, Bill (Music Director at Nordhoff High School), their daughter Charlotte, and dog Charley. She will assume the role formerly held by Co-Chair and co-founder Peggy Russell, who will continue to serve as Finance Chair and Treasurer.
Karen and Anna recently met to share a little bit about why they were involved in OWF, the growth they’ve seen in the organization, and their hopes for the upcoming year.
Tell us a little bit about this past  year:
KE: We’re starting 2018 coming off of another very successful year. Last year, we increased our membership and were able to grow both in numbers of women involved and in dollars raised, which in turn led to another incredible grant cycle.
I think we all came together to join the OWF wanting to donate back into the community and I think that the dream of really understanding how much of an impact we can have is becoming real. I’m personally always so surprised to be reminded, having worked in larger cities, how $10,000 is able to make such a difference for our local agencies. You look at Santa Barbara, or Seattle (where I came from), their scale is more like $25,000 or $50,000. The needs are definitely here in our community, but the numbers needed to make an impact are smaller.
Anna, what motivated you to agree to be co-chair?
AW: Well, it’s hard to say no to Karen! (laughs) I feel like often when a new nonprofit comes up, there can be a feeling of competition rather than collaboration. There’s something about this organization and its underlying values of equity and fairness that really speak to me. I see it in memberships, in the way also that we do the grants – we really want to make sure that everyone has a chance in an equal manner to participate.
What’s incredible about OWF is that for as little as $100 as a group member, or $1,000 for an individual membership, you have an opportunity to vote and make a difference in this valley. The idea that my $125 as a group member equates to $64,000 in giving is really meaningful and something to be proud of. I didn’t give that much, and yet I did because all of us decided we were going to collectively give.
The education component of this organization also really appeals to me. I feel that to educate women on being philanthropic in general is an important concept that will help this organization, the valley, and other organizations as well. I really appreciate how some of our members may find that they voted for an organization that didn’t get money and decide they’re going to make a gift to support that program on their own because of what they’ve learned of the need in our community.
KE: Let me say why I thought Anna was the perfect choice. It’s important to all of us that we have a broad and diverse membership base. To appeal to the next generation of women in this community, we need to be able to communicate to them, while at the same time balance the needs of our younger members with those of our older members. I can’t think of a better person than you…you bring the youth, the experience, the knowledge, and fun.
AW: I really do admire the skill sets of the women that have come before me – you have the luxury of being retired and being able to volunteer the time, which is so important. While we [the younger generation and working women] may not have as much time to offer, we bring our own skill set that is equally important. I have made it a mission in this past year to be more present in the community in the way of volunteering the time I have. To be honest, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew! But that’s because if we don’t start it, who will continue this chain of giving back? I feel it’s important to lead by example and let people know that your time is needed. Even if it’s not a lot of hours, it’s something. Maybe if we can get more people in our generation to do one or two hours of their time a week it will lead to something greater down the road.
What are you looking forward to most in 2018?
KE: We’re looking to continue to increase the number of members and dollars we raise…we want to be able to increase the size of the grants we give out. Also, I think it will be important to focus more on recruiting and retaining our group members. I’m really looking forward to giving more recognition and training to the group leaders and to incorporate them more into the fabric of the organization. They really are the ambassadors for what it is we do.
I also think it’s time to focus more on the program side of things rather than the agencies. Here in this valley we have a small number of agencies, but a large number of programs. We really need to look at what the core issues are in our community and how we can respond. And that’s why we’re going into this series of “FOCUS” events that will delve more significantly into understanding, at this point in time, what the issues are.
AW: We’re small enough that we can be really flexible in the way we listen to the community and respond to that in addressing what the valley needs. In planning the FOCUS events, the Grants Committee really thought about how best to understand the greater needs of this community. It’s going to be really interesting to find out what comes out of each of those discussions because while what we may hear may not affect us in the current grant cycle, it will greatly influence how we work in the future.
I’m also looking forward to sharing more the success of what the different organizations have been able to accomplish with the grants that they have received, to report back to our members what their dollars have done for our community. We’re small enough that we can have an impact and we can see that impact. And to know that we’re making a difference in our valley – to see it every day – is special. And that’s why we’re all here.
KE: In just a few years, the OWF has just grown beyond my earliest expectations. It’s not just the dollars raised, it’s the enthusiasm of everyone and the buy-in to “Yes, we as women can make a difference”. We can all come together to make that difference – “the joy of local giving” is really exciting.
The Ojai Women’s Fund extends its deep gratitude to outgoing members of the Steering Committee Barbara Hirsch, Aryna Swope, and Sandi White for their dedication and many hours of work in running OWF. We welcome incoming Steering Committee members Caryn Bosson and Caitlin Praetorius, who join our continuing Steering Committee members Victoria Bortolussi, Kyle Crowner, Marquita Flemming, Donna Freiermuth, Margo Haas, Judy Norris, Peggy Russell, and Tiarzha Taylor.