The Ojai Women’s Fund and the grants it makes each year are possible because of the passion and dedication of its over 340 members — members who join every year, meet to discuss and vote on grant applications, and donate their time as volunteers on various committees. The committees do everything behind the scenes from reviewing grants to updating the website, to organizing the annual Grantee Gala. They are headed up by co-chairs who also serve on the OWF Steering Committee to oversee the organization’s activities, annual calendar, and finances.
The Steering Committee is led by two co-chairs and 2019 marks the first year that one of OWF’s founders is not serving as its leader. Anna Wagner is in her second term as co-chair and incoming co-chair Marquita Flemming will be embarking on her first. We sat down with Anna and Marquita to discuss their involvement with OWF and how the organization has evolved over the past few years.
Marquita has been involved with OWF from the start: she attended OWF’s inaugural meeting in 2016. During the call for volunteers, she signed up to help review grants as part of the Grants Committee and would go on to lead that group with Margo Haas for two years.
“I loved being able to help develop the procedures that would come to define the OWF grant application and grantmaking process,” said Marquita. “The most rewarding part, however, was that all the decisions were made collaboratively; it wasn’t hierarchical in the slightest.”
Concurrently, Marquita joined OWF as an individual member, a move that, when she thinks back, “was very reflective of how I was operating in the world, and in Ojai. With time — and with time spent volunteering for OWF — my involvement with the organization and the Ojai Community has evolved with deepened engagement in one being mirrored in the other. What’s great about being a member is that it’s not just about raising money, it’s about making social connections and deepening your understanding of what’s going on in the community.”
It’s this sense of shared responsibility alongside other members that makes the grantmaking of OWF so powerful and sets it apart from other philanthropic giving.
“If I were to give $100 to an organization,” Anna observes, “though I know it will alway be appreciated, it also feels like kind of a drop in the bucket. But that same amount of money that I’m giving to OWF carries more weight because I, along with members of my group, have an opportunity to direct my giving with a vote. Our collective gifts amount to giving exponentially more. And now there’s an obligation to give that money responsibly.”
Marquita agrees, “There’s a thoughtfulness that goes into members’ grantmaking decisions that I really appreciate. With the discussion and the debate, there’s a different level of investment. And that conversation is what makes everything stronger.”
With 2019 marking the fourth year of OWF, the organization has moved beyond what its founders ever imagined. There’s not only OWF’s thriving, engaged membership base, but its recent grant from the Ventura County Community Foundation, which has enabled the group to consider giving $75,000 and even $100,000 annually.
“It’s an entirely different ball game,” Anna said. “It changes the types of grants we can consider and has spurred us to discuss how we can become better philanthropists – how we can help applicant organizations with their capacity and be stronger for the community overall.”
In the meantime, for members who are wishing to become more involved, Anna and Marquita have only this to say: “Volunteer! Whatever your interests and the time you are able to commit, there is a committee or group that can use your help.”