A Letter to Catalist from WGA’s Paula Liang

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August 2019

Women of Catalist—

I couldn’t be more honored to be the Chair of Catalist for the next two years, and to report that we ended this fiscal year, thanks to the hard work of my predecessor, Jenny Berg and her team, with 71 affiliates that span 28 States, the District of Columbia, Australia and England. We have added eight organizations since we were together in Philadelphia last fall, and several new affiliate memberships are pending, looking to the PowerUP! Conference in Seattle for inspiration. I also plan to meet with Impact London and Bath Women’s Fund in Bath this fall while I am there to attend the wedding of a child of a dear friend, a member of Impact 100 Fairfield.

It was also my honor this spring to attend three grant award ceremonies—two organizations I am a member of: Women’s Giving Alliance (WGA) in Jacksonville, FL and Impact 100 Palm Beach County (PBC) and as a guest at Washington Women’s Foundation (WaWF) in Seattle. Here are my key takeaways from these empowering events:

New or not, collective giving is powerful

Collectively, these three organizations granted over $1.5 million this cycle! WGA and WaWF are mature organizations, 16 and 24 years old respectively. However, founded in 2011, Impact 100 PBC has experienced explosive growth in just eight years—and is in fact the largest of the three.


Philanthropists take action themselves

At the Impact 100 PBC ceremony, we heard about a potential grantee that was founded by a member of that affiliate. The organization was a finalist, an adult autism training program called Autism After 21. It was based on the founder’s experience of raising a child with autism, surrounded by support during his school years, only to find that after high school, all the services disappeared. She told the story of a client whose single mom had not slept alone in her bed for 20 years, because of her daughter’s extreme anxiety. After a few months at Autism After 21, this client transitioned into the bedroom that had been waiting for her all her life. During the vote counting (I sent mine by mail), I mentioned to the member/ED how compelling her program and presentation were and that I was really hoping they would receive a grant; I voted for it. I was happy to learn in a follow up email that they did!

At WGA’s event, we all learned about the issue of “period poverty”: there is no state or federal benefit that helps to fund tampons and pads, which are expensive and taxed, and are not luxuries. A WGA member had been so moved by this problem that she established a new organization, Renewing Dignity, to deal with the issue. She formed a coalition with the local food pantry to help distribute sanitary products to girls in WGA’s service area, many of whom have to skip school during their periods. Renewing Dignity was not involved in the grants process, but the new ED shared her story, and now WGA collects sanitary products in giant bins at their events.

Different presentation styles–all impactful

WaWF opts to inform grantees of the outcome of the member vote in advance, which allows the recipients to share their enthusiasm and thanks when they receive the enormous symbolic check onstage. It’s powerful to hear from the staff who will be administering the grants about what the community impact will be. All of the grantees were compelling, but the end of the evening was particularly moving. The final grantee was Cierra Sisters, whose ED Bridgette Hempstead, came onstage with her three daughters. Ms. Hempstead, a breast cancer survivor, was determined that her experience of having to convince doctors to treat her will not happen to other African American women. She provided the only musical performance of the three evenings, singing her own composition, a song called “Sista, Don’t You Know?” which brought down the house.

It was not a performance I would have wanted to follow, but WaWF ED Beth McCaw took the stage to close, and gave a full-throated and passionate explanation of why every nonprofit should center promoting equity and reducing barriers in their work, and why every philanthropist should care about and fund those values. It was remarkable, and brought everyone in the auditorium to their feet.

These celebrations truly never get old and we want to hear about yours. Catalist will be sharing more of your stories and successes throughout the year.  Please continue to email those stories to the Catalist communications committee. If you are intrigued by any of these programs, feel free to contact these affiliates and learn more. Great ideas can be implemented in many places.

As you enjoy the last weeks of the summer, could I ask you to do two things?

  • Register for PowerUP! February 23-25 in Seattle.  Early Bird for affiliate members is closing soon. Non-member registration is open.
  • Please update your affiliate profile to include your 2019 grant information and current membership size so we can boast to potential sponsors and others about the #collectiveimpact of our network!

I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you on the Webinars, Member-to-Member Forums and Quarterly Leadership Calls starting in September.

Paula Liang, Catalist Board Chair

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