“It’s all about empowering women in their giving,” said Lauren Goldblum, Osage Road.
“It’s the power of a big group putting their money together to make a big impact,” said Stacey Reibach, Summer Place.
They are two of about 15 Mt. Lebanon members of the Jewish Women’s Foundation (JWF) of Greater Pittsburgh, which focuses on supporting women and girls. But unlike most philanthropic organizations, JWF gives members, called trustees, a voice in how their money is used. Twice a year, the group gathers to discuss applications for grants; any of the 170 trustees who wants to participate is welcome.
“The whole premise behind it is collaborative philanthropy. When a woman joins the JWF as an active donor, she has a say in how the money is allocated into the community,” said Judy Cohen, JWF executive director. “The members are the decision makers as to how the money is allocated. Our feeling is that we live in this community and there are meaningful needs for women and girls in both the general and Jewish community.”
On June 13, JWF will celebrate 20 years of grantmaking with an event at the Playhouse at Point Park University. Gloria Borger, senior political analyst at CNN, will be the keynote speaker.
In order to become a trustee, women must donate a minimum of $2,000 per year for five years. JWF also has a group for younger women that requires less of a financial commitment and aims to introduce them to the habit of philanthropy.
The Jewish Women’s Foundation was founded in 2000 by Patricia L. Siger and Judith Roscow. “They were looking at the landscape of women’s philanthropy,” according to Cohen. “There was a recognition that women give differently. They wanted to be more hands-on and directive in their philanthropy. So they decided to bring that type of model to Pittsburgh.” JWF also received some start-up money from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Cohen was hired in 2003, and the grantmaking began. Since its founding, JWF has given out more than $1.7 million in grants.
Among the organizations they’ve supported are Open Field; Hillel Jewish University Center; the Neighborhood Academy; Women’s Law Center; Women’s Center & Shelter; and UpStreet.
Lauren Goldblum, who is retired from running her own market research firm, was drawn to JWF by the idea of empowerment. “We can make big decisions, completely independently and relatively quickly, that can make a big impact in the community,” she said.
“One of the great things about the organization is that it’s one woman-one vote. It’s also a great group of smart, educated women. I’ve learned so much from them.”
JWF receives between 30 and 40 applications each year and averages 15 grants annually. Impact grants, which are only for Jewish organizations, range from $10,000 to $30,000; smaller program grants are up to $10,000. Although JWF allots 50 percent of its funds to Jewish causes, Goldblum pointed out that Jewish organizations—the JCC, for instance—often serve the public at large.
“The beautiful thing about our model is some women want to be part of the decision-making process and some say ‘I know there is a great group of really smart women in that room making those decisions, and I’m fine with that,’” said Cohen. “At the grantmaking sessions, everybody reads all the proposals and we do a lot of talking. We try to build consensus and when everyone feels they have a voice in the decision-making, the vote happens. Not everyone gets what they want, but never has there been a bad decision. It is messy and beautiful.”
JWF has fundamentally changed Goldblum’s approach to philanthropy. “Before, I just wrote a check. Now I much prefer to be involved where I can personally have a say,” she said. “And I like my money to stay in the community where I am because I want that community to be strong.”
Reibach, who is director of community affairs for WTAE, agrees. “JWF opened my eyes to a lot of organizations that I would probably never have known about.”
Cohen is optimistic about JWF’s future. “We hope to bring more women to the table at this June event,” she said. “The Jewish Women’s Foundation is a hidden gem and we want more people to know about our work.”