Uniting women in collective philanthropy

Posted: June 1st, 2018 | News, Top Story | No Comments

By B.J. Coleman

San Diego Women’s Foundation’s annual grants celebration

The San Diego Women’s Foundation was organized in 2000 around a powerful idea: unite women in collective philanthropy, for the purpose of funding worthy causes that might otherwise receive little recognition and donor support. The group gathered on May 29, in Old Town’s Cygnet Theatre, to announce grant recipients for 2018.

Sara Bennett, president-elect of the foundation, will begin her term in office this July.

(l to r) Carolyn Konecki, member of the San Diego Women’s Foundation Board of Directors, and longtime member Rita Solberg (Photo by B. J. Coleman)

“This is the most fun event on our calendar,” Bennett said during an early-evening social hour before the official announcement program began. “This is the culmination of the year, granting. The fun part is giving away money.”

This year’s grant awards went to six new community partner organizations, none of which have been funded by the foundation before. The overarching theme of the evening program, which guided selection of the grantees, was “Building Bridges.”

Rita Solberg has been a member of The San Diego Women’s Foundation (SDWF) for over 10 years, and she explained how the group functions.

“Women who join learn about collective philanthropy,” Solberg said. “This is wonderful training, and the members learn about wisely giving in an incredible one-year process.”

The foundation chooses a theme for the upcoming year’s grant awards, reaches out for letters of intent from possible grant recipients and requests grant proposals from organizations eligible for the year.

“This is a very fair process,” Solberg said. A team of foundation members makes site visits to examine the programs of likely grantees, and at the foundation’s April meeting, all members vote. Solberg stated that the ballot usually has eight candidate charities, with four or five tapped as beneficiaries from the voting.

Solberg further described membership requirements. Each woman who joins the foundation pledges to give $2,000 each year for five years, with $1,000 annually going to the foundation’s endowment and the other $1,000 given to education and community partners.

Storyteller Alyce Smith-Cooper opened the formal celebration inside the theater, noting the importance of sharing stories that draw people toward “righteous paths” that lead them to “the Creator of all.” She went on to observe that pooling money increases the impact of giving.

Katie Sawyer, SDWF executive director, next offered welcoming remarks. The foundation has funded 91 nonprofits during its 18-year existence.

“When we showcase women in philanthropy. Together there is nothing we cannot accomplish. With tonight’s grant announcements,” Sawyer said, “we will have given $3.4 million and touched thousands of lives in our area. We want to continue the momentum one year to the next.”

A total of 137 foundation members were involved in this year’s grant process.

The 2018 grant awards are set for the following six organizations. The Boys to Men Mentoring Program is slated to receive $25,000 to build communities of male role models for fatherless boys. The International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Girls Academy will be given $50,000 to grow the organization’s outreach to more refugee girls in San Diego County. And $25,000 this year will go to the Refugee Student Enrichment Activities program developed by Survivors of Torture, International. The Tariq Khamisa Foundation’s Restorative Workshops, teaching problem-solving skills and promoting nonviolence among middle school youth, will receive $25,000 to expand student enrollment in the workshop program. The Student Studio, created by The David’s Harp Foundation, Inc. is set to be given $30,000 for at-risk homeless and foster youth to process stressful life situations through artistic expression in a state-of-the-art recording studio.

Smith-Cooper returned to the stage to address attendees again.

“Use your stories to build bridges,” she said. “Story telling is a gift. Everybody’s got stories that need to be told, trust me.”

Featured throughout the program were short videos showing the outcomes of the SDWF 2017 grant awards. The theme for last year was combating homelessness, especially among youth and young adults. The SDWF grants cycle 19 for next year will focus on prevention and intervention to fight human trafficking in San Diego County, including labor and sex trafficking. More information about the foundation and its efforts is available at

— B.J. Coleman is a local freelance journalist and editor/staff reporter with 22nd District Legionnaire. B.J. can be reached at

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