Friday, February 23, 2007

Power of the purse reflects times

Women?s role in philanthropy is changing

Express Staff Writer

The Wood River Women?s Charitable Foundation?s guest speaker, Colleen Willoughby of the Washington Women?s Foundation, spoke at The Valley Club on Thursday, Feb. 15. Photo by David N. Seelig

Women have become powerful resources for community philanthropy in the last two decades and the Wood River Valley is no exception.

On Thursday, Feb. 15, the Wood River Women's Charitable Foundation hosted a lecture and reception with Colleen Willoughby, founder and president of the Washington Women's Charitable Foundation. The event was held at The Valley Club, north of Hailey, to celebrate the Wood River group's 100-women-strong membership.

Willoughby is a pioneer in the world of women's charitable giving. She created the Washington foundation more than 10 years ago with the sole purpose of creating a giving circle to fund community projects and programs that normally would not be funded.

"We are the newly discovered generation," Willoughby said. "Many years ago we didn't talk about money. We had access to it, but it was gauche to talk about it. Women come to money three ways. They earn, marry or inherit it, and we have been doing it for years."

Willoughby has been featured in Town and Country and People magazines for her leadership as the new woman in philanthropy—past, present and future. She chaired the board of the United Way of King County in Washington and serves as an emeritus trustee for her alma mater, Whitman College. She started the Colleen S. Willoughby Endowment as part of the Washington Women's Foundation.

The seed for the Wood River Women's Foundation was planted two years ago, when Wood River Valley and Seattle resident Barbara Thrasher heard about the Washington group and knew she needed only 10 women to form a group here. She felt she could get at least 20 to 25 women to join. Thrasher consulted friend and colleague Jo Murray, of Ketchum, to institute a "meet-and-greet" of women they believed would be interested in forming such a group. The result was 59 founding members.

"The wonderful thing is that everybody didn't know everyone, and has made new and wonderful friendships," Murray said.

A $1,000 donation from each member of the Wood River Women's Charitable Foundation can be completely allocated to grants or divided into $500 parcels to two organizations of a member's choice. Murray revealed that in the foundation's first year $37,000 in grants was dispersed. One of the grant receivers was the College of Southern Idaho biology lab, making it possible for students to study in the valley rather than drive to Twin Falls to take classes. In addition, the Bellevue Public Library received funds to refurbish its children's area.

Willoughby not only congratulated the success of the Wood River organization, she also provided insight and encouragement for its second grant cycle.

"We can look at our community and ask questions such as, 'What is missing?' 'What could be better?' and 'What could be wonderful?'" Willoughby said. "The greatest challenge we all have is to reduce the inequities of our world. You have a greater impact because you are doing it together. Changing the world really isn't about money and how much we can take. It's all about how much you can give.

"Everyone brings their own unique skills and passion together. We have the ability to influence future generations."

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