Women’s Fund narrows its focus

It’s hard enough in this economy for many people to find a job—any job—that will support their family.

Those who are lucky enough to find employment often face an additional challenge with child care. With day-care costs sometimes exceeding the size of a paycheck, single parents in particular can find themselves in a huge bind.

Enter organizations like the Day Nursery Association of Indianapolis Inc., where those with limited incomes can receive financial assistance for child care.

But the need doesn’t end there. To stay afloat, Day Nursery itself must rely on help from donors, many of whom may be struggling themselves.

In a recession, the level of need and the availability of charitable funds are often at odds with one another, creating a maddening double-whammy for groups like the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana.

Since 1998, the special interest fund of the Central Indiana Community Foundation has raised money to support local causes for women and girls.

Contributions to the Women’s Fund endowment end up in the hands of Day Nursery, the Julian Center, Dress for Success Indianapolis and other groups that help women personally and professionally.

Though it’s still sitting on an endowment of more than $8 million and regularly dispenses gifts, the fund is feeling the crunch.

"The Women’s Fund, like a lot of organizations in our community, is finding that we’re struggling with our fund raising," Director Jennifer Pope Baker said.

But, she added, "I don’t think that it’s all bad for us. To be in a position as an endowment, we are not dependent on gifts that come in every day to keep our doors open. It allows us the opportunity to work with people who are donors and friends of the Women’s Fund to help them think about philanthropy in a strategic way."

Thanks to the tumbling stock market, the fund can’t rest on its laurels. Its endowment shrank almost in half last year, from $15 million at the end of 2007, as investments took a beating across the board.

In the face of the ailing economy, consultant Angela White credits the Women’s Fund for taking a long-range view of its fund-raising efforts. For the past five years, the senior consultant at Greenwood-based philanthropic consulting — firm Johnson Grossnickle and Associates has helped lead the group’s capital campaign, seeking out contributions from a wide range of donors.

"They are very in tune to the building of relationships and how that works," White said. "The relationships are there for the long term, just like the Women’s Fund is."

By doing more than just "asking for a check," the fund is able to sustain important relationships that ultimately pay off. "The cash comes in when the time is right," White said.

With the money it has on hand, the Women’s Fund is judiciously choosing where to place its donations.

Last year, the group dispensed about $350,000 to causes ranging from job training and HIV prevention to prison visitation and domestic-violence prevention.

This year, it has narrowed its choices to groups in three areas, Baker said.

"In 2009, we’re looking at organizations that most closely meet our funding priorities—areas relative to keeping women safe, helping them earn sufficient incomes, and providing child care so women can work," she said.

That’s good news to Day Nursery, where the demand for financial assistance has skyrocketed. The organization provides assistance, or "scholarships" to families earning between $20,000 and $40,000 a year; those living on less than $20,000 receive state vouchers. Families making more than $40,000 pay their own way.

It’s the in-between group that has put the most strain on Day Nursery’s resources, said Executive Director Carolyn Dederer.

"What we have seen in the past three months is a huge increase in the requests for those scholarships," she said.

In fact, the demand has grown 56 percent since January.

"There’s going to come a point where if we don’t get more gifts, we’re going to have to freeze [the scholarship program]," Dederer said.

The Women’s Fund’s last gift to the Day Nursery came in 2007. At $40,000, it was one of the largest grants the fund made in the past two years.

Dederer credits the fund’s direct focus on women’s issues for helping sustain Day Nursery and other organizations like it. "They get it," she said. "This is one agency that really understands what we do."

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