The Women & Girls Fund of the Mid-Shore celebrates its 20th year using the power of pooled resources to support local nonprofit initiatives that benefit women and girls.
In 2002, Alice Ryan of Easton set out to create a fund to support the many local efforts to benefit women and girls. She brought together seven female friends from different parts of her life, and together, they established an endowment fund at the Mid-Shore Community Foundation to address the needs of women and girls in the region. Today, 20 years later, the Women & Girls Fund of the Mid-Shore is one of our region’s most respected philanthropic institutions.
In the first year, Ryan’s friends raised enough funds to offer just under $13,000 to four different groups. Twenty years later, the organization funded 12 nonprofits a total of $50,432 this spring. In all, the Fund has granted $782,302 to 105 different nonprofit organizations. The Fund’s reach extends from innovative childcare solutions for working mothers, to outdoor environmental education for teen girls, to special comfort kits for rape and sexual assault victims. The Fund supports nonprofit initiatives in any of the five Mid-Shore counties – Dorchester, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Kent and Talbot.
Over 400 local women have participated as volunteers in the Fund’s activities over the years. That work ranges from reading grant applications, making site visits and vetting projects, to coordinating, organizing and running special events. Donors to the Fund are encouraged to participate in grant reading to learn more about local nonprofits and their work.
This year, the Fund’s endowment reached over $1,000,000. This mark is notable as that amount generally earns about $50,000 each year that can be distributed to nonprofits in the community while preserving the Fund’s legacy for generations of women and girls to come.
The Women & Girls Fund of the Mid-Shore is known for supporting smaller organizations that often don’t have a lot of funding options, ones for whom a $3,000 – $5,000 grant can make a powerful impact. Sometimes these are new organizations, just getting off the ground, or established groups launching new initiatives for at-risk females. Often Fund Board members connect one-on-one with local groups to help identify best management practices and strategize on other funding options. The relationships between the Fund’s donors and local nonprofit leaders grow each time the Fund puts on a new event or reaches out into the community.
Since 2003, the Fund has held an annual luncheon for 200-250 donors, supporters, and grantees. It is an annual draw for many who see it as a joyful celebration of what’s right about the region, celebrating successes of local women and girls and the nonprofits that support them.The group presents annual grants as well as two significant cash awards each year, one honoring the late Sheryl V. Kerr who had a philanthropic mission to empower women, and a ‘Women & Girls Award’ for someone whose work in the community represents the mission and values of the Fund. The women receiving these honors over the years represent leaders from every facet of the communities of the five counties of the Mid-Shore. Covid unfortunately cut into the Fund’s annual celebrations since 2020, but the group plans to return to its annual celebratory luncheon tradition next year.
The Fund raises money through annual giving campaigns, an annual golf tournament, and special events. All donors are valued as much as any other – the core value of the group is that every donation, no matter the size, contributes to the larger good of the community when pooled together with others. Donors are encouraged to “Honor Someone Special” throughout the year with a special gift to the Fund.
Teaching and creating the next generation of philanthropists is part of the Fund’s mission, and in 2015 the group established the “Daisy Fund” to encourage learning about philanthropy. With a $10,000 pledge, anyone can establish an account for a younger person. The “Daisies” use the funds earned by their endowment accounts to give extra support to initiatives selected for grants each year. These gifts are carefully selected by the younger generation fund holders as they learn about philanthropic giving by doing it themselves.
Over the years, the Fund has sponsored educational programs, speakers, panel discussions, exhibits, and outreach events. For its 20th anniversary, among other activities, the Women & Girls Fund, with support from the Ellie Spurry Christ and Margaret Ferree Funds, is partnering with UM Shore Regional Health on a Mammography Initiative to provide screening mammograms to local women with financial need.
Given the success of the first 20 years of stewardship of the Women & Girls Fund, the Mid-Shore can expect to see annual grants and awards marking accomplishments for women and girls throughout the region for decades into the future. More information about the Women & Girls Fund of the Mid-Shore can be found at www.womenandgirlsfund.org, where one can make a donation or view videos of the Fund’s work and its current video series in partnership with the Talbot Spy highlighting the 20th anniversary, called “Women and Girls Fund: 20 Years of Success.”