Looking Forward: Our Founders’ Perspective

By Jean Miller

As Women’s Impact Fund (WIF) approaches a historic $5 million in cumulative grants, we sat down with our founders Mary Lou Babb and Claire Tate to discuss our future growth and priorities.

We soon discovered there was no need to pull out a long list of questions. We naturally landed on two core topics. The first was how WIF might respond to the recently released Opportunity Task Force report Leading on Opportunity, and the second was how we as an organization should grow membership with intentional inclusiveness.

The recently released report Leading on Opportunity was on everyone’s minds. The product of two years of study and consultation, Leading on Opportunity is a clear call for Charlotte’s philanthropic leaders to step up and support bold strategies to empower economic opportunity. This spring, as WIF celebrates $5 million in cumulative grant making, there is no doubt in Claire and Mary Lou’s minds that we have an obligation to take a seat at that table.

They challenge us to answer this call and address one or more of the recommendations of Leading on Opportunity in a meaningful way. Claire and Mary Lou are excited we have a Grants Task Force exploring, among other things, how we might do this. As Charlotte faces a critical juncture, they hope we will act with agility and courage in moving our community forward.

As the conversation turned to membership, Mary Lou said she has been so pleased by the number of women who are eager to join. She also acknowledged that being known a brave and bold organization can also unintentionally create intimidation, deterring new women from joining. To engage and empower, she suggested personal conversations, and Claire invited us to look for the “light in the eye” that signals people seeking to engage.

“We are really a women’s leadership organization,” Claire observed, adding that WIF offers women the unique opportunity to raise their hand and develop into a critical, effective philanthropist. She never anticipated the social capital that WIF would generate.

Mary Lou agreed, adding, “We have a group of smart, engaged women, and we need to reach out with personal invites to diverse women.” Ultimately, the organization is stronger when we intentionally extend that opportunity.

In conclusion, Mary Lou said, “We have grown a lot. We are in a new era and would like to partner with our community in a bigger way.” Claire added, “With growth you can expand your expectations.”

Looking back upon the conversation with these two visionary women, it is striking and reassuring that the priorities in the Leading on Opportunity report matches the principles of the WIF: Promoting the opportunity to thrive, add value and recognize each other’s potential, with the goal of creating a strong community.