SHE100, a growing philanthropic circle formed in Chicago two years ago, is making strides in supporting the work of local community organizations.
The group was founded by Angela Barnes, Maia Lis Benson, Amy Bloom and Brooke Skinner Ricketts, four Chicago activist women who were trying to develop a way to collectively empower queer women in the LGBTQ community.
In spring 2013, Barnes and Ricketts, who were both part of the GLAAD Leadership Council, met with Bloom, an activist and community builder, and Benson, who was on the advisory board of the Ms. Foundation for Women. They talked about the challenge of getting more women involved in LGBTQ fundraising and community building, and what they might be able to do to make that happen.
"Over dinner, we discussed the importance of having something people could have an active stake in, where they were part of the decision making and the community," said Ricketts. The idea of a giving circle emerged, and SHE100 was created. They met again, each woman inviting others. It was "an intentionally diverse group," Ricketts said. From that founding group of four, in just over two years, membership has now grown to nearly 200 women.
Each SHE100 member pays basic dues of $100 per year. That money goes towards the causes the group funds, and members vote on what organizations and projects are funded. Members can put forward for consideration organizations that they themselves are involved in or encourage.
Organizations that seek funding for a particular project arrange to give a presentation, called an initiative, at one of SHE100's quarterly meetings. In this presentation, a representative from the organization explains their work to the assembled membership, and explains specifically what project the funds would be used for. Questions are invited. Then, members vote yes or no on the initiative. A Grants Committee decides how much money will go to which projects based on the membership's votes. The group also has a Review Committee to review submissions for presentation.
SHE100's monetary awards are distributed by the Crossroads Foundation. Early on, the group realized they needed a money manager. "We reached out to a number of organizations in search of a partner who could help us manage a Donor Advised Fund," said Ricketts. "Crossroads' mission and vision and geographic focus on Chicago is closely aligned with ours, which drove our decision to partner with them."
Today, six members of SHE100 comprise its board of directors: the four original founders, plus Nuha Nazy and Kelly Suzanne Saulsberry. "Nuha and Kelly were nominated and voted into the board by our membership," said Ricketts.
"I love all that SHE100 is about: bringing women together, educating each other about our passions and the different organizations that we each support," said Bloom. "It's an opportunity for LGBTQ women to socialize, network, inspire, teach, and listen to each other. It's a place to learn how to be more philanthropic, and what our support means to each organization that we learn about and contribute to."
"Our evolution has been constant and ongoing," added Ricketts. "We have learned a lot from our membership about how to grow and engage our community, and we continue to include this feedback as we grow and evolve. Our partner, the Crossroads Fund, has been an invaluable ally and resource, bringing incredible knowledge, advice and support. SHE100 has been a source of incredible growth for me, personally. I have deepened my connections within the Chicago queer women's community and learned a lot about community building and leadership. I am so grateful for the opportunity to know such a group of incredible women!"
Bloom noted that women's voices in all communities are not always heard, especially in places or businesses or organizations that were started by or run by men. "Here, we come together and we hear each other. We are also heard beyond our own community, because of our growing numbers, and because of the support that we show each other and those around us."
"As a lesbi-queer woman," said Saulsberry, "I appreciate the sense of community that SHE100 has given me. There are very few organizations and spaces in Chicago that bring diverse LGBTQ women together on a regular basis, especially around philanthropy."
Saulsberry said she is inspired and energized by the She100 members she's gotten to know. "I also find it powerful that as LGBTQ women, SHE100 is pooling our resources to support causes and organizations that work with and on behalf of LGBTQ communities in Chicago."
"Each meeting reiterates how proud I am to be a part of such a committed and involved group of queer women," said Barnes. "I am in awe of the diversity of age, race and ideas that come together to make a difference."
Benson concurred. "As an LGBTQI activist, lifting up and empowering marginalized voices has been critical to my own purpose and advocacy," she said. Benson feels that SHE100 has been an organic, yet powerful vehicle to ignite shared belief: "We, as a collective of women, a collective group of diverse strengths, can and have made movement. This group allows us to inspire each other's person, but more importantly, has created action to make real differences in equity, justice and sometimes, simply support."
Among the organizations SHE100 has already funded are Chicago House TransLegal Project, Affinity Community Services, Black Alphabet Film Festival, About Face Theater's Loneliness Project and Project Fierce, a group dedicated to reducing LGBTQ youth homelessness.
SHE100 held its most recent quarterly meeting in early October, at the spacious downtown presentation and social space of Trading Technologies.
Initiative presenters at that meeting included Alicia Vega of Queer Youth Exploring Spirituality, who spoke about Q-YES summer youth retreats; Tracy Baim, speaking on behalf of the 750 Club and its work with homeless LGBTQ youth; Meredith Montgomery, who explained the work of SheCrew, a journaling-to-performance group that offers summer sessions for girls aged 12 to 14; and Jennifer Sobecki of Designs for Dignity, who spoke about the Zacharius Sexual Abuse Center and its work with individuals who have experienced sexual trauma.
Keely Jones of Northlight Theater asked for support for Northlight's production of Charm, a new play by Philip Dawkins, based on the work of real-life Chicagoan Mama Gloria, an African-American transgender woman; the play is running through Nov. 8 at Steppenwolf's Garage Theater.
Kim Hunt, former executive director of the social justice organization Affinity and now head of Pride Action Tank, told the group how much a previously awarded SHE100 grant had helped Affinity in their succession planning. "Thank you for investing in Affinity and in Affinity's future," she told the assembled membership.
SHE100's mission statement is to "collectively increase the power of queer women in the LGBTQ community by combining our resources to fund and support organizations that empower our community."
Their practical goal is to "amplify the voices of queer women within the LGBTQ community through awareness and education, so they become a formidable force for change and advancement within and outside of our community"all with the ultimate goal of eliminating oppression and ending discrimination in our society.
SHE100's website is SHE100.org, and the contact email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .