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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

May 13, 2009 at 8:04 AM

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Local women propel funding campaign to historic highs

Posted by Kristi Heim

A global campaign to get women to donate $1 million each toward non-profits that help women and girls surpassed its ambitious targets, thanks in part to a handful of Seattle philanthropists.

As the Women Moving Millions campaign came to a close even in the midst of a bleak economy, organizers called it "an historic moment in the world of women's philanthropy."
The event raised $177 million from individual women donors, more than its $150 million goal.


Nancy Nordhoff says she was inspired toward volunteering and donating at Mount Holyoke College. She founded Hedgebrook, a retreat on Whidbey for women writers, and helped found CityClub in Seattle.

The Seattle-based Women's Funding Alliance, the local organization participating in the drive, received three $1 million donations from local women. The largest gift the alliance had received previously was $100,000.

"This is an amazing, bold step these donors have taken to support women and girls in our region," said LeAnne Moss, executive director of the Women's Funding Alliance.

Turns out Seattle was among the top cities around the world for contributions. It started with Nancy Nordhoff, a 76-year-old donor on Whidbey Island. Her efforts encouraged two younger women from Microsoft to kick in a million dollars each.

Nordhoff said she was cautious at first but decided the time to act is now.

"You live 70 years and you see a lot, and I began to know what's going on in families' lives," said Nordhoff, a Seattle native who has three children and seven grandchildren. "You've got a working parent and they lose their job and there isn't any housing.The community statistics are a clear picture of the need. You don't have to touch people to feel for them."

Donna Bellew worked 10 years at Microsoft before leaving in 1999 to be a full-time mother and community volunteer.

"I thought gee whiz if I can do it, I better step forth," she said. "Those of us who have the resources have to respond to the need."

Families run on the backs of women, she added, so helping them can strengthen families and communities.

Her gift helped inspire Rebecca Norlander and Donna and Matthew Bellew, longtime supporters of the alliance, to contribute more than they have before.

The alliance is a public foundation supporting 140 non-profits such as the Refugee Women's Alliance, Washington CASH, Jubilee Women's Center, Northwest Women's Law Center and others. Moss said the organization will use at least half of the funds toward economic programs for women in Puget Sound. The alliance will also be able to "dramatically increase" the amount of money it gives out, including multi-year grants, to groups that work to improve women's lives, Moss said.

Bellew, 42, said she's been following women's status in the workplace and was struck by their over representation in low wage and part-time jobs. "These economic situations seemed to exacerbate the problem," she said.

Rebecca Norlander, a software executive who manages online advertising, has supported the Women's Funding Alliance since 1993, two years after she joined Microsoft.

She remembered a study the alliance did a year ago on issues affecting women and girls. Washington state had a huge wage gap, ranking 42nd in gender wage equity. "That was sort of surprising. In many ways you think of Washington as a pretty progressive state." Another statistic stood out: women in King County are seven times more likely to live in poverty than men.

She was determined to use her money in conjunction with the other donors to change things. Her husband, Matthew, also wanted to make a statement in support of that cause.

"This was a really big stretch gift," she said. "We had to have several conversations about how do we make this happen, what do we have to change to do this now? It had to be something both of us believed in."

It was also important for their school children: two daughters and a son.

"I have this one life, and I have a vision for the world, one that includes women and girls being at the table in an equal way," Bellew said.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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