Pictures of women and girls to celebrate AFFW's 30th anniversary

Celebrating 30 Years of A Fund for Women

A Fund for Women was established in 1993 through the vision of Madison Community Foundation leaders.

A Fund for Women (AFFW) was founded in 1993 by Jane Coleman, who was then the executive director of Madison Community Foundation. When Jane called on a group of generous women to start an endowment fund focused on charitable giving for women’s issues, it still was not common for women to be involved in philanthropy.

Read the Birth of a Woman-Focused Fund

by Sarah White

The original donors gave $100,000 to create an endowment to advance the lives of women and girls in our community. The next year, Jane established an Advisory Committee for AFFW, chaired by Pat Roggensack, and worked with Martha Taylor and Sondra Shaw-Hardy, the founders of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, to study women in philanthropy. By 1995, AFFW had developed its bylaws and granting guidelines, including the "No Strings Attached" small emergency loan program, vetted by social workers, and the "Sparkle Plenty" grants, which aimed to help talent shine.

During the first five years of AFFW's existence, the Fund awarded more than 40 grants to local nonprofits and individuals. The endowment passed $500,000.

Evolving in Personnel and Impact

Personnel changes occurred over time: In 1997, Jane Coleman retired from both MCF and AFFW. In 2001, Lynne Sullivan became the coordinator for AFFW, working part-time for the Fund. Two years later, in 2003, Chamberlain Research Consultants performed focus group research for AFFW to inform grantmaking. As a result, the fund made it a priority to teach young women how to make healthy choices about relationships and living. By its 10th year, approximately 675 individuals and organizations had made donations to AFFW. The endowment had passed $750,000.

In 2004, Jan Gietzel was appointed as the Executive Director of AFFW. Two years later, in 2006, AFFW received a generous challenge match from Diane Ballweg, and the endowment passed $1 million. The following year, in 2007, Joan Collins set up a fund with AFFW in honor of her grandchildren to celebrate her firm's 40th birthday.

Recognizing the benefit of legacy giving and its potential for involving new people in the Fund, AFFW created a Legacy Circle in 2018.

Building a Community of Philanthropic Women

Jan Gietzel, a former small business owner, believed strongly in the power of women’s networking. Under her enthusiastic guidance, the era of "Socials" began in 2010, with events such as the Summer Swirl and speed-networking for professional women, designed to deepen the connection between and among AFFW’s donors and recipients. Awareness of AFFW’s good work spread, leading to endowment growth. In 2012, AFFW received generous challenge matches from Holly Berkenstadt and Diane Ballweg.

In 2013, Jan Gietzel retired. It was her inspiration to celebrate AFFW’s 20-year anniversary with the publication of What She Said, an anthology of women’s personal “aha!” moments about women’s inequality. The endowment passed $1.5 million.

When Women Earn-Save-Invest, Everyone Thrives

At about the time of Jan’s retirement, the relationship with MCF shifted from endowment management to one of mutual investment; AFFW began its transition to a Giving Partner of MCF. Melinda Heinritz became the Director of Strategic Partnerships for MCF in 2014 and liaison to AFFW. The endowment passed $2 million.

In 2015, AFFW launched Earn-Save-Invest (ESI), a three-year, $3 million initiative to address women's economic prosperity and guide grant-making. ESI listening summits were conducted in 2016, leading to a tighter focus on women’s financial literacy and wellbeing. Angela Davis became the Development Director and staff liaison to AFFW in 2016. In 2017, the Madison Woman's Club voted to dissolve, using its remaining treasury to establish an endowment fund at MCF to directly support AFFW. With that assist, the endowment passed $2.6 million by year-end.

In 2018, AFFW shifted from a multi-committee structure to a single advisory committee, focused on grantmaking rather than fundraising events. AFFW's transition to a Giving Partner of MCF was complete. By 2019, the endowment had grown to $3 million, and by 2021, it reached $3.9 million.

In 2022, Angela Davis accepted a new role with MCF’s Community Impact team; Camille Zanoni replaced her as Director of Donor & Giving Partner Engagement and staff liaison to AFFW.

AFFW reached its 30th year in 2023. The endowment stands at approximately $4 million – enough to award nearly 40% more dollars in grants to community organizations supporting women’s advancement than the entire endowment’s value in 1993. Today, the Fund distributes more than $100,000 each year, and has provided 125 grants totaling more than $1.3 million to provide the women of our community with educational and economic advancement, safe havens and housing, and family-supporting careers.

AFFW’s advisory committee, donors, Legacy Society members, and grantees look forward to a future as unlimited as the perpetual growth of the endowment fund, and a community where all women have the support they need to thrive.

Watch Celebrating 30 Years of A Fund for Women

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