Grapevine Q&A Featuring WOMEN of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Nov 17, 2021

What is the history of your organization? How did you get started and why?

  • We started 22 years ago in 1998 as a small group of women, who were friends in the local area, wanted to come together and give back to our community.
  • We are a group of 50 unpaid volunteers, and we are a diverse group of educators, businesswomen, homemakers, retirees, and others across all age groups.
  • We do have a 501c3 status and accept applications to give out grants to local nonprofits that qualify and support our mission to help women and children in need in 5 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

What draws members to your group?

  • We are a very inclusive group – within our name, WOMEN of Southwestern Pennsylvania, WOMEN stands for "Women Organized to Mentor, Empower and Network." So, our members are empowered through networking, and we focus on building friendship and trust. Our group incorporates folks from all walks of life. We don’t care about anyone’s financial background. All contributions of time and resources are greatly appreciated. We’re very welcoming.
  • We also have a lot of ways to engage with our members. We have a social once a month, one of which is dedicated to education, and one is dedicated to a health-related topic. Our events often include having speakers on a range of topics such as wellness, domestic violence, and having local women leaders speak about their businesses or endeavors. We also meet at fun destinations in the area, like local wineries, or at one of the many fascinating sites in the Pittsburgh area. We keep things going and motivated through the social aspect.
  • We also always look to help small, local, nonprofits when we can, if they meet our criteria. There are folks that fall through the cracks and aren’t receiving state or city grants so we try to fill that gap. We give funds to lots of local foodbanks and organizations that meet critical needs for food, clothing and shelter.
  • Ideally, our President has a Co-President that mentors with her to step up to the President position the following year, and who will in turn mentor the next Co-President. In this way, members may feel more comfortable holding this vital position,

How has your group evolved over time?

  • This was originally a group of women in a more informal setting saying “we’re blessed, let’s give back”. Because of their successful work, they grew the organization as time went on. We eventually found that we couldn’t do things the same way that they had always been done in the past. We’ve had to become a much more professional, structured, transparent, and well-documented organization, and be able to adapt to change. Embracing a greater role for technology, for example, was a hurdle at first but we overcame it together, and it has benefitted us in innumerable ways.
  • Over time, our fundraisers have become larger, more frequent and diverse, more well-organized, and more successful events.
  • We have also become pro-active in growing our membership by holding an annual “Meet & Greet” social event in the summer for prospective new members.

How can you see the impact that you’ve made with your collective philanthropy?  What keeps your group motivated?

  • Every November, we have a grant recipient dinner, and each nonprofit recipient presents how they used the grant and how they see their local impact. Every time we’re in tears. You go to one of those and you are motivated. It's also wonderful to see the recipients share resources and network with each other at this event.
  • We are very proud that two of our grants were used as “seed money” for two start-up nonprofits - Village of FPC and the Still Remembered Project. The Village provides childcare for needy women who have enrolled in college courses and hope to achieve independence and a better life. The Still Remembered Project provides grief resources and remembrance packages to families that have suffered infant loss during pregnancy or afterwards. The stories are gut-wrenching. An organization takes a chance when it provides seed money, but Still Remembered, for example, has now grown to offer services in every hospital in Pittsburgh. 
  • We also designate a charity of the month, to which we donate $250 dollars for urgent or emergency needs. 
  • We are also the only non-profit that currently sponsors a local non-profit candidate for the Jefferson Awards. Winning candidates move on to national competition.
  • We were humbled and gratified to have won two awards recently. We won the 2018 Outstanding Philanthropic Organization Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Western PA Chapter. And we won the 2020 NAACP Human Rights Award, Washington, PA Chapter.

What is your group focused on right now? How do you fundraise?

  • For well over a decade, we've held our signature event called Symphony of Food. Chefs from all over the region provide and cook a gourmet meal for free, and we sell 350 tickets. We also get donations and in-kind gifts from local businesses for games and raffles at this event. 
  • During the pandemic, the needs in our community soared and we've helped smaller organizations that are providing food and basic services. But our signature fundraising event could not take place due to Covid. We had to brainstorm and get creative. We planned and executed two highly successful Golf outings, sold a Calendar Lottery Ticket, and engaged in a OneHope Wine fundraiser. Due to the insight and creativity of our members, we actually exceeded our previous annual fundraising. And in turn, these experiences are leading us forward to growth and new revenue streams that we may employ even in the aftermath of the pandemic.
  • We advertise our efforts on community television, in local publications, on our Facebook page and members’ social media, and on our website.

How can people get involved? 

  • We invite support from all, and encourage new membership. Anyone may access information about what our mission is, and what our activities are on our website at www.womenofswpa.org, and may contact us or donate through the website.
  • We grow support by talking to friends, family, acquaintances, businesses and companies and telling them about who we are, what we do, and what our mission is.
  • Members may become involved in social media and print publicity, website management, accounting, record keeping, monthly social event planning, membership outreach, event and fundraising organization, the grant application and award process, and Officer/Chair positions.
  • We engage in outreach to local businesses and companies for sponsorships and donations, and encourage support of these institutions by our members.
  • As individual circumstances permit, members donate funds towards our event fundraisers, and as importantly, give of their time and talents.