In the spring of 2000, Emily Rutherford reached out to her longtime friend, Judy Garel, with an idea.
Emily, a Granville resident, read about an acquaintance from her alma mater, Smith College, being involved in a Women’s Fund in Washington, D.C. After learning more and joining the national group as an individual, she struggled to get a Women’s Fund off the ground in Licking County. She met with Judy to discuss the possibility of starting one in Franklin County.
That conversation was a spark that quickly ignited. Judy reached out to her friend, Mary Lazarus. Inspired by the opportunity, Judy and Mary invited a small group of women to meet on Judy’s porch to discuss the possibility, and The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio (the Women’s Fund) was born.
Excited about what it could mean for central Ohio, these visionary women, who all brought their own expertise to the table, spent a year researching, talking with women in other cities about how they formed their Women’s Fund organizations, and reaching out to other friends and colleagues locally to help financially support the idea. As the group grew, so did their collective passion about the chance to address economic inequality, support leadership skills for women and girls, and create social change.
Another goal was to address the issue of philanthropy among women. “Women were in positions where they were making good money, their own money, and perhaps hadn’t really thought about philanthropy,” Mary said.
"It has always been clear that this was by, and for, women and girls, from the beginning.”
— JUDY GAREL, founding member of The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio
Two things were clear early on: the women did not want to form a service organization that duplicated the efforts of other organizations, and they wanted it to be a free-standing entity.
“We were slowly absorbing outside messages that women did not have a voice in the community,” Judy added. “We came together with the same thought—that it was time that changed, and that women needed to have a voice and play a more active role in the community.”
Founders of The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio received the Harrison M. Sayre Award at The Columbus Foundation's 2018 Celebration of Philanthropy.
The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio became an official 501(c)(3) in 2001. The founders were thoughtful, purposeful, and strategic in growing the nonprofit.
However, the women decided they did not want to wait to make an impact, so they began awarding grants early in the organization’s existence. Many of those early recipients were small organizations that were just getting started. The Women’s Fund also made a point to encourage women to give, regardless of the amount of the gift. The $25 gifts were as important and meaningful as the $1,000 ones.
“We made a decision to treat all donors equally—not to prioritize. We had a lot of donors say to us, ‘the Women’s Fund made me feel like a philanthropist’ and they felt part of a community that was supporting important issues for women in central Ohio,” Judy said.
As she looks to the future, Judy pointed out she is excited about the growth and commitment from so many who are now part of the Women’s Fund.
“Now, there’s a spark coming from young people who sense that they are philanthropists and that they are making a difference,” Judy said.
The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio continues to be a force for change—awarding grants, hosting events, providing research and tools, and giving a voice to women and girls through advocacy efforts. The Columbus Foundation is proud to honor these founders with The Harrison M. Sayre Award, as they paved a way for thousands of others to learn, grow, and lead.