In June, the Women and Girls Foundation was awarded a key $1 million grant for its Femisphere initiative from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. CEO Heather Arnet says Femisphere seeks to create an ecosystem where women and girls in Pittsburgh have everything they need to thrive.
It’s been a tale of two organizations before and after the funding.
Starting in 2013, the WGF was in R&D mode for Femisphere, doing research, mapping current services, looking at the community needs and approaching funding partners.
As the first phase of Femisphere came to a close — a joint report with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services — Arnet says the WGF was under a cloud of uncertainty.
“How do you keep moving forward, continuing to put the track ahead of the train even though you aren’t exactly sure whether you’ll go one way or the other?” she says.
The name “Women and Girls Foundation” sounds like it includes an endowment, but Arnet says the nonprofit runs like a small startup. Everyone works long hours and wears a lot of hats.
In 2016, the WGF continued its annual fundraising and outreach, while also building community support for Femisphere. Contingencies were built into the planning in case funding didn’t come through. The situation required flexibility and strong communication, Arnet says.
“For most of our 2016-2017 fiscal year, we were making do with what we had financially and keeping all of that project planning and momentum moving forward,” she says. “It was a bit of a Herculean task for a small staff.”
Now, with phase-two funding secured, the WGF is undergoing rapid growth. Typically, it has had three employees; that increased to eight in one month.
Arnet has been reading management resources and she and her COO are working with a consultant to manage the transition.
“This is a good change, but we also want to be thoughtful around how we orient new people, how we build a new team and how we change how we do business on a daily basis now that we’re a much larger organization,” Arnet says.
Connect the dots
With Femisphere, the WGF is a connector and coalition builder.
While Pittsburgh has undergone an economic renaissance, single mothers with school-age children aren’t seeing the benefits. They represent 77 percent of Pittsburgh households living in poverty, up from 73 percent in 2004.
Arnet says the WGF is working with key community partners to improve the economic security of these moms.
Femisphere includes helping develop educational and workforce development programs that offer transportation and child care assistance, and higher quality child care within neighborhoods where most low-income moms and kids live. It will survey the need for non-traditional child care to serve service, restaurant and retail employees who don’t work 8-5.