Karen Evenden (left) and Peggy Russell (right), cofounders of the Ojai Women’s Fund

Karen Evenden and Peggy Russell 

Cofounders of the Ojai Women’s Fund, established January 2016
Purpose of organization is to inspire and educate women on philanthropy

When and why did you decide to start your nonprofit?  What was missing or not being addressed in Ojai that needed to be?

Russell: The idea of the Ojai Women’s Fund was a vision of Karen Evenden, who began the exploration of launching a women’s giving circle for the Ojai Valley. In mid-2015, she asked if I would be interested in assisting her in this process. We began to have small gatherings of circles of friends to obtain a sense of the interest in such an organization.

I felt that what was missing was the collaboration by many of our younger women who are so busy with the daily life of juggling a career, home and family. We wanted to give them an opportunity to see how they might impact the community they live in without having to commit precious time to the project.

Evenden: I moved to Ojai from Seattle in 2003. In Seattle I had been a founding member of the Washington Women’s Foundation — one of the very early women’s pooled funds or giving circles upon which the OWF is modeled. A Seattle friend and mentor continued to encourage me to begin a similar fund in Ojai. I finally got the ball rolling and we officially launched the Ojai Women’s Fund in 2016.

Throughout my life, I have been a volunteer and have appreciated the opportunities that volunteering has provided — I have learned so much … about myself and my community, and I have grown personally and professionally from those experiences. For the last few decades I have recognized that the volunteer world has been aging. I wanted to help create a model that would attract women of different ages, stages and lifestyles to community involvement.   

How are you accomplishing the goals of the mission of your organization? What are some of your current and past programs and some of the more tangible results of their efficacy?

Russell: We launched the Ojai Women’s Fund in January of 2016 by inviting approximately 300 women in the Valley and presented a motivational speaker. The attendance was close to 150 women and the “buzz” and excitement in the room was the perfect springboard to go forward. We decided that we wanted to give grants to local nonprofits (in the Ojai Valley from Casitas Springs to Upper Ojai) in the areas of health, social services, arts, environment and education.  We held an educational forum with panelists from each of these areas who could address the specific needs of their area of expertise.

We then accepted grant applications and our Grants Committee narrowed our ballot to 10 agencies. This ballot was mailed to all members. From this ballot, five agencies were to be selected (one from each area of interest). However, our first year, we had a tie in one of the categories and we were able to give six grants of $10,000 each.

Evenden: Our model is a membership model, one that invites women to join (minimum donation: $100) and then to vote on where their dollars will be directed into the Ojai community.  In the process, we are educated about the needs in our community and we engage in active dialogue as to how we can help address those needs.

Given your organization is focused on reaching women, what are your thoughts on the 2016 presidential election as well as the Women’s March? What would you say to women who want to affect change but have been reluctant?

Russell: The Ojai Women’s Fund is an all-inclusive membership organization to help make a difference in the lives of our neighbors who have needs that are not being met.  It has always been my belief that when you bring together women and present a case for change or involvement, it happens. There is a strength that immerges when women come together for a common goal. It is a strong bond that can’t be seen but can be felt. Many times the only thing that holds women back from becoming more involved is time. Our goal is to give them information about their community and allow them to donate, which gives them the opportunity to be involved and have a say as to where the funds are allocated. We want all of our members to feel good about being a philanthropist. 

Evenden: The Ojai Women’s Fund was founded in January 2016.  Before the 2016 election.  At that time, I attributed our success to the fact that it was the right idea at the right time and in the right place. Women — working together — have always been able to make a positive impact in our home communities. That is what we, the Ojai Women’s Fund intended to do from the beginning … and it is what we will continue to do as we move forward. 

I would encourage women to turn to their friends and neighbors and talk about their local issues and their concerns, to listen to one another and to consider taking action, even if the steps seem small. You never know what can grow if we stop and listen to each other and if we show respect for each other.   

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