A resounding thank you to the 132 women and one gentleman (!) who gathered in St. Louis to share, learn, and innovate. We came to amplify the power of giving together – and to celebrate our growing national network of collaborative, community-based philanthropic groups. We improve lives in our own backyards by pooling our money and putting it where our hearts are. Thirty-two of our 38 member organizations attended, 19 people presented or moderated, and everyone connected. Almost all of us traveled to St. Louis on our own dime: a powerful demonstration of how much we value face-to-face sharing and learning. Kudos to the team at the Spirit of St. Louis Women's Fund (SOS) led by WCGN Board member and conference chair Vicki Sheehan, who gave us such a welcoming and informative three days.
Maxine Clark, founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop, kicked off the conference Tuesday with a dinnertime keynote address, 1+1=10: The Power of Giving Forward. The onetime Build-A-Bear Chief Executive Bear and Chairman spoke passionately about "building a company with heart" and her current role as a philanthropist using her entrepreneurial skills to improve public education. She finished her speech to a standing ovation. The applause continued as servers brought in trays stacked with Build-A-Bears outfitted with WCGN/Spirit of St. Louis Women's Fund tee shirts, ruffled denim skirts, and flip-flops decorated with rhinestone butterflies – one for each member of the audience.
On Wednesday morning WCGN conference attendees chose among panel discussions covering topics ranging from tips to build and retain membership to strategic planning, inspirational programming, social media training, and measuring grant impact. Lunchtime speaker Sonja Nichols from Women's Impact Fund in Charlotte, NC fired up the group by instructing us to whip out our smartphones, snap selfies, and gaze at them while she spoke about the connection between loving ourselves and recognizing our own special gifts. Each one of us is unique, she said, and understanding our own special abilities empowers us to effectively contribute to the greater good, each in our very own, singular way. Her humorous and heartfelt comments touched us all.
After another round of panel discussions, author and Board Builders President Carol Weisman delivered practical tips for building, developing, and maintaining a strong board. Later that afternoon we broke into groups of 12 for free-flowing, interactive roundtable discussions about innovative ideas and top-of-mind issues facing our member organizations, including advocacy, diversity, contrasting grantmaking approaches, and partnerships with community foundations.
Relaxation and revelry took center stage Wednesday evening, thanks to two Spirit of St. Louis Women's Fund members, who opened their gorgeous homes for cocktails and dinner. It proved to be an evening made up of equal parts networking, fine food, and fun.
WCGN's first official annual meeting as an IRS-approved nonprofit on Thursday featured remarks by WCGN Chair Laura Midgley as well as WCGN and Washington Women's Foundation Founder Colleen Willoughby. The group formally elected officers and voted in two new WCGN Board members, Jenny Berg from Impact 100 Cincinnati and Tracy Johnson from San Diego Women's Foundation. See a listing of the WCGN Board and its officers here.
After hearing a moving session from officials representing three programs funded by Spirit of St. Louis Women's Found – St. Louis HELP, Prison Performing Arts, and Little Bit Foundation, the conference wrapped up by dividing into facilitated discussion groups by age of organization. There were groups for newly formed organizations, those between five and 10 years old, and those 11 years old and up. Reflections from those sessions will be posted on our website soon.
A heartfelt thanks to all who attended our St. Louis conference as well as to all of those who couldn't make it, but who continue to support our cause in so many other ways. The collective giving movement is growing. We are making a difference, strengthening our communities and making them more livable for everyone. We couldn't do it without each and every one of you.
Conference materials are available on the member pages. Guest attendees will be given a link to online resources.