Carrie Henderson & Heather duBoef: Doing It Our Way — A Businesswomen’s New Model for Giving

THE PHOTOS ON THE BULLETIN board inside The Salvation Army’s Women’s Shelter on Owens Street painted a bleak picture. Taken just months earlier, they showed a severely-decayed roof susceptible to leaking and mold, even collapse — incidents that would compromise the shelter’s ability to serve the numerous homeless women who depend on it for a safe place to sleep at night.

It was a dire situation alleviated only when The Salvation Army received a grant in 2011 from the Nevada Women’s Philanthropy (NWP). The nonprofit received $325,000 for capital improvements that covered not only a new roof but also a refurbished shelter with new 20 new beds, plumbing, and showers. With the extra beds an additional 7,300 women a year will have a place to sleep at night.

NWP members, including its current president, Carrie Henderson, were on hand for the April 19 ribbon-cutting ceremony taking place just three months after the renovation began. Henderson, a local businesswoman, was beaming. For her and the other NWP members in attendance, this is what it’s all about: seeing the tangible effects of investments intended to have a significant, ongoing impact on the local community.

Since its inception in 2006 the NWP has gifted more than $2 million to local nonprofits in Southern Nevada, agencies on the front lines of some of the community’s most pressing social problems – homelessness, sexual assault, youth intervention and education, to name just a few.

The last time NWP members had been inside The Salvation Army shelter was in January. They wore hard hats and wielded sledge hammers to break through a wall, signaling the start of the renovation. The difference between then and now was night and day. It was an occasion for celebration.

In 2005 Heather duBoef, an NWP founder, had an idea, an epiphany, really: What if we skipped the black tie gala where attendees pay upwards of $10,000 for a table and gave our money directly to a cause? It was a simple question that inspired duBoef to explore alternative models of charitable giving.

DuBoef’s sister, Tawny Sanders, lives in Los Angeles and is involved with the Everychild Foundation, a group of women dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children in the greater Los Angeles area. The approach used by Everychild is to recruit women who can each commit $5,000 annually. The money is pooled and awarded each year to one organization with a dream project that the foundation’s gift can make possible. The grant money is delivered in phases for recipients meeting specified benchmarks.

DuBoef liked what she saw. It was a smart, fiscally-sound model of philanthropy that allowed members to magnify the impact of their contributions while having a say in where their money went. Her friend, Dana Lee, liked it too, so they brought the idea to future co-founders Marcelle Frey and Trina Pascal. With the addition of duBoef’s sister-in-law, Dena duBoef, and Sanders, the founding six members of NWP were in place.

“What makes us so distinct and exciting is that our structure allows for philanthropists across the community to collaborate on how to invest their money in the community,” duBoef tells me. “This is an example of acting on a little idea that becomes something great.”

NWP’s initial challenge, according to duBoef, wasn’t figuring out how to attract members and raise money – that was the easy part; rather, it was educating local nonprofits about NWP’s unique approach to grant giving.

“Initially we got a lot of applications that weren’t speaking to our investment focus,” says duBoef. “We had to reach out to get the message to them. We have a responsibility to investors. You need to tell us what the problem is, how you are going to fix it, how you will spend the money, and how will you measure the result.”

From the get-go NWP’s pragmatic approach to philanthropic giving was appealing to many women – local business leaders, doctors, lawyers, stay-at-home moms – who cared deeply about social causes but also liked knowing where their money went and how it was being used.

“The investment focus is one of the things that attracted me to NWP,” says Henderson. “I am a businesswoman, so I am very pragmatic and analytical. I liked the scrutiny applied to reviewing applications to make sure that these are sustainable, legitimate organizations. After those three years of funding are up, will this continue to grow? How will you sustain this gift we are giving you? Looking at it this way was very attractive to me.” “It’s like planting a seed,” she continues. “My $5,000 could do this much, but if you combine it with 100 other women, you have $500,000. What a difference that could make.”

The NWP is comprised of committees of volunteer members who oversee outreach to nonprofits, grant application screening, and monitoring of project implementation.

NWP is in the middle of its 2012 grant cycle; it received 47 fully-developed proposals, the most ever submitted. The Grant Screening Committee is in the process of reviewing proposals and whittling them down to two finalists for a vote in the fall. The winner will receive a major grant and the runner-up will get a $30,000 Founders Gift to use however they want.

By the time the two finalists are chosen, duBoef explains, “We will have analyzed these up and down and inside and out. You can’t go wrong. Either one can do great things, now it’s up to you to decide.” “The discussion is lively and a lot of passion goes into the process of selecting a winner,” Henderson notes.

In 2010 the Rape Crisis Center received a $350,000 NWP grant to open a full-service counseling center for victims of sexual assault. In its first year alone the NWP New Hope Counseling Center treated 300 people, exceeding its projected goal of 200. It was NWP money at work and the results were measurable.

Without the NWP seed money, the counseling center would have remained just an idea, according to Hannah Brook, the Executive Director of the Rape Crisis Center. “It is very difficult to get funding for start-up projects,” Brook told me. “Thank goodness these women felt this was worth funding.”

Brook described the NWP application process as challenging yet a positive experience. “You have local businesswomen helping you develop your project. Agencies can be myopic. We were open to their critiques and used them to tweak our proposal. They were honest; they said, ‘This will work. This won’t. We want to see more of this.’”

NWP enters into a partnership with grant recipients and continues to work with them to ensure the long-term success of its investments. In the case of the Rape Crisis Center’s counseling center, NWP members sit on its advisory committee. “It’s almost a continuation of the grant process because you are getting feedback from people in the community whom you normally wouldn’t hear from,” says Brook.

“We act as a development team for nonprofits,” duBoef notes. Henderson agrees: “The constant feedback we get from agencies, even the ones we don’t fund, is that they are better grant writers now because of what we put them through. We jokingly say that we should get a stamp that says ‘NWP Approved’ because we’ve helped them develop stronger proposals that they can now take somewhere else.”

Outside the newly-renovated shelter on The Salvation Army’s campus, NWP members stand next to Salvation Army representatives for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Using big silver scissors they cut the red ribbon, ushering in a new era for the shelter and the women it serves.

“The thing that thrills me the most is that a building was saved that could’ve been lost,” said Salvation Army Public Relations Officer Leslee Rogers. “And the fact that we can now house more people is a real gift.” A representative from the Las Vegas Urban League remarked with admiration: “Girl power, you gotta love it.”

Previously published in diamondcake. Updated by smallTALK. Archived for Nevada Women’s Philanthropy.