Women’s fund hits goal

Volunteer chair helps United Way in Southern California set record donations, expand program. 

By Jennifer Whytock

In under two years, the Women’s Philanthropy Fund at Orange County’s United Way in Southern California has surpassed its goal of 100 donors, thanks in large part to Sue Parks, the fund’s co-founder and volunteer chair.

The fund, which seeks donations of $10,000 or more from local women, has raised $2.5 million since 2002 and is one of the first United Way women’s funds in the U.S. to recruit 100 members.

Within two years, the fund plans to grow to 200 members, says Maria Chavez Wilcox, executive director.

When she created the fund two years ago, Wilcox was looking for a prominent, professional woman to serve as volunteer chair, and asked Parks, who had just left an executive job with Gateway.

“Sue said she didn’t know much about United Way and had never thought about being involved in philanthropy in that way,” says Wilcox. “But she knew what kind of women were needed for the fund, women just like her.”

That day, Parks and Wilcox forged a partnership and each wrote $10,000 checks to become founding members of the fund, says Wilcox.

While she had contributed to United Way at that level in San Diego, Parks says, before that “no one had ever asked me to give at that level.”

Sue Parks

Position: Chair and co-founder, Women’s Philanthropy Fund, Orange County’s United Way, California.

Job: Creating her own clothing and walking accessories company

Born: Rockford, Illinois, 1957

Education: B.A., industrial administration, Iowa State University

Family: Married, three stepchildren, ages 25, 25, 29

Hobbies: Sailing, traveling, walking

Many nonprofits assume women want to volunteer or participate in gala events, she says, but do not think about asking women for donations.

Nonprofits need to ask women to give at a higher amount, teach them about funding opportunities and then recognize that women can give at a high level, she says.

Of the roughly 250 donors who give at least $10,000 to Orange County’s United Way, 100 are women, 85 of whom had never given money before to the United Way.

After surveying its donors, the fund now plans to give money to self-sufficiency and financial literacy programs for women, and loans for low-income women to start small businesses, though members can designate most of their donation to any United Way program.

Parks, who has been an executive for US West, Gateway and Kinkos, recently made a career change after tiring of her weekly air commute and deciding to do something she was passionate about.

Besides devoting her time to United Way, Parks has created a company called Walk-Styles, which aims to offer high-quality, user-friendly products and services to promote healthy lifestyles through walking.

For every day a program participant walks 10,000 steps, the company will make a donation to its new foundation to fight child obesity.

Parks, who says walking helps her physically and mentally, walked over 10,000 steps nearly every day last year.

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