[Editor’s note: This is the second of two articles from Triangle United Way about its Women’s Leadership Council. Read the first article.]
Linda Tuday and Mary Williams-Stover
RALEIGH, N.C. — After a few years of struggling to find ways to effectively engage and inspire women in philanthropy and community service, Triangle United Way Women’s Leadership Council is beginning to see the results by simply focusing our message and activities to reflect the specific interests of our women contributors.
The mission of the council, which has over 900 members across the Triangle, is to inspire, educate and engage women in philanthropy, community service, advocacy and mentoring in order to positively impact the lives of people and our community.
In 2007, the Women’s Leadership Council steering committee members began discussing the notion of selecting a niche or focus area to improve its ability to inform and inspire women to support Triangle United Way’s mission.
We did market research, reviewed data from United Way regarding the most pressing needs and learned that our members are very interested in youth, specifically helping young teen girls, ages 11-15.
This is a particularly vulnerable age for girls, yet with the right opportunities, these girls are most responsive to positive support. Problems facing girls were the same regardless of parents’ income, geographic location or ethnic group, we found.
According to Inderdeep Chatrath, former chairwoman of the Women’s Leadership Council, the steering committee wanted to engage more women in supporting community needs and understanding how their contributions to United Way impact people’s lives.
The Young Teen Girls Initiative has helped the council target its message.
“I’m very excited about our initiative to help young girls,” says Chatrath. “While the WLC continues to celebrate the contributions of women, we are also providing more ways for women to engage in meaningful community service.”
Once the focus area was selected, Triangle United Way Women’s Leadership Council began to think about how we improve our outreach to women and how we can have a greater impact on young teen girls.
To improve outreach efforts, the council increased its efforts to help members connect and learn about the issues girls in their own communities were facing.
The council hosted an educational forum and invited seven experts from local human service agencies and the school system to highlight facts about issues facing girls ages 11-15.
“Members were amazed to learn that girls are dealing with very grown-up issues: sexual activity, pregnancy, drugs, media influences, depression and more,” says Linda Tuday, coordinator for the council.
The seminar was very eye opening for members, who immediately became more committed about making a difference and taking on some of the specific challenges and needs identified by the agency partners, she says.
A series of agency visits in each county, called “Driving Lessons” helped women see first hand how their gifts to Triangle United Way were making a real difference.
Not only did they hear from agency experts, but most importantly they heard from the girls about how their lives have changed for the better.
In Orange County, women were invited to the home of Linda Perry, a steering committee member, for an afternoon reception, where Dr. Jane Brown, Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was the keynote speaker.
Participants learned about the negative influences of media on young teen girls, especially on body image and self esteem.
“We received very positive feedback,” says Perry. “Women loved the opportunity to connect with agencies and other women in their own community and learn from an expert about the issues facing young girls.”
Targeted volunteer opportunities around this age group were made available to council members.
We have found that this type of targeted approach has energized and engaged the members of our Women’s Leadership Council.