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Membership model builds diversity

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Claudia Zorn and Tari Hanneman

Since its launch in November 2006, The Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem has made inclusiveness an imperative to ensure that its membership is diverse and that its grantmaking serves all women and girls in the community.

To make inclusiveness and diversity part of its core structure, the fund offers a unique membership model.

Membership in the fund is $1,200 per year, and can be given by either an individual woman or a group of up to 12 women and girls who collectively contribute $1,200.

Each member group receives one vote in determining the organizations and programs to receive funding in a given year. Women and girls who have limited access to financial resources may apply for a Participant Scholarship to be part of a group.  And all women and girls, regardless of the type of membership they choose, are considered full and equal members of the fund.

Of the fund’s more than 700 members, 550 belong to a group. Currently, there are 73 groups, with about one-third of the groups consisting of 12 members, one-third having two to four members, and the final third have between four and 12 members. Some women have multiple memberships.

Composition of the fund’s groups varies. There are mothers and daughters; sisters; lesbian couples; and members of the local Moravian, Unitarian, Episcopal churches and local synagogue. There are also neighborhood groups and co-workers from Wake Forest law and medical schools as well as various local businesses.

The fund’s group membership model has increased the diversity of and social capital between its members.

One of the more active groups is the ACEY Group. Led by Dr. Betty A. Alexander, the ACEY Group is composed of 12 African American women.

The group meets monthly and publishes its own periodic newsletter. Several of its members are actively involved in various committees of The Women’s Fund.

Beyond its support for the fund, the group has its own philanthropic activities. This past year the ACEY Group collectively pooled its resources to send a young teen girl to summer camp.

Like the ACEY Group, many groups get together to discuss and vote on grant proposals. In the past two grant cycles, groups voted significantly more than individual members: 92 percent of the groups voted on the 2008 grant proposals compared to 59 percent of individual members.

While the group membership model has been successful for The Women’s Fund, the multi-tiered structure is not without its challenges. Administratively, keeping track of all of the members and billing for renewals can be complicated since membership database systems are not designed for this type of membership model.

Still, The Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem is committed to continuing the group model to help realize the fund’s vision that all women and girls can realize their power to make a difference and be a conduit for change for all women and girls.


Claudia Zorn serves on the board of the Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem and chairs the marketing and public relations committee. Tari Hanneman is coordinator of the Women’s Fund of Winston-Salem.

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