Women’s Fund of Central Ohio Awards Zora’s House with Unique Investment

The Enduring Progress initiative's first capital seed investment and the Women's Fund's largest standalone investment ever has been awarded to LC Johnson of Zora's House. Photo courtesy of Geben Communication.

The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio is launching Enduring Progress, an initiative targeting the inadequate funding that is devoted to breaking down systemic barriers and creating meaningful social change.

The nonprofit organization is a funder of social change, coupling a focus on research and advocacy with gender equity and its intersection with other barriers, including racism.

The move is informed by the fund’s April 2019 report, Assets for Equity: Building Wealth for Women in Central Ohio, which looked at data on debt and asset ownership of women, broken down by race and ethnicity.

“What we know is that a composite woman owns — not earns because pay equity is only a piece of wealth equity — 60 cents for every dollar that a man owns,” said Kelley Griesmer, president and CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. “But a Black woman in April of 2019 owned 2 cents.

“That shows you the intersection of racism and sexism. And it’s important for us to focus on that because if we want to create…opportunities to transform the lives of women and girls, we have to address that intersection.”

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the increased awareness around racial justice, inclusion, and equity, the organization wanted to impact social change by investing more boldly and more disruptively in equitable solutions driven by nonprofits.

Many nonprofits are run by women, and many of those organizations are run by women of color, but they are severely underfunded. And though WFCO is investing 47 times more in these organizations than the national average — including $3.6 million in grants the last 20 years, and $250,000 more in annual grants — there is still room for improvement.

“What we know is that institutional funding for organizations focused on women and girls is 1.6%. Funding for organizations focused by and for women of color is 0.6%,” said Griesmer. “That hasn’t changed much since we opened our doors 20 years ago.”

“It has to be better and we have to be the leader,” she said. “That’s why we were created.”

WFCO has set out in generating a unique campaign for their giving, positioning themselves as “social venture capitalists” and putting courageous capital into nonprofit ventures.

“Just like a group of for-profit investors would get together and pool courageous capital for people with interesting for-profit ideas, let’s do that in the nonprofit world,” she said. “The only difference is that when we invest, we’re looking for a return on investment that is social change.”

As to why a woman of color-owned nonprofit was their target, it goes back to that intersection between gender and racial equity. Women of color are experts on the topic.

“Women of color are the architects of equity in our community,” said Griesmer. “They need to be funded. We need to creatively invest in them and their vision, not just their survival.”

Under the initiative, WFCO has and will continue to raise funds directed explicitly at equity and social change, said Griesmer.

The initiative’s first capital seed investment and the Women’s Fund’s largest standalone investment ever, it was announced, has been awarded to LC Johnson of Zora’s House, a nonprofit coworking and community space with Black women and women of color in mind.

Johnson recently announced she is now in the position to run Zora’s House full-time as its CEO, with help from her networks, and no doubt with the help of the fund’s $50,000 investment.

She said not many funders are used to funding the dreams of Black women, adding that The Women’s Fund’s investment is “groundbreaking and transformative.”

“I’ve come across many funders who are used to funding Black women’s survival. Food pantries. Housing Insecurity. Poverty alleviation. These things are necessary and important,” she said. “But when I start talking about Black women’s dreams – their leadership, joy, creativity, and activism – it turns out that not many funders are willing to invest in Black women’s thriving, not just surviving.”

As for why Johnson and Zora’s House was chosen to set the stage for the Enduring Progress initiative, Griesmer said Zora’s House had been on their radar. Zora’s House was finding success, and LC Johnson has been a “visionary and well-recognized and lauded leader who…has been worthy of investment.”

She added, however, that there are many leaders and visionaries out there also in need of support.

“We look at this as the work of the next generation of work,” she said. “And if we invest courageously in these types of equity initiatives for the next 20 years, we hope that the return on investment for that 20 years will be the social change that our community appears to want. And we certainly need to help them get there.”

For more information, visit womensfundcentralohio.org.