Funding the “Revolution”: Boston Women’s Fund

Many community-based organizations strive arduously to promote social and economic justice and empower disadvantaged groups such as the poor and the disabled. At the end of the day, though, creating a social-change revolution takes money. And in the Boston region, one nonprofit organization, the Boston Women’s Fund, is in the business of doling out dollars to “fund the revolution.” BWF raises money from donors and awards grants to area organizations that work with women and girls to promote social change. It also has a few programs of its own, including Young Sisters for Justice in Philanthropy, which teaches young women about social justice and philanthropy, and is organized by Melissa Cariño29, the young women’s program coordinator at the Boston Women’s Fund. Learn more about Melissa and BWF in this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.

About Boston Women’s Fund

The Boston Women’s Fund supports community-based organizations run by women and girls in the Greater Boston Area. We work with low-income women; women of color; women with disabilities; older women; lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women; immigrant and refugee women; and girls who are working to create a society based on racial, social, and economic justice. The Boston Women’s Fund raises money from a broad base of donors across economic backgrounds to provide grants and develop programs that strengthen the grassroots initiatives and leadership of women and girls.

BWF Core Values:

  • We believe that change starts at the grassroots level, and systemic change is necessary to achieve social justice.
  • We believe that power and wealth must be redistributed to attain equity and systemic change.
  • We believe that the fight for women’s rights is an integral part of a larger struggle to end oppression based on race, class, gender, age, religion, ability, or sexual orientation.
  • We believe that all movements fighting racism must be racially and culturally diverse in both membership and leadership if progressive change is to occur.
  • We believe that women and girls can and must be leaders within all movements if progressive change is to occur.
  • We believe that educating and organizing a diverse donor base is a critical strategy for amassing broad support for social-change movements.
  • We strive to reflect our commitment to shared leadership, equity, and cultural diversity in all aspects of our organization’s operations.

Tell us how BWF affects the Asian community

I believe BWF affects the Asian community in two significant ways:

  1. Allocating grants to organizations/programs
  2. Researching Asian women’s perspective on giving


The ultimate goal of our grant-makign is social & economic justice. BWF’s constituents include low-income women; women of color; women with disabilities; older women; lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women; immigrant and refugee women; and girls. There are many intersections of our constituents with the Asian community. The following are examples of organizations we’ve supported, who primarily work in Asian communities: Asian American Resource Workshop, Chinese Progressive Association, Matahari: Eye of the Day, Navarasa Dance Theater, Southeast Asian Bilingual Advocates Inc., and ASPIRE.

Our Public Spirit is a project BWF has taken on with several partners, including The Kellogg Foundation, Haymarket People’s Fund, & Women’s Theological Center. The project focuses on the giving patterns of women of color, specifically African-American and Asian women. By understanding giving patterns through focus groups, the project can provide resources and tools to those communities. A publication, “Expanding The Circle,” was completed last Spring and is available on our website.

We are now looking at opportunities to raise awareness around philanthropy and social change philanthropy (giving to those who are organizing for positive social change). We hope to spearhead giving circles within BWF through the project.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

My day-to-day responsibilities vary a lot. Because our organization is very small, we all play a role in managing our office space because we donot have a full-time staff person in that position right now. We also support each other’s work at various times (i.e. events, donor visits, etc). And I coordinate volunteers and interns who want to support BWF.

Most of my responsibilities fall under BWF programming, specifically with our Allocations (grant-making) Committee and the Young Sisters For Justice in Philanthropy (YSFJP) program.

As an experienced Allocation Committee member (prior to working with BWF as a staff member), I assist in facilitation and coordination of our Allocations process. The allocations process includes screening out eligible applicants, working with a diverse group of community activists, and coordinating young women’s involvement in the process.

YSFJP takes up most of my time. YSFJP is a 2-year program where young women (ages 15-20) commit to learning about social justice, political education, philanthropy, the not-for-profit sector, and community organizing. We use a shared leadership and popular education model in our work. I try my best to make this a holistic youth program – meeting them where they are, checking in personally, and offering support & guidance whenever I can. This is a very intense program but it is also very enriching! I have to admit with 1 year under our belts, I am soul satisfied and confident that each Young Sister will continue the efforts for social justice well into the future.

What are the most notable milestones for BWF?

Two of the most notable milestones for BWF include giving over $4 million as grants to organizations/programs in the Greater Boston community. We have also just recently completed our 2000 Club Initiative, which was an innovative grassroots fundraising project. The members pledged $500 (to be paid in 5 years) to start BWF’s $1 million endowment. On top of this, a committed BWF donor decided to match funds raised for a total of $2 million.

BWF was one of the first foundations to engage a girl grant-making group back in 1997. And while BWF’s YSFJP program is a bit different from the original Young Sister For Justice (YSFJ) program, we still promote intergenerational decision-making processes in our grant-making.

What would you say is BWF’s niche?

I believe BWF’s niche is social change philanthropy or simply, “funding the revolution.” Out of all philanthropic dollars given in the USA, only around 3% is given to social change programs/organizations and less is given to women.

BWF’s mission is founded on a social justice analysis, and we put our money (and our donors) and resources where our mouth is. While we know that social services are needed, we also realize that social services are not necessarily dealing with the root cause of a problem. Through supporting grassroots community organizing, we are playing a role in empowering those who have been marginalized for too long.

What’s the biggest challenge that BWF faces?

I think the biggest challenge we have now is sustaining our donors well into the future. Some of our donors may be “aging out,” and we are faced with how to engage newer, younger donors to invest in social change philanthropy.

What’s in store for its future?

BWF has already conducted organizational assessments and prepared a development map. So we anticipate organizational growth and increased social impact in the next few years. This will mean additional staff power as well as more funds to give away to our community.

YSFJP is looking forward to impacting other young people on social justice, civic engagement, organizing, and social change philanthropy.

I would also love to hear from folks who may be interested in hiring me since I envision veteran Young Sisters to step into my current position in the future.

What sets YSFJP apart from other programs that support young women?

I believe the following characteristics make YSFJP unique from typical youth and young women’s programming:

  • Intergenerational decision-making
  • Shared leadership
  • Popular education
  • Political development & social justice analysis
  • Professional skills for philanthropy,
  • Organizational development and fund raising
  • Communications
  • Activism
  • Community organizing
  • Programmatic development
  • Not-for-profit organizations, and other social justice work

Whats the best way to keep a competitive edge in your field?

I think we need to be more creative with our fundraising and grant-making. For example, we have funded constituents and not issues. However, certain issues – for example, youth violence – are coming up, and BWF wants to respond somehow, someway. I also believe giving circles will also play a major role in BWF’s future.

Do you have a guiding principle in life?

Lyrics from one of my favorite songs: “Live the life you love; Love the life you live.”

What is your yardstick of success?

Especially in my youth work and community organizing experience, my yardstick of success is based on the empowerment and leadership of the people I work with.

Any goal yet to be achieved?

I have to admit that I love learning new things and visiting new places. So I definitely want to travel the world – but not as a tourist. I want to work side by side with youth and communities who are working on meaningful, positive social change campaigns.

Best practical advice you can offer our readers

Practice philanthropy! Not all of us can or want to devote our full-time jobs to non-profit organizations, but all of us can still be philanthropists. Whether it is giving funds or resources, volunteering your time or talents, everyone can play a role in strengthening our communities. And why practice philanthropy? Because we are connected to each other. “No one is free when others are oppressed.”

What are some of the supportive words that you have received from a family member or friend on your venture?

Take care of myself. Enjoy life. It is very easy to accommodate others in this work. It is also very easy to burn out. But if I take care of myself, I can sustain my energy and passions for this type of work.

Who is your Mentor(s) and why?

I know this should go the other way around, but my strongest mentors have honestly been the young people I have worked with over the years. I have learned so much from them and about myself.

What motivated you to get started?

Being a child of immigrant parents, I knew how it was to be discriminated against and the many challenges we faced. So this definitely played a role in where I am now. But I also feel like this fire has always been in me. When learning about the Civil Rights movement in the 2nd grade, I grew very upset about the numerous injustices happening.

What do you like best about what you do?

What I do is a beautiful fusion of my passions: social justice, youth work, grassroots organizing, and social change philanthropy. I love the fact that I am walking my talk, despite the challenges that still exist.

What do you like least about what you do?

As is the nature with this type of work (unfortunately), there’s usually not enough resources to make the most impact or to reach our potential. Many times we are understaffed and take on too much – a real battle of quantity and quality.

In your opinion, why is the YSFJP’s form of outreach so important?

I believe that with peer-to-peer outreach, we can help engage other young people to realize the importance of philanthropy in their own lives and their communities. We want people to reclaim philanthropy and to identify as a philanthropist. Philanthropy is no longer just for the rich to give to charities. It is and can be a way of life.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A veterinarian – until I realized I was allergic to dogs and cats.

What was your first job?

Besides baby-sitting or working at a museum in Berkeley, CA, I worked at my local mall in a watch store. I got pretty good at changing watch batteries.

What is your biggest pastime outside of work?

Traveling and exploring new things. I also love to swim and dance.

Name a person you are most interested in meeting and why?

Tanya Stephens: Tanya is one of the most conscious & political musical female artists in Jamaican dancehall. I would love to know what inspires her and how she deals with people who disagree with her lyrics or her political/personal values, especially in the Jamaican community. For example, heterosexism and homophobia is rampant in the Jamaican community yet Tanya sings and speaks out against this.

Name a Leader in business you are most interested in meeting and why?

Any business leader who is interested in social responsibility and social change philanthropy programs. I would love to influence a corporation that is really invested in their philanthropic giving and interested in making a difference in people’s lives by dealing with root causes.

Please share three interesting facts about yourself

  1. Used to play the tenor saxaphone – interested in starting again
  2. Can’t wait to be an aunt…then a mom
  3. I drive a bright green wagon, my own “green monster”

Please share three characteristics that describe you

  1. Passionate
  2. Versatile
  3. Thoughtful

What are three of your greatest passions and how do they drive you?

  1. Youth Power : as a young person not so long ago, I know how it is to not have a voice because of my age. My current work focuses on youth power.
  2. Traveling/Exploring: learning about new things inspires me.
  3. Sense of Community: building & strengthening relationships with other people, also striking up conversations with strangers.

What is your favorite movie?

Favorite movie: Sex & Lucia (Lucia y el Sexo)

Besides the work you do with YSFJP; what is your favorite cause?

Two of them, community policing programs and the intersection of the environment with humans

If you had one wish for the world, what would it be?

Conflict resolution without violence

If you could be contacted by anyone, who would you like to be contacted by?

Other folks who are interested in engaging young people in the social justice movement and philanthropy. I would love to see more young people stepping up and sustaining the work that has already been done by our ancestors and elders.