Thanks to the support of our donor community, Chicago Foundation for Women has been able to support 62 innovative organizations helping women and girls in need this past year. But, an often overlooked and critical pillar of our mission is to empower women and girls to become leaders and philanthropists. We do this because we know there is great power in helping women to take that big leap from “I should” to “I can and I will.”

Invest in a woman, help her and her family be secure, and she is very likely to support other women and girls. She will inspire others to do the same. This ripple-effect happens daily at CFW. 

This has certainly been the case for the four women profiled below. Please take a moment to read more about the different “Faces of CFW Philanthropy” and how supporting women and being supported by women has defined each woman’s philanthropy, career, and life.

Doris Conant, CFW donor and proud feminist activist

Doris Conant first became involved with CFW when a friend asked her for a donation. At the time, it was the 1980’s and CFW was a new and budding organization.  But, standing up for women was not new to the longtime CFW supporter. During the Civil Rights Movement, Doris organized a group of her friends and asked them to help her with a project. Her goal was to address the needs of mothers at the Jane Addams Homes, a housing project on the West Side of Chicago.

Doris and the women went door-to-door. They asked mothers about what improvements they wanted in the neighborhood. The mothers wanted the same things mothers today want: better opportunities for their kids. Their specific needs included preschools, a library and an after school program for girls.

The lack of after school programming for girls ignited Doris’ philanthropic mindset.

This particular neighborhood had a great deal of support from the Better Boys Foundation. There was a dedicated facility and various activities set up for the boys of the neighborhood. After school, boys went to the facility where they were involved in sports and job/career training programs. But for girls, there was nothing; no programs, no sports, no activities. In fact, when Doris went to local organizations to ask about providing programs for the girls, she was told that her complaint was valid, but little would be done for the girls. The program and facility was strictly for boys.

“The mindset in the 60s was that the boys would grow up and have jobs, while girls would grow up and have families.  People said, “Why do girls need an after school program if their job was to be a mother and wife?” explained Doris.

Doris is concerned that the vestiges of that mindset still linger today.  And, given the fact that only 7.3 percent of philanthropic dollars are directed to programs designed to serve women and girls, she might be right.

Throughout the years, Doris has grown as a philanthropist and this year, she made a truly transformative gift to CFW. She committed $1 million dollars to launch the “Doris & Howard Conant Fund for Women’s Rights at Chicago Foundation for Women.” The Doris & Howard Conant Fund will provide multi-year support to innovative organizations using advocacy to advance and secure women’s rights in the Chicago metropolitan region.

“I made this gift hoping it might inspire other women. Women need to be bold in their philanthropy.  You might not think you can do this, but you can.” said Doris.

Maria Pesqueira, President and CEO of Mujeres Latinas en Accion, a CFW grantee
For Maria Pesqueira, the process of being a philanthropist started with her professional work in the nonprofit industry. For over 10 years, Maria has served as the president and CEO of Mujeres Latinas en Accion (Mujeres) which empowers Latinas through providing services which reflect their values and culture and being an advocate on the issues that make a difference in their lives.

Maria has dedicated her career to “working in the community, for the community” and sees that the primary way to create change is through advocacy.”

“It is important to me to be in the middle where I can help strengthen women’s voices that aren’t being heard, in particular, women of color,” said Maria. “As a philanthropist, I use my time and money to advocate for women because decision making and prevention starts with a mother.”

Maria believes that “philanthropy” is a conscious choice that a person makes about how he or she can make an impact through their time and money. She practices what she preaches. Although she holds an important role as the leader of a nonprofit, Maria also serves on the boards of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Community Memorial Foundation and La Raza.

Maria intentionally dedicates her career and life to work with communities of color. “Women of color are a big part of the future of America and we need to equip them with stronger resources.” Maria’s philanthropic vision consists of empowering women, helping them obtain economic security and training them to become change agents that will uplift others. 

Wendy Manning, board member and chair-elect

Wendy Manning believes that CFW helps fulfill a key function in her life. She sees philanthropy as is  part of her legacy in the world, especially for young professional women. 

When Wendy graduated from college, she was hungry for female role models and examples of leadership. She wondered, what does an African American female business leader who is committed to service look like. Wendy came to realize that the role model she was in search of was already inside her. With that new awareness, Wendy made a decision to dedicate her time, gifts and resources to developing leadership within herself and in the service of women and girls.

For over 10 years, Wendy has been a volunteer and advocate of CFW.  She has been a supporter of luncheons and other events and now serves on the board o f directors. Wendy’s  next “job” will be as the board chair for CFW where she hopes to connect her professional talents to supporting an organization that has given her an opportunity to live her  vision to make a difference in the world.

“I see my using my gifts and resources within CFW as a way to develop as a philanthropist and a leader. Being part of CFW’s work has helped me to leverage my gifts and resources while continuing to develop as a leader.  My philanthropy has also strengthened me professionally and with my personal mentoring of young women professionals." 

Munira Patel, co-chair of the Asian American Leadership Council
Munira Patel joined CFW as a way to satisfy her personal need to give back. With both of her children out of the house, Munira was in search of a closer connection to her community. As a medical doctor, she didn’t have a lot of free time, but decided that the time she did have was to be focused on women and girls.

Munira was invited to and attended a CFW house party. It was at the event that she learned more about the organization and its work.  Munira was especially interested in CFW’s leadership councils: five affinity groups comprised of compassionate, energetic and powerful women who pool their resources and direct those funds to organizations addressing the needs within their respective communities.

 “I wanted a hands-on experience where I could be a part of a community and see where my time and money were going,” said Munira. “Most importantly, I wanted to focus on Chicago, my home, where the need touches us all.”

In 2011, Munira chaired the Annual Breaking Barriers event which is hosted by the Asian American Leadership Council. She described the experience as “electric.”

“The women that were being honored were so impressive and dedicated to community service. They inspired me and my guests to do and give more,” said Munira.

Munira has since taken on a leadership role as the co-chair of the Asian American Leadership Council at CFW. All the events and meetings provided her an opportunity to bond and meet other Asian American women who have the same interest and dedication to women and girls. The Leadership Council also gave her the chance to learn how to fundraise and be part of grantmaking.

“CFW prepares you for the world of philanthropy by making the process easier to navigate and understand,” explained Munira. “Really, anyone can be a philanthropist.”