Federations Womens Alliance celebrates 50 years

In the early days of the Women’s Alliance, then known as the Women’s Division, a donation from a woman was thought of as icing on the cake. If a man gave $5,000, his wife would be contacted, and if she gave even $100 it was considered “plus” giving.

Times have changed.

“Today women are forces in their own right,” said Janet Gallin, a past president of the Women’s Alliance of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

In fact, the Women’s Alliance raised 20 percent of the federation’s annual campaign last year, which amounted to $5 million dollars.

The Women’s Alliance will celebrate its 50th anniversary Thursday, May 31 at its annual meeting in San Francisco.

“Women’s philanthropy is vital in terms of maintaining and building community because women’s attitudes set a tone in the home,” said Joelle Steefel, a past president.

Steefel joined the Women’s Alliance 20 years ago. She’s since moved on to other elements of federation work, but is grateful to the Women’s Alliance for serving as a springboard to other leadership roles.

“I really credit the Women’s Division with bringing me in and making me feel a part of the community,” she said.

Gallin’s story is somewhat the opposite. She volunteered for the federation’s general campaign 35 years ago. On a whim, she took home a list of people who’d expressed interest in donating but didn’t have time to talk on the phone. She called them back. The next week, she called 20 more. The president of the Women’s Division was impressed and asked Gallin if she’d like to join.

“She made it sound like I had been elected to parliament. I was so flattered,” Gallin recalled. It turned out to be a good choice. “I loved being in a big group of Jewish women. It made me feel safe and surrounded by intelligence.”

Philanthropy and fundraising is certainly the cornerstone of the Women’s Alliance. But as Gallin pointed out, there is a social element as well.

“It’s not just, pop in for an hourlong meeting where it’s all business and leave immediately,” Steefel said.

According to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, an educational foundation based in Rochester, Mich., women are changing philanthropy as they acquire more assets and gain more clout.

For one, their leadership styles are different. The Institute has found that women like to have direct involvement in the causes they support. They don’t want to simply write a check and take the tax deduction. They usually prefer to be part of a larger campaign rather than make isolated donations, and they are not as responsive as men are to fundraising tactics that pressure contributors to match others’ gifts, according to the Institute.

That’s partly why Eve Cohen, current president of the Women’s Alliance, organized the first women’s Mission to Israel. Twenty-five women traveled to the Jewish state in March for sightseeing — but also to see their dollars in action.

“It was the apex of my year,” Cohen said.

The highlight of the trip, she said, was visiting Lakeya, a Bedouin village. There, federation dollars have helped support an early childhood education program for Bedouin children, many of whom would have no other opportunity to go to school. The visitors toured the new school and met with the children and their mothers.

“It’s amazing to see how dollars translated into hope,” Cohen said.

Women’s Alliance Annual Meeting and 50th Anniversary Celebration takes place 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday, May 31 at St. Francis Yacht Club, 700 Marina Blvd., S.F. Admission is $50. For more information, call (415) 512-6217.

East Bay group making strides

Like their sisters in San Francisco, East Bay Jewish women are making great inroads in federation fundraising.

The Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay is just $35,000 shy of its $1.18 million campaign goal, which represents about 30 percent of the federation’s general fundraising pool.

“Women definitely lead in the East Bay,” said Patti Schneider, women’s division director. “We’re absolutely about raising money and getting more women involved philanthropically, but it’s also about community building and the meaningful relationships the women make.”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.