Cover Stories

Opening Doors: Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis

There’s an old saying that goes, If you want something done, ask a woman. That’s precisely what a group of local women did when they noticed that less than 8 percent of charitable giving in the U.S. goes to nonprofits benefiting women. It didn’t seem fair, so they banded together to start Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis (WFGSTL), an all-volunteer organization dedicated to raising money for programs that benefit women and girls. “We make sure women’s voices are heard by offering a network for those interested in funding women’s issues,” says executive director Julie Lawson. “Empowering women strengthens communities.”

Established in 2007, WFGSTL invests in programs that stabilize at-risk women and their children. “Our focus is on education, economic development, shelters for homeless or abused women, and job training and career mentoring,” Lawson explains. Grantees are chosen based on community dialogue, extensive research and prioritization of local needs, she adds.

The foundation also acts to educate women at all income levels about philanthropic giving. “We’re a solution for donors who want to support women’s issues, but need a little guidance to optimize their giving,” Lawson says. “We connect human and financial resources to agencies with a proven track record of solving problems.” Recent area grantees receiving up to $5,000 include ALIVE, which provides counseling, emergency sanctuary and services to abused women and children; Lydia’s House, which provides transitional housing to women who have experienced domestic violence; and Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois.

WFGSTL is part of the Women’s Funding Network, 160 funds worldwide that raise money, provide support and share ideas. The Network’s Women Moving Millions campaign, launched in 2006, has generated more than $180 million in gifts from private donors. Women’s funds here and abroad give away about $60 million annually; WFGSTL raises about $50,000 a year.

“Even though interest in philanthropy by and for women is growing, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before we achieve economic empowerment, employability and better lives for all women and their children,” Lawson says. “That’s why philanthropic and economic education is so important.” WFGSTL presents Making a Difference: Lilly Ledbetter, Oct. 1 at Hilton St. Louis Frontenac. Ledbetter filed a historic gender-pay discrimination suit, Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., that went all the way to the Supreme Court, eventually resulting in the Fair Pay Restoration Act of 2009. She is co-author of Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond.

Ledbetter never won restitution from Goodyear, but her fight opened doors for other women. “That’s what we’re striving toward at WFGSTL,” Lawson says. “We invite more women to join us in the important work of changing the social landscape for women and girls. Investing in the potential of change led by women can’t help but have a positive impact on our region, our nation and our world. As women empower themselves, their capacity to help others deepens.”

Pictured: WFGSTL president Jill Nowak with Lilly Ledbetter’s book.
Photo by Colin Miller of Strauss Peyton

[Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis presents Making a Difference: Lilly Ledbetter, Oct . 1 at Hilton St. Louis Frontenac. Ledbetter is an equal-pay activist. For tickets, visit]