Volunteering: Heart and Soul of WGA

If grant making is the core function of the Women’s Giving Alliance, volunteering is our heart and soul. In addition to participating in WGA by making the all-important annual contribution, many WGA members spend countless hours as active volunteers, driven by a few similar motivations.

Jennifer Kowkabany is Co-chair of the Grants Decision Team, and Irene Phelps is her counterpart on the Grants Evaluation Team. Both echo the sentiment of WGA President Jan Healy, who says she volunteers “to pursue my passion to improve the lives of women and girls.” All three women volunteer because they want to make a difference.

Jennifer attended her first WGA Member Forum six years ago. She voted on the recommended grants but wanted to know more. “I wondered how that list of grantees was determined,” she says. So she joined the Grants Decision Team and began co-chairing three years ago. “I love the process,” she says. “I love being in the room where decisions are made.”

“Breaking the cycle of female poverty really connected with me,” Irene says. “I wanted to make a difference. This is what we come together to do.”

Both the Decision Team and the Evaluation Team have rigorous requirements and time commitments for volunteers. The Decision Team includes the Core Team, which receives the initial applications; Volunteer Readers, each of whom review some of the applications and give feedback; and the Finance Team, who review each applicant’s financials.

There are multiple meetings, starting with training in November and continuing through May. Some of these are mandatory. Jennifer, who has a full-time job, a husband who owns his own business and three elementary-age children, knows how demanding these requirements are. “I tell members of the committee, ‘This is your other job,’” she says. But she acknowledges that with higher commitment comes more satisfaction. “I love it,” she says, “It provides a sense of purpose.”

Irene agrees. “At first I served as a Volunteer Reader for the Grants Decision Team because that fit best into my schedule,” she says. But she wanted to learn more. When her schedule permitted, she joined the Evaluation Team and began to make site visits. “Reading the reports is only 2-dimensional,” she says. “Seeing the agencies in action makes the connection.”

Another commonality of volunteering is the opportunity to meet others. “When I started, I hardly new anyone in WGA,” Jennifer says. “It’s great to hear other women’s perspectives.”

Irene’s experience was similar. “When I moved to Jacksonville I didn’t know anything or anyone. I was glad to meet people in the community who were doing the hard work of change.”

Lastly, the volunteers agreed that the “heart and soul of WGA” has provided friendships and inspiration. “I’ve made some good friendships,” Jennifer says, “and I’m inspired by working with such intelligent women.”

“It’s made me more outgoing,” Irene says, “and I love being in Florida more. I really enjoy being challenged by other smart women.”

Jan Healy sums it up: “I’m blessed to have the time and resources to do what I love… and I get to do it with 400+ amazingly talented and engaging women!