New Group Wants To Be The “Spark” That Ignites Change For Women

By Laura Layden Naples Daily News, Fla.

It starts with a spark.

With its new initiative SparkSWFL, the Women's Foundation of Southwest Florida hopes to ignite change.

The idea is to get community leaders more involved in the giving process, allowing the new group's founding members to determine how the philanthropic dollars it raises are spent to help women and girls in need.

The group is modeled after Spark in San Francisco, California, a philanthropic network of young professionals who invest to improve the lives of women around the world. The organization here will have a much more narrow focus, concentrating on local needs and giving to local charities.

The founding leaders in SparkSWFL will work together to determine how its grants are awarded and will research, identify and select new grant partners based on causes that are important to the community.

"This really gives ownership to people," said Dayhanna Acosta, CEO of Create SFN and the public engagement coordinator for the Women's Foundation.

Often, people donate money to charity and they never hear any feedback about how it's spent, with that decision left up to the nonprofit's executives or board of directors, she said.

"It's all about building the community and actually giving help where it's needed. The feedback is going to be given by the founding members. Those are the ones who are going to be making those decisions," Acosta said.

The group's goal was to have its 100 founders identified by Jan. 26. The count stood at 90 Tuesday morning, a day ahead of SparkSWFL's official launch.

The launch event, slated for Wednesday, is at the Vyne House at Talis Park in North Naples, from 8 to 9:30 a.m. More than 100 people are expected to attend. The keynote speaker is Teresa Younger, president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, and a well-respected feminist leader.

To find its initial members, SparkSWFL has targeted young professionals and people who are passionate about giving and want to get involved in the process of doling out grant money. For young professionals, like herself, it will offer a way to network and to improve leadership skills, with part of the money raised spent on leadership training for its members, Acosta said.

Founding members will each contribute $250 to support SparkSWFL's grants and its leadership development fund. The United Way of Collier County contributed $10,000 to help support the launch of the new initiative.

"We believe the best way to drive change in the community is to unite forces to address critical issues," said Steve Sanderson, president and CEO for the local United Way, in a statement.

Initially, SparkSWFL's grants will benefit the Pace Centers for Girls in Lee and Collier counties and Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida.

Membership in the new group will be capped at 200. How the group will recruit its next 100 members and how much they will pay for their annual memberships is still to be determined, Acosta said.

"The key part of the initiative is making sure the founding members have a say in how we do things and why we do things," she said. "So we think it's very important to get their feedback."

The Women's Foundation, a nonprofit focused exclusively on women and girls, has several key initiatives, including a microloan program for female entrepreneurs and a campaign aimed at stopping child sex trafficking. The foundation plans to build a $5 million endowment dedicated to the advancement of women and girls by 2020.

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