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The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio celebrates its 15th birthday this year, and President and CEO Nichole Dunn has been at the helm the past eight years.

Dunn came to the Women’s Fund after working as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor with high school students with high-risk behavior. She saw the opportunity to be a needed voice for a different stigmatized population with the Women’s Fund: women and girls. She is magnifying that voice with an increased focus on advocacy both locally and nationally.

Dunn also takes pride in the success of the Women’s Fund in uniting and empowering central Ohio women through philanthropy. The organization’s Keyholder event will welcome 2,500 women to the Ohio Theatre on Tuesday evening to hear from actress, singer and former Miss America Vanessa Williams.

Q: Now celebrating its 15th birthday, what progress has the Women’s Fund made towards its mission?

A: We’ve created a democratized space for women to view themselves as philanthropists. It’s about women having a voice and understanding that they can create influence and therefore have leadership and power with their philanthropic giving. And when we talk about philanthropy, it’s time, talent and/or treasure. And at any point in your life, you’re going to have more or less of those three things to give. It is looked at equally.

We went from 14 founders who were women of wealth and philanthropic influence, to our annual event being 2,500 people with a $50 general-admission ticket. One of the most fantastic things a woman can have is that equity of voice and philanthropic power to create change.

Q: How is the Women’s Fund different from other nonprofits?

A: Our founders realized looking around that there are all of these issues and nonprofits doing incredible work, and so much of it is focused on the most immediate and urgent need, which is critical and necessary. But they asked, “What if we could figure out how to prevent these things from happening and get ahead of it and change systems?” We want to figure out the long-change, root-cause, systemic solutions to shifting behavior, shifting policies, reframing issues. That way we don’t have such growth of immediate, basic-need issues.

Q: What are your goals for the future of the Women’s Fund?

A: Continued, targeted efforts around advocacy to create systemic change. I foresee that our grant slate will change. For example, we now have League of Women Voters and Innovation Ohio as two grant partners. To me, that’s just a flavor of how we’re changing our work now that many people understand what social change is. I want to continue increasing funding that drives social-change efforts both on policy change, but also the engagement in the community to understand how research can inform business culture and government policy. I also see us raising investments for more research to be done.

Q: How is the Women’s Fund different from other nonprofits?

A: Our founders realized looking around that there are all of these issues and nonprofits doing incredible work, and so much of it is focused on the most immediate and urgent need, which is critical and necessary. But they asked, “What if we could figure out how to prevent these things from happening and get ahead of it and change systems?” We want to figure out the long-change, root-cause, systemic solutions to shifting behavior, shifting policies, reframing issues. That way we don’t have such growth of immediate, basic-need issues.

Q: What are your goals for the future of the Women’s Fund?

A: Continued, targeted efforts around advocacy to create systemic change. I foresee that our grant slate will change. For example, we now have League of Women Voters and Innovation Ohio as two grant partners. To me, that’s just a flavor of how we’re changing our work now that many people understand what social change is. I want to continue increasing funding that drives social-change efforts both on policy change, but also the engagement in the community to understand how research can inform business culture and government policy. I also see us raising investments for more research to be done.

Q: How strong of a focus is economic security for the Women’s Fund?

A: This a tier-one priority focus. We know the endgame is going to be elevating advocacy efforts for that. To clarify, we’re not lobbying. For example, we met with the new mayor, Andy Ginther, and made the request that, “in your administration, we request of you to start a women’s commission.” Within two weeks, we’re sitting down with Mrs. Ginther, and four weeks later at the State of the City, he’s announcing that there will be a Women’s Commission in leadership with the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. That’s how we’re advocating; that’s how we’re making change.

Q: How do you choose the high-profile speakers to headline your Keyholder event?

A: We work with a speakers’ bureau and have a sound, strong committee of individuals to find someone who is a woman with an incredible story to tell that is a good complement and echo of the work we’re spotlighting this year. We look for someone iconic who can resonate with both individuals and corporate sponsors.

Vanessa Williams will speak to her desire to be known for her talents when she was up against the challenge of being known for fame. It’s also what she will be able to speak to about understanding the gender norms and biases that we’re up against as women. What she has had to do to prove herself over and over again, both as a woman and as a black woman.

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