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Wealthy women give to women

Helen LaKelly Hunt of Women Moving Millions aspires to raise $150 million by next spring.

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Helen and Swanee (director of the Women and Public Policy program at Harvard University) kicked it off with a joint $10 million gift. Donations have since reached $105 million.

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Some donors are getting involved for the first time. A woman in New Hampshire read about the launch, located a women's fund in her state, and anonymously committed to giving $250,000 a year for four years, Hunt says.

Cecilia Boone, whose husband founded the Container Store, has given $1 million to the Dallas Women's Foundation; Sheila Johnson, cofounder of Black Entertainment Television, is donating $3 million to the Women's Sports Foundation. Barbara Dobkin, a prominent supporter of Jewish and feminist causes through the Dobkin Family Foundation, has given $1 million each to three funds.

"Women are not victims, but part of the solution," Ms. Dobkin says. "Until they are able to come to the table and voice what they need, we'll never succeed."

Those in the women's funding movement stress the importance of cross-class, cross-race collaboration.

"In the traditional model, philanthropists have the answers and bestow money on people in need," Hunt says. "Women's funds raise money all along the socioeconomic spectrum, and boards are composed of many of the grantees – it democratizes philanthropy."

Working together after hurricane Katrina, WFN and Ms. Foundation joined five women's funds along the Gulf Coast to unlock $125 million in rehabilitation grants, build 630 affordable-housing units, and train 150 women for new careers.

The funds often catalyze new programs as well as create local networks in a city that strengthen benefits across programs.

In Florida, the Women's Fund of Miami-Dade County, for instance, helped launch a program in 2004 to help girls "aging out" of the foster-care system. Children who are never adopted are just dropped on their own into society after they turn 18. Often without sound life skills, the women are particularly vulnerable to prostitution, incarceration, pregnancy, and violence.

"The majority of the women we've served have had from 10 to 25 foster-care placements" during their childhood, says Sharon Katz, program director for Casa Valentina.

"If you want collaboration and mutual respect in the world, we have to put that to work in our organizations," Hunt says.

Women Moving Millions aims to give wealthy women not used to writing big checks the opportunity for their own "gulp moment."

"Donors' lives are transformed when you move into friendship in a context like this," Hunt says from personal experience. "It's really joyful ... to connect with the human family."