Copyright 2005
Girl's Best Friend Foundation

Girl's Best Friend Foundation (GBF) closed November 2007. 
GBF’s records are archived with Special Collections of the University
of Illinois, Chicago.  In fall 2008, they will be made public:

How We Support Girls Programs

GBF is an effective supporter of programs and policies that ensure the power, well being, and self determination of girls and young women because it

Learning foundation

Being curious. Asks questions. Encourages girls, practitioners, and colleagues to speak candidly. Really, respectfully listening.

A learning foundation is mindful of the sometimes intense challenges of honest communication and does all possible to surmount them.

And it's about walking the walk. Therefore, GBF engages in, expects, and helps make it possible for grantees to practice:

  • periodic planning and review
  • asking and listening to those we serve about how we're doing
  • learning from mistakes as well as successes
  • talking about and acting on what needs to be improved
  • supporting learning opportunities for staff and Board
  • collaborating with others to share best/promising practices, learn together, and develop new approaches

"It is seen as a learning organization and one that understands that 'everything doesn't always go as planned.'"- from our 2004 communication audit

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High-engagement model of philanthropy

GBF's evolution into this model began with a donor eager to learn from and with activists, youth workers, and girls. From the first board to the current structure, GBF directors, staff, and Sisters have made it a point to get to know those in groups we fund, to broadcast useful information, to act on what grantees and other practitioners tell us, and to help make connections to strengthen girls programming.

As an organization that uses a high-engagement model of philanthropy, our program officers:

  • have a small portfolio of grantees
  • seek to develop strong, trusting relationships with the staff of each funded program
  • are charged with sharing and fostering the exchange of ideas, information, and connections with youth workers and other grantee staff, with each other, and with coworkers and colleagues
  • help convert unarticulated knowledge and practices into documentation that many can use
  • along with everyone at GBF, identify common resource gaps and great new ideas that GBF can consider helping fund, initiate, or promote

"GBF isn't six degrees removed from girls or community." -- from our 2004 communications audit

As GBF's closing approaches, we will begin to step back a bit from our high-engagement model to transition out of the field.

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Multidimensional model for building capacity

We believe we can best meet our mission by relying on a strategic model with two central and interlocking goals:

  1. Directly empower girls -- the most direct way to enable girls to be strong leaders for feminist social change.
  2. Strengthen not just organizations or programs, but also staff who work with girls, and the overall field of girls' programs

We use layered funding -- multiple kinds of grants -- and a variety of non-financial resources to support a range of organizational, program, and staff development needs and opportunities. We fund deep, to increase the long lasting, greater impact of grantees.

As a funder in this arena, we have developed a bird's-eye view that helps us see what's in place -- and what's missing. Thanks to this powerful perspective, GBF has helped generate new organizations and practices that help fill important gaps.

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Mission-driven, shared feminist leadership

Feminist leadership -- a work in progress here -- is central to our productivity, mutual respect, and professional satisfaction. As we see it, a feminist organization supports many kinds of leadership, by everyone involved. The conditions that make this most possible seem to be:

  • board, staff, and girls work as partners to fulfill GBF's goals
  • everyone is treated with respect and consideration
  • everyone is seen as and regularly experiences herself as a powerful part of the organization, with talents and insights that may transform and support the work as a leader
  • people with many identities, experiences, and styles are deliberately included in creative work as well as routine
  • all those in the organization share a commitment to social justice social change, including work against misogyny, racism, homophobia, ableism, classism, adultism, and all forms of supremacy, bias, and oppression
  • candor, problem-solving, and conflict resolution are encouraged
  • accomplishment is celebrated and failure is analyzed to inform future work
  • taking thoughtful risks is valued as creative and essential to our mission
  • workplace policies and practices support and make possible a balanced life

"Mission-driven" is the practice of using organizational mission as a touchstone for all organizational activities, plans, objectives, decisions, and evaluation.

GBF's feminist, social change mission is deliberately mirrored in our feminist leadership model.

An example:
Secrecy, behind-closed-doors deal-making, and anxiety ... or openness, equal treatment, and transparency -- which would you prefer if your organization planned to lay off all staff as it closed its doors?

As a group, GBF staff chose to presented a proposal to our Board of Directors about what we'd like as incentives to allow and encourage us to fulfill our responsibilities through the life of the foundation. Our staff conversation began haltingly.

By the second discussion, every staff person was able to speak more fully of her wishes and thoughts about closing. Together, we created a proposal that clarified our points of consensus and the priority we collectively assigned to various options.

We drew on one member's valuable experience with corporate layoffs and talked with outside experts. However, few nonprofits -- including foundations -- plan for closing, and there were limited precedents on which to draw.

In our third and final conversation, we affirmed the choices and what they represented, and reviewed a draft proposal to the board.

We laid out our requests in four main categories:

  • Layoff or termination notice
  • Severance pay and extended health insurance coverage
  • Milestone bonuses to be paid in the year before termination
  • Outplacement services, and paid time off for job search

We emphasized to the board that our interests were in remaining in our jobs as long as possible, while not putting ourselves in untenable positions. We requested that the board consider a range of months for severance and insurance and percentages for bonuses. We invited discussion.

Our proposal was first presented to four members of the board and then read by the full board in advance of GBF's annual retreat. Board members were enthusiastic about our process. Staff members were delighted to hear that board members found the proposal very respectful. We all understood that staff and board share commitments to doing our work well all the way through GBF's close and to communicating honestly with one another.

The board approved all aspects of the staff proposal and asked that we tell this story. They hope that other organizations will also rely on trust and respect to handle what could be difficult challenges, and that layoffs and closing that are often handled inhumanely can be made less painful.

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Grantmakers for Effective Organizations

If you work with incarcerated girls....

Highlights from a recent youth workers' conversation prompted by the screening of Girl Trouble:

  • Keep emphasizing an end to incarceration. Too often we talk about supporting incarcerated young people, not abolishing prisons. We must both respond to immediate needs and also act on our longer-term agenda for justice.
  • Talk candidly about young people who act violently. We must stop pretending it doesn't happen. Young people need to be supported in their lives, not ignored or judged when they come for support. Workers who want to help young people change their behavior don’t know what to do or where to go.
  • Find ways to talk with each other more often. We have many reasons for working with and for girls in the prison system. Those working in the system need to be invited to participate in conversations to make conditions better now, to advocate for alternatives, and to end incarceration.
  • Read the Bill of Health Rights for Incarcerated Girls, written by 50 girls in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. “We believe that the girls in JTDC should be able to see their children more than once a week and without a judge's special permission.”

    Read all 10 rights

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