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've Learned

We practice what we preach: learn, practice, reflect, adapt, and 'round again.

Snapshot, 1994:
GBF is a brand-new foundation, trying out a model of hybrid family and community philanthropy, and a hands-on Board approach. Our style is exuberant, ambitious, risk-taking, and unbound by conventions of giving.

Our work in the emerging field of girls' human rights includes:

  • expansive grantmaking, small grants, and an exclusive focus on girls-only programming.
  • a goal to support social change work that has community impactand also changes the lives of groups of girls -- but so far, there's little local girls activism.
  • 10-percent add-ons to our grants, recognizing that evaluation takes resources.
  • We want to be informed by girls, so we're thinking about girls' grantmaking, girls on our Board, statewide research that includes girls.
  • We will commission a review of grantee findings biannually.

Snapshot, 2005:
As a mature grantmaker, GBF confidently relies on our tested governance and staff model. Our style is more disciplined yet still ambitious, and we’ve drawn from and informed others' giving practices. We still take smart risks to help drive our mission forward. We see and hear about the impact of our money and work in a field that’s grown and become stronger.

We are:

  • making more focused, layered, and larger grants.
  • funding a statewide advocacy campaign, a girls coalition, an increasing amount of youth community activism, and research and development for a new youth organizing school with a gender lens.
  • funding a mix of gender-conscious programs and organizations.
  • continuing the 10 percent evaluation add-on.
  • training and coaching grantees with our youth worker-friendly evaluation and fundraising programs.
  • employing an array of nonfinancial approaches to build grantee capacity and impact.
  • hosting a young women's grantmaking and social change program.
  • using research we commissioned to illuminate best practices of girls' programs and suggest how they can be strengthened.
  • beginning a large-scale organizational evaluation.
  • planning GBF's close at the end of 2007.

Listening to Girls

Any organization promoting girls and young women's strengths had better have ways to learn what girls think and want!

GBF created Sisters Empowering Sisters (SES) in 1997. SES was conceived as a girl advisory program, then a grantmaking program, and its earliest slogan -- It's a Partnership, not a Power Trip! -- hints at the pride Sisters took in creating a solidly girl-friendly project. In recent years, SES has emphasized special opportunities for the Sisters to stretch their skills and community connections. SES remains the vehicle for girls’ voices inside GBF. Learn more about the SES program.

One respondent suggested that GBF's integrity in serving girls was enhanced by the program because it was not "six degrees removed from girls or community." --from our 2004 communications audit

In 2002 GBF released a report: Speak for Yourself: What Girls Say about What Girls Need. Commissioned by GBF, research was designed to focus GBF's funding; encourage girl-friendly programming, funding, and policymaking; benefit girls in the here and now; and inspire further research.

Speak for Yourself involved girls' inquiring into their own lives and communities, and their voices are highlighted in the report. Girls from three Chicago-area programs and from Champaign-Urbana, Woodstock, and Rockford, Illinois were both co-researchers and subjects. The girls, like the programs of which they were a part, were a diverse lot.

The findings are summarized in an executive summary (PDF, 287k) that offers tips for how to assess if a program is girl-friendly, and suggestions for best supporting girls as they develop.

The full report (PDF, 797k) elegantly details findings about the challenges girls encounter and ways adults in girls programs can honor girls' strengths. Research methodology, demographic data, and the research instruments are also provided.

"The findings are not surprising, but useful -- to make the case for what we do. When you're working in the field, you know it intuitively but it helps to see if formally, official. Made me think. I work with girls but didn't study adolescent development. I'm looking for ways to fill that part of information. It's a great resource." --from our 2004 communications audit

Listening to Grantees

GBF makes a habit of asking the people in the organizations and programs we fund to tell us how we're doing and what they'd like from us. Happily, we hear a lot!

We hired an outside consultant to survey and meet with grantees to ask for feedback and suggestions about GBF's grantmaking processes. In 2001, grantees had an enormous impact on GBF that resulted in many major changes. These included:

  • simplification of all grant application materials and processes
  • addition of a second grants cycle in the year, helping us nearly double our giving
  • larger grants and multiyear grants

Respondents affirmed and challenged our forthright agenda for feminist social change:

"[Their mission] is tremendous and fairly unique. GBF takes its mission seriously, and the board is eager to be innovative. They push the paradigm in the ways that they run themselves and see themselves as a work in progress. They seem eager to invent new ways of doing things and keep themselves honest."

"GBF is one of the few foundations with an agenda, a vision of the world…. This was a tough issue. We needed to maintain our own focus on our own mission. They wanted us to make girls more central to our own mission."

  • GBF communications were the focus of a 2004 audit, also conducted by an independent consultant. Once again, findings dramatically reshaped some of GBF's practices -- this website, in particular, is responsive to what grantees and colleagues in philanthropy told us they want.
  • GBF regularly invites grantees to meet in groups to talk, question, begin to articulate good practice, and help develop new resources and training. Recent topics of grantee exchanges: negotiating adult/youth relationships (LINK TO YOUTH WORKER TO YOUTH WORKER WISDOM), what gender consciousness looks like (LINK TO SAME), and the Safe Space Toolkit .
  • High-engagement philanthropy means grantee staff and GBF staff talk often and regularly about what is happening in our respective organizations and about new challenges and unanticipated opportunities that are cropping up. We all ask questions to stay on top of what we are all doing with and for girls and young women.
Listening to Other Grantmakers

Thanks to all the many colleagues in philanthropy who have taught and teach us so much.

GBF staff members are engaged in local and national philanthropy in an effort to learn from and with others.  We meet in places such as the Donors Forum of Chicago and conferences: Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.

Working as Grantmaking Partners

When funders pool dollars and decision-making, our impact is exponentially increased. Cooperative learning with other grantmakers is equally powerful, with lasting effects.

GBF has partnered with the Crossroads Fund and Chicago Foundation for Women since 2003 in the Safe Space Project. Our goals have been to learn together and to increase practices that welcome and includelesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning youth in community-based youth programs.  

GBF was one of a dozen Chicago foundations to participate in the national Healthy Girls/Healthy Women Collaborative Fund organized by the Ms. Foundation for Women. We later joined the Fund for Youth-Led Social Change, another Ms.-initiated venture. In both, GBF has learned much more than we’ve contributed, and had the particular benefit of learning about powerful programs around the US. Much exciting learning is captured in online publications that define the essentials of girls/youth social change and programming, and youth-friendly approaches to social change evaluation methods.


Subscribe to Girl's Best Friend's e-newsletter

First Name:
Last Name:
Email Address:
I want to receive mailings from Girl's Best Friend Foundation

P: 312-266-2842
tty: 800-526-0844
900 North Franklin, Suite 210
Chicago, IL 60610

Privacy policy
Site map