Meg Smith: Ten Incredible Years
One of the primary reasons I was interested in the Women’s Fund job 10 years ago was because it was a part of the Vermont Community Foundation. I knew then, and know even more now, how important the VT Community Foundation is to the vitality of our state on so many levels. At the time, I knew the VCF worked with nonprofits, but I came to learn that the VCF provides foundational support to the nonprofit community in every county of the state. And, at the same time, connects donors to organizations which turns into a win/win for Vermonters at large.
Working as the director of the Women’s Fund has been one of the most exciting and rewarding positions I’ve ever held. What I didn’t expect was that it would turn into such a passion of mine! I came to this job with all the right credentials: a women’s studies major in college, one of four daughters in a very female-centric household, and some great working experience in media communications as well as serving on several nonprofit boards. But it was through the work of our grantees, that I saw firsthand how hard it can be for women and girls living in a rural state in a rural economy. That’s when the mission of the Women’s Fund took on new meaning for me.
Those systemic barriers and the economic challenges lit a fire under me. Well, I can’t leave out a past U.S. president who belittled and derided women as sex objects—yeah, that really got under my skin. Add in the #MeToo movement and even the pandemic: it all gave me a sense of purpose and an even deeper drive to make Vermont a better place for women and girls to rise and thrive.
In reflecting on the growth and accomplishments of the Women’s Fund over the last ten years, some of the things I am most proud—and humbled—to be a part of include our past partnership initiative, Change The Story. Tiff Bluemle and Jessica Nordhaus, along with Al Johnson-Kurts and Lindsey Lathrop Ryan created a series of data reports in 2016 on women’s economic status here in Vermont that launched a movement across Vermont. The power of that data is still being felt in policy and workplace practices. Change The Story created the first accurate picture of how women in Vermont were surviving economically, and it laid the groundwork for the next major initiative that the Women’s Fund launched in 2021 called This Way UP: there’s power in our numbers.
Up until now, no one could tell you how many of the 81,000+ businesses registered in Vermont were women-owned—that gendered data didn’t exist. Change The Story discovered this gap and today, This Way UP is trying to fill it. With a dynamic website and survey created by the genius of Marguerite Dibble and Shannon Mitchell of GameTheory, we have counted and mapped over 3,275 businesses that have female-identified ownership. These drivers of our economy have been invisible up until now, but no longer.
Change The Story and This Way UP are tremendous examples of how philanthropy can be deployed to make substantive social and economic change. And I could not be prouder that it was the Women’s Fund dollars—and the generosity of donors across the state and beyond—that moved the needle on behalf of women and girls. I’ve also had the enduring support of my Vermont Community Foundation colleagues every step of the way in our work.
I am also proud to have been able to witness the incredible work of the Women’s Fund Council, the dedicated group of people who guide our grantmaking, and much of our activity. This group supported my efforts to double our endowment from $3M to $6M, which will have a lasting impact on the strength of the Women’s Fund. When I first started, we were giving out just over$100,000 in grants and this year we hit a record-setting total of $412,135.
And in addition to the council, there were so many women—and men—who have made such an impact on me. I cannot even begin to thank everyone by name. Thank you for helping to guide me, inspire me, support me, and challenge me to think bigger than I ever imagined. It’s been an incredible ride and I will closely follow the next chapter for the Vermont Women’s Fund. I know there are so many amazing things still to come for women and girls in Vermont.
Visit our careers page to learn more about the role of Director of the Vermont Women's Fund.