The History of Women's Fund of Long Island

In 1990, some Long Island women, who met informally each month, turned their focus to a recent report revealing a disturbing fact – only 4 cents of every philanthropic dollar from U.S. corporations and foundations was used to address the specific needs of women and girls.

Also troubling was a statement from the same report that organizations with the word “woman” or “girl” were least likely to be selected for funding in a competitive process.

Given their backgrounds working with foundations and non-profits, the women turned their frustration into action and launched a year-long process of research and planning, building on a new phenomenon around the country – the emergence of foundations that specifically address women’s needs.  Through the vision and persistence of three women, Betty Schlein, Suzy Sonenberg and Barbara Strongin, and the generous support of philanthropist Joan Saltzman, the Women’s Fund of Long Island was born.

Dozens of women showed up to their first meeting to listen, speak and sign up for committees.  More than 100 women showed up for the next public meeting, and this time the founders passed a basket and asked for donations; $27,000 was raised that night.  House parties followed and the women involved began calling for “demonstration” grants to deserving organizations.

The first WFLI Breakfast to announce grant recipients and to honor a few special Long Island women who had achieved against the odds was intended to draw 150 women; attendance had to be cut off at 400.  This annual event now attracts almost 700 women each year.  Grants continue to be awarded, though the Women’s Fund’s work has expanded to include young women’s leadership initiatives and programs related to education and awareness about issues affecting women and girls.  The core mission, however, has stayed true to what was envisioned by the founders more than two decades ago.