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Board Members Retire June 30, 2022


Gwen Wesley
Spirit of St. Louis Women's Fund, MO

Gwen came to the Philanos Board, and the Board went to her because of her expertise in strategic planning.  Founder Vicki Sheehan was instrumental in this match, and they both are members of Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund.  Gwen came on the board in 2019 to craft a strategic plan during a period of rebranding and renewal, and six months into her work, the pandemic hit.  

Gwen describes her three years as a board member as a “humbling experience.”  Because of the factors above, the strategic planning process took longer to complete than she first anticipated, but it was obviously needed and necessary.   While somewhat surprised by the length of time needed to complete the full project with a national team working virtually, Gwen shared that being part of this group of smart women who listened carefully, participated in and supported her efforts, was uplifting.  She was also amazed to meet other women across the country who got involved in her committee and worked on it, fully buying into the process.  There was a level of cross-pollination for this plan that deliberately included the varied committees focused on the work of this national network.

She is proudest of her work on our “We are stronger together”  statement and felt that the board adopting this statement solidified the “heart of who we are.”  She felt our statement of solidarity in the summer of 2021 reflected on our values and shows that we (Philanos) stand on who we say we are.

She noted that being on the board during a time of upheaval and change led her to believe that the board has come through their rebranding, the pandemic, and the backdrop of the social justice movement to a better place.  She feels that she leaves a board that is bringing open hearts and open minds, as well as listening ears and ready hands to the changes coming about in women’s philanthropy.

In looking forward, Gwen feels that Philanos will realize its role as a partner with other collectives and networks, and that our contributions on the national level will be felt regionally and locally.  She hopes that our messaging will be consistent across all groups, even while our focus remains on women’s collective giving.  She hopes to see more diverse partnerships that focus equitably.  She also sees our network becoming more involved in the advocacy piece – taking full advantage of a collective of women across the country to work on a prioritized list of philanthropic issues.  She acknowledges we need to build trust on all sides to advocate for something together – but wonders if we can take full advantage of the ability we have to do this, and to make lasting change.


Karen Holly
Impact 100 Indianapolis, IN

Karen Holly, like retiring board member Avani, has also served for two terms (six years) on the Philanos Board – beginning when it was still the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network (WCGN).  Karen is a past president of her affiliate, Impact 100 Indianapolis, where she demonstrated a real heart for membership as their membership chair.  

Karen has been instrumental in helping our network engage its affiliate leadership through direct conversations as well as fostering new connections with groups interested in joining with us.  Karen also served on our education committee under Dale Clifford and helped chair that committee as it transitioned to a larger education/resource library entity requiring dual chairs.  

Karen’s mettle and quiet strength were on full display for her fellow board members during the COVID pandemic.  Karen oversees operations of the Marion County Public Health Department in Indianapolis, IN and her dedication to their clients throughout was exemplary.  We hope she will get more time for her work in minority health issues and some fan time following her local sports teams!


Avani Desai
100 Women Strong, FL

Avani has served on the Philanos Board for six years, aiding in marketing and communications, and chairing technology.  She is a member and past co-chair of 100 Women Strong, Orlando, FL.

Avani credits Paula Liang, past Chair of Philanos, for bringing her onto our national board.  Avani was, at that time, President of her affiliate, 100 Women Strong in Orlando, FL, when Paula engaged with her around the planning of the national WCGN conference in Jacksonville in 2017.  She was recruited to the board to assist with technology, social media and building a partnership for DEI work among their affiliates.  

Avani recalls that Paula was very forward-thinking in her goals and leadership style and allowed her a great deal of autonomy in implementing new technologies and building out a social media presence where none existed.  She loved working with women-centered organizations and having the trust to do what she knew best.  She is proud of the technology stack that has been implemented during her six years on the board and shared that she would not have believed a couple years ago that this board would embrace new technology so well and be robustly communicating internally via Slack!

Avani believes that women are just starting to realize the impact, at all levels, of giving collectively and sees such collective responses as a growing part of all nonprofit giving.  Nonprofits are realizing the value of engaging with collective givers, not just for the money they receive, but for the intellectual and reputational capital that can accompany that giving.  

She feels that the greatest power for the future of collective giving lies with first identifying the issue that a group wishes to fund, and then building collaboration between multiple funders and nonprofits addressing that concern—a model that her affiliate, 100 Women Strong, has deployed in Orlando.  She is proud that her affiliate is a female-only, venture capital based giving circle that focuses on solving community-based problems specific to women and children based on data analytics and big data.

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