Nonprofit of the Month: Soroptimist International of Phoenix

Soroptimist International of Phoenix is celebrating 100 years of ensuring that all women and girls have the proper resources and opportunities to reach their full potential. Here, past president Paula Norby discusses how the pandemic has impacted the all-volunteer organization, how education access affects a wide number of issues that impact women and how readers can help.

What prompted the start of the nonprofit? Soroptimist International of Phoenix (SIP) was formed in 1921 in Oakland, Calif., at a time when women were not permitted to join service organizations. Our name, loosely translated from Latin, means “best for women.” Today, we have about 30,000 members and supporters in more than 120 countries.

What is the greatest reward in being involved with the nonprofit? “Girls’ education is first and foremost a fundamental human right, but it’s also the most powerful force in our hands to ensure significant improvements in health, stimulate economic growth, achieve gender equality, unlock the innovation we need to build more resilient and sustainable societies.” -Director General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, July 2019

We know through our educational partnerships, our grants and our scholarships, we are truly making a difference in our communities. A quality education, more than any other intervention, holds the greatest potential to transform the lives of women and girls. Access to education addresses the many other issues that impact women, including domestic violence, trafficking, teen dating violence, homelessness, teen pregnancy and sexual assault.  

What is the biggest challenge the nonprofit faces? Has the pandemic affected the needs of SIP? Our biggest challenge currently is the ability to do fundraising events. Typically, our fundraisers have been in-person events such as LUNAFEST Film Festival, Phoenix Theater nights, our Sip and Savor wine tasting and other in-person events. We had to pivot during COVID and figure out how to do online fundraising, something we were unfamiliar with. Our members figured out how to do online events and fundraisers such as moving the film festival online and doing online raffles.  

We also realized that due to the pandemic the need to help women and girls was greater than ever. Our Live your Dream awardees, in particular, are women head of household who are continuing their education. These cash awards can be used to offset the additional costs of education, such as childcare and transportation expenses.  

We also saw a great need for scholarships for women and girls to either start or continue their educational journeys. We have significantly increased our grants and scholarships numbers due to the increased need but still couldn’t provide scholarships to all the qualified applicants. For example, we had 40 applicants for our Women Investing in Successful Education scholarships but could only award 13 scholarships.  

Some rather notable names have been members of SIP. Why do you think SIP appealed to the likes of Sandra Day O’Connor? I think I’ll refer back to some quotes by Sandra Day O’Connor over the course of her service to our country and how her viewpoint is consistent with the mission of Soroptimists.

 “We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone.” –Sandra Day O’Connor

Our collective impact in serving over 120 women and girls this year through our educational programs, scholarships and grants is done by all of our members working together. For example, we brought in 12 career women as speakers during our yearlong Dream It Be It program. Everyone in the club is anxious to share their knowledge and their network. We had a scientist from the Biosphere speak to our group last year as well as a young woman who grew up in Phoenix but is now a fashion designer in London and our own members who are successful judges and entrepreneurs. We work together and accomplish much together. We have no paid staff, so all of our work is done by tireless volunteers dedicated to bettering the lives of women and girls.

“I care very much about women and their progress. I didn’t go march in the streets, but when I was in the Arizona Legislature, one of the things that I did was to examine every single statute in the state of Arizona to pick out the ones that discriminated against women and get them changed.” –Sandra Day O’Connor

While some of our members may march in the streets, we all try to be informed participatory citizens in our community. We have monthly programs on topics such as climate change, water issues, sex trafficking, immigration, foster care programs and upcoming legislative issues, to name a few. We have hosted events for our community such as Systemic Racism: A Community Conversation. We are advocates for human rights and gender equality. Globally, our membership work on grassroots projects that help women and girls achieve their individual and collective potential, realize aspirations and have an equal voice in communities worldwide. By being informed, we can speak out when we see gender inequities and human rights violations.

What are your goals for 2022? In order to continue to serve over 100 women yearly, we will need to increase our fundraising efforts. Next year, we will continue with our yearlong mentoring Dream It Be It program at the Girls Leadership Academy as well as our scholarship and grant programs. The number of awards is always dependent on fundraising. Our fundraising goes directly to providing educational opportunities for women and girls.

How can readers help? We are always looking for women who are committed to our mission of providing women and girls with access to education and training that they need to achieve economic empowerment to join our organization. We cannot accomplish this alone.

We also need support for our fundraising events from local businesses and individuals in the form of sponsorships and donations of goods, services or in kind. There are opportunities to be a sponsor of our LUNAFEST Film Festival and to donate items for our raffle.

Does the foundation have any events or fundraisers on the horizon? Our major fundraiser is LUNAFEST on Oct. 30, 2022. LUNAFEST features a program of short films that empower and inspire. The event will be at the Madison Performing Arts Center from 2 to 4 p.m. For those that cannot attend the in-person event, there will also be an opportunity to purchase tickets for online viewing. Along with the film festival, there will be opportunities to support Soroptimist International of Phoenix by purchasing raffle tickets.  

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