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Conversations with Gretta Forrester-Gaffney

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gretta Forrester-Gaffney.

Hi Gretta, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Being philanthropic has always been a way of life for me, I owe my awareness of giving back and connecting to the community to my mother.

So, it is fitting that in 2008 she gifted me my first year of membership to The Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund, commonly called SOS. SOS is a women’s collective giving group where women pool their finances to provide more impactful grants to small local nonprofits. Our purpose is to support the vital work of local nonprofits who create safer, healthier, and more equitable communities.

In my first year as a member, I had school-age children and was fairly consumed by their activities, limiting my participation with SOS to education and social events and paying annual dues. As my time freed up, I became a more active member, and began to learn about the process by which SOS selects organizations to nominate for funding. As I learned more I found places within SOS where I could offer my expertise. Since my mother’s gift in 2008, I have continued to pay my annual dues and have been engaged at various levels and in many different aspects of the organization.

Currently, I am a board member and the chair of the Communications and Marketing committee. This committee supports all the other committees in structuring their public messaging and also develops marketing strategies to tell the stories of the impact SOS and its grantees have in the region.

Because we are an entirely volunteer-based organization it is even more important to have cohesive messaging strategies and to find ways of amplifying our work in the community.

More than ever non-profits need advocates and workarounds to help them respond to the additional needs presented by a global pandemic.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
SOS is a 100% volunteer-run and has tasked itself with educating its members about current best practices in philanthropy, and the specific needs in the St. Louis metro region. Since joining SOS, I have learned about many of the organizations that support underserved communities in the St. Louis region.

I think our biggest struggle is not being able to fund all of the non-profit organizations that are doing amazing work.

Presently, we are 200+ members and over the last 15 years have granted over 3 million dollars to more than 90 local non-profits. If we could grow our membership, we could fund more organizations.

We receive close to 200 letters of inquiry in each granting cycle and through our comprehensive vetting process we put 20 worthy organizations on the final ballot, of which we are only able to fund half. We, as an organization, believe that all twenty of these organizations meet our criteria for funding.

It would be amazing if we could fund them ALL every year!

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
My involvement with SOS has made me more aware of the amazing work that passionate people do in our community. The beauty of this organization is in its awareness of the fluidity of needs in the community and how the members are committed to constantly better our efforts to support our partners. We are always learning and evolving.

I have also learned that to be impactful requires due diligence. SOS member volunteers evaluate each grant application thoroughly and make funding decisions with great intention. This is the collective power of giving. If I were to individually write a $100 or even a $1000 check to a nonprofit organization I do not believe my dollars would be as impactful because not only does the SOS vetting process insure that my dollars are being directed to important, worthy efforts in our community it becomes part of a $5000-$25000 dollar grant which will indeed have more impact.

Our funding has been pivotal in setting start-up organizations on the pathway to success. There are several nonprofit organizations that not only were able to start their work because of a grant from SOS but also have grown to a point where their operating budgets exceed our financial requirements for funding.

As a member of the Spirit of Saint Louis Women’s Fund (SOS) I am honored to be a part of a group who has given grants to fledgling organizations that might not have ever been able to launch without our funds.

What makes SOS unique in the nonprofit space is the way we do business and the kinds of organizations we fund. We are an organization that requires the same donation from every member, so there is no hierarchy in our membership, everyone gives the same amount so everyone has the same amount of influence. At the same time, we do not require involvement beyond annual dues and we are a completely volunteer-run organization.

SOS attracts a diverse group of women who come together because of their common interest in wanting to understand and support the larger community in a positive way.

We fund smaller non-profits with operating budgets under $1.5 million and take pride in championing the organizations that are the glue and the backbone of the greater St. Louis community. These organizations work tirelessly to improve our community often without public awareness or media attention. In our capacity as funders, we have found the ancillary product of building community between our members and grantees, between members and members, and between grantees and grantees.

This is what I am most proud of: being a part of an organization that creates the opportunity for new connections while investing in those who are strengthening the community.

Who else deserves credit in your story?
First: our founders Shelby Shagrin and Susan Block are two women who deserve credit; they brought the idea of a collective women’s giving group to St. Louis and founded SOS fifteen years ago. They served as co-Presidents at the inception of the organization.

Second: all seven women who stepped forward to be president of the organization:
Vicki Sheehan
Felice Joyce
Kathy Frost
Gwen Wesley
Amy Inman
Amy Garrison
Katie Dowd

Third: all of the members who have donated not only their funds but also their time and talent.

All current and past members of SOS, because without them we could not support the organizations that ultimately deserve the most credit.

Most Importantly: All 90-plus organizations that SOS has funded. They are boots-on-the-ground problem solvers, who understand how to best create safer, healthier, and more equitable communities.


  • Membership dues are $100 a month.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Kathryn Bish, Gretta Forrester-Gaffney, and Marianne Baer

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