Our story: It started as a conversation between friends

How did a conversation between two friends start a Foundation that has improved the lives of thousands of women and girls in Canada?

In 1986, there was no national organization in Canada for people who wanted to advance gender equality. That year, two grade-school friends – Nancy Ruth and Susan Woods – started discussing what they could do about it.

The spark: A vision of feminist philanthropy

Several years earlier, Nancy Ruth and Rosemary Brown, a feminist politician from BC, had agreed there needed to be a way for women to target charitable giving toward helping other women and advancing gender equality. They knew social change could be advanced by giving grants to grassroots community organizations.

Nancy Ruth knew from a survey conducted by Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) found that only 2% of charitable donations from corporations and foundations were going to services for women and girls. This prompted her to become a feminist philanthropist.

The groundwork: What would it take to get there?

On a sunny day in March 1986, Nancy Ruth and Susan dragged out some dusty lawn chairs and sat in the driveway eating lunch and chatting about the possibilities.

They wondered: What would it take to bring about gender equality in Canada? What would it take to stop family violence and violence against women? What would it take to move women out of poverty? What would it take for women and girls to fully embrace their power?

By the time the meal was over, Susan had accepted a contract with The NaRuth Foundation to create a platform designed to advance women’s philanthropy.

The Discussions: Together, how can we confront sexism across Canada?

A few weeks later, after brainstorming with colleagues, Nancy Ruth and Susan issued an invitation: “Come to a meeting to talk about stamping out sexism in Canada, forever.”

Intrigued, women from the LEAF and YWCA networks attended. The group began to meet regularly and developed a concept for a new charitable foundation in Canada focused on women and girls. They invited women across the country to help shape the goals, values and grants of the proposed foundation.

The Launch: Foundation starts raising money, changing lives

In 1991, the Canadian Women’s Foundation was officially launched. A group of eight trail-blazing women was instrumental in getting it off the ground. The NaRuth Foundation donated $50,000 to help get the fledgling organization started.

Since 1991, the Canadian Women’s Foundation has become one of the largest women’s foundations in the world. With the support of partners and donors, the Foundation has raised more than $130 million and funded over 2,500 programs across the country.

The Future: Together, we can do so much more!

With support of our amazing supporters and donors, we are writing our next chapter. We invite you to learn more about the issues and get involved.

30 Years of Impact

The Canadian Women’s Foundation officially launched in 1991. A group of eight trail-blazing women were instrumental in getting the organization off the ground. Learn more about the Foundation’s Founding Mothers.

Read Principles for Feminist Funding