Three Guineas Fund
By Kathryn K. Frey
Graduate Student, Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University
The Three Guineas Fund promotes social justice and change by promoting and providing economic opportunities for women and girls as a foundation that makes grants and operates programs.
The Three Guineas Fund’s organizational philosophy reflects the entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to social justice of its founder, Catherine S. Muther, former Cisco Systems Senior Marketing Officer. Muther left Cisco in 1994 with a commitment to women, equity and social change as well as an interest in what she calls “philanthropy with attitude” (Three Guineas Fund 2002). Combining her expertise in launching high-growth technology companies and $2 million that she earned in the dot.com boom, Muther created the Three Guineas Fund.
The grantmaking of the Fund unites entrepreneurship and philanthropy in order to make a significant difference for women and girls. It develops a small number of grantee relationships with an emphasis on teamwork, results and long-term commitment. In addition to making grants to nonprofits, Three Guineas Fund partners work with corporations, government and other foundations to uncover new solutions for social problems and to leverage cross-sector support for broader social change. The Fund also operates the Women’s Technology Cluster and the Social Entrepreneurship Incubator, designed to help women-directed organizations access funds for successful start-up enterprises.
The Three Guineas Fund takes its name from Virginia Woolf’s essay Three Guineas (written in 1938). In this essay, Woolf considers requests from three different organizations in support of three separate causes – women’s employment, women’s education and war prevention. Woolf gives each organization the guinea they requested with detailed instructions as to how the gift should be used to solve the problems at hand as well as the larger societal ill. According to Muther, “The issue is social justice. Three Guineas asserts that if women improve their standing in society, it’s not only good for women but good for society at large. But for women to improve their standing in society, they have to be well educated and have access to earn a living. Those ideas inform what we’re doing at Three Guineas Fund” (Zich 2001). The Three Guineas Fund is one of a small number of grantmaking foundations whose funding focus centers on women and girls.
The Three Guineas Fund is an excellent example of venture philanthropy, a model derived from venture capitalism and the new economy. Venture philanthropy “combines social equity with technological innovation and economic growth” (Mieszkowski 1999, 272). Rather than writing checks, venture philanthropists, like venture capitalists, invest in organizations with the intention of seeing results. For venture philanthropists, these results come in the form of social change rather than money (the result sought by venture capitalists). Venture philanthropists are proactive givers who seek the best organizations, ideas, and strategies to solve complex social problems.
For the Three Guineas Fund, venture philanthropy also means leveraging support, creativity and expertise to launch successful corporations. The Women’s Technology Cluster was the first incubator created specifically for high-tech female entrepreneurs. It is an innovative model that draws corporate and private sector resources and associations together to provide women’s start-up businesses with office space, management assistance and networking opportunities. In return, participating start-ups contribute 2% of their company’s value back to the cluster to sustain the model.
The Women’s Technology Cluster addresses the problems women face in accessing capital for new business ventures. By offering a way for women to create wealth through business start-ups, Three Guineas Fund is also providing a vehicle for community reinvestment. The success of this model and the partnerships it has developed has led Three Guineas Fund to create the Social Entrepreneurship Incubator applying the same principle in support of start-up nonprofits.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
The Three Guineas Fund is a public 501(c)(3) organization and grantmaking foundation. The Three Guineas Fund’s new economy approach to philanthropy seeks to transform charitable giving. Muther’s vision of new economy philanthropy turns entrepreneurs into philanthropists who take a more active role in the causes they support to ensure significant results.
The Three Guineas Fund has been a leader in furthering venture philanthropy as well as developing the incubator model and applying it to women’s start-up businesses. As a result of this work, it has successfully raised awareness about the difficulties female entrepreneurs face in securing start-up capital. The Fund has also demonstrated that results-oriented models found in the for-profit sector can be transferred to the nonprofit enterprise to strengthen social change efforts and to transform philanthropy.
Key Related Ideas
Cross-sector collaboration: Partnerships or cooperative efforts involving one or more nonprofit, government or corporate entities. Nonprofit organizations are often referred to as, collectively, the “third sector.”
New economy: An economy in which work is less manual and more cerebral. Instead of building machines to produce products, workers in the new economy work in environments that center around technology, communication and change. Innovation is the product.
Social entrepreneurs: Individuals who have a vision and determination for solving social problems. These individuals work to transform systems and develop new and creative solutions for questions they set out to solve.
Social justice: The idea that all people should have the same opportunity to access the rights, institutions and economic resources afforded to their neighbors in society.
Start-up incubator: Entities that house companies in their early stages, providing support, resources, networking opportunities and expertise as they grow.
Venture capitalist: People who invest in promising new business enterprises, often referred to as start-ups, with the expectation of a return on their investment. Venture capitalists are often connected to the large number of dot.com start-ups in the 1990s.
Venture philanthropist: People who apply the principles of venture capitalism to invest in new ideas and innovative solutions for social change. Unlike traditional philanthropists, their investment typically is characterized by a long-term commitment to the partnership along with a high level of interaction and accountability between the philanthropist and the organization.
Important People Related to the Topic
Catherine S. Muther: Founder of the Three Guineas Fund and recognized “new philanthropy” expert. Muther was featured as a venture philanthropy pioneer at the 1999 White House Conference on Philanthropy and has appeared in numerous national publications as a result of her innovative approach to philanthropy and social change through the Three Guineas Fund. Previously, Muther was an executive at 3Com and Cisco Systems in Silicon Valley. She received a Masters in Business Administration from Stanford University Graduate School of Business and a Master of Arts from Cambridge University in Social Anthropology.
Related Nonprofit Organizations
(Source for this section is Three Guineas Fund, Links & Resources 2002)
Acumen Fund (http://www.acumenfund.org) was created in response to global economic forces that are fundamentally reshaping the face of philanthropy. The Fund creates a community of powerful donors who want to be solutions to major global problems.
Ashoka (http://www.ashoka.org/home/index.cfm), a global not-for-profit organization, identifies and supports outstanding individuals, outside North America, with innovative programs for achieving systemic social change on a national and regional level. An initiative of Ashoka, Changemakers.net (http://www.changemakers.net/) focuses on the rapidly growing world of social entrepreneurship and offers an online library of resources about these concerns.
The Center for Venture Philanthropy (CVP) is a forum for community donors to collaborate and catalyze societal change. CVP creates avenues for community investors from Silicon Valley and the Peninsula to engage in new philanthropy (http://www.pcf.org/venture_philanthropy/).
Community Development Venture Capital Alliance (http://www.cdvca.org/) is made up of organizations throughout the world who seek to apply the powerful engine of growth that has driven economic expansion to the economic needs of low-income communities.
Count Me In (http://www.count-me-in.org/) is a national nonprofit lending and learning organization dedicated to helping women start and grow their own businesses. As an Internet-based micro-lender, Count Me In recognizes the financial reality of women’s lives and helps entrepreneurs who have nowhere else to turn for a small business loan.
Echoing Green Foundation (http://www.echoinggreen.org/) is a non-profit foundation in New York that offers full-time fellowships to emerging entrepreneurs dealing in social issues.
Feminist Majority Foundation (http://www.feminist.org/) advocates non-violence and works to eliminate social and economic injustice for women.
Flatiron Foundation (http://www.flatironpartners.com/index_who.html) makes grants to non-profit groups whose organizational mission falls within one of the Foundation’s program areas, including preparing children for life in a digital society, and educating and encouraging entrepreneurship among minorities, women and others with less traditional access to capital.
GuideStar (http://www.guidestar.org/) is an online guide to charitable organizations for donors. It is also written from a donor’s perspective.
National Network of Grantmakers (http://www.nng.org/) is an organization of individuals involved in funding social and economic justice.
New Profit Inc. (http://www.newprofit.com/) is dedicated to performance-based funding coupled with management development support for winning social entrepreneurs.
The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (http://www.redf.org) portfolio consists of nonprofit organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area providing transitional and permanent employment to very low income and formerly home-less individuals.
Social Venture Partners (http://www.svpseattle.org) seeks to develop philanthropy and volunteerism to achieve positive social change in the Seattle area using the venture capital approach. Also, find out more about Austin Social Venture Partners at http://www.asvp.org and Social Venture Partners Arizona at http://www.svpaz.org.
Venture Philanthropy Partners (http://www.venturephilanthropypartners.org) provides great resources and documents on philanthropy and its applications.
The Virtual Foundation (http://www.virtualfoundation.org) is a unique online philanthropy program that supports grassroots initiatives around the world.
Women & Philanthropy (http://www.womenphil.org) mobilizes the resources of the philanthropic sector to achieve equity for women and girls.
Women’s Funding Network (http://www.wfnet.org) is a growing international association of public and private women’s foundations, federations, funds in community foundations, individuals, donors, and supporting institutions devoted to women’s development.
Related Web Sites
Catalyst Web site, at http://www.catalystwomen.org, provides information on this research and advisory organization that works to advance women and business. The site includes access to research studies, services, awards, and publications related to these issues.
Center for Women and Information Technology Web site (http://www.umbc.edu/cwit) offers extensive resources to support the Center’s dual mission: to increase women’s participation in information technology and to assure that the richness and breadth of women’s lives and concerns are fully represented on the Internet.
Community Wealth Ventures Web site, at http://www.communitywealth.com, explores topics such as nonprofit/for-profit partnerships, cause-related marketing, social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy and nonprofit business ventures. CMV is a consulting firm that works with both nonprofit organizations and corporations.
The Three Guineas Fund Web site, at http://www.3gf.org, provides information about grants and guidelines as well as an extensive list of links and resources related to gender, equity, entrepreneurship, and venture philanthropy. It also tells the story of the Fund’s founding and gives brief sketches on its Board of Directors.
The Women of Silicon Valley Report, found at http://www.womenofsv.org/publications/WSV_Report.pdf, describes some of the key issues preventing women working in Silicon Valley from accessing the resources necessary to fully participate in this high tech hotbed of opportunity.
Women’s Technology Cluster, at http://www.wtc-sf.org/, is the first high-tech incubator focused on helping women entrepreneurs.
Bibliography and Internet Sources
Geier, Thom. “The Philanthropist Next Door,” U.S. News and World Report 22 (December 1997).
Mieszkowski, Katharine. “Learning and Change—Catherine Muther,” Fast Company (December 1999): 30, 272.
Osborne, D.M. “A Network of Her Own,” Grassroots Venture Capital 1 (September 2000).
Three Guineas Fund. Links & Resources. [cited 6 November 2002]. Available from http://www.3gf.org/links.html.
Three Guineas Fund. Mission & Guidelines. [cited 29 October 2002]. Available from http://www.3gf.org.
Three Guineas Fund. Our Story. [cited 29 October 2002]. Available from http://www.3gf.org/story.html.
Walker, Meg. “New Groups Warm Up in Incubators,” San Francisco Business Times (25 October 2002).
Woolf, Virginia. Three Guineas. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1938.
Zich, Janet. “The New Face of Philanthropy,” Stanford Business 69 (February 2001): 2. Stanford Business [cited 3 December 2002]. Available from http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/community/bmag/
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