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10 Inspiring women behind nonprofit organizations


The nonprofit sector workforce is dominated by women but some have gone a step further. They’ve created their own nonprofits to help beneficiaries who weren’t getting the support they needed. These 10 women have made a big impact in the nonprofit world and have helped to bring about lasting change. Please note that we’ve compiled the list in no particular order.

1. Cristina Jimenez – Co Founder of United We Dream

The United We Dream organization played a key role in Obama’s 2012 executive action. This has helped to protect young immigrants at risk of deportation. Cristina herself was an immigrant to the US and did not have proper documentation. As she got older, she recognized the true impact of her legal status. This prompted her to found United We Dream to drive change.

2. Shannon Watts – Founder of Moms Demand Action

The Sandy Hook massacre inspired Shannon Watts to start a nonprofit organization. She set up a Facebook group to encourage more conversation around gun control. This became Moms Demand Action – a grassroots movement to protect against the effects of gun violence. Her mission includes closing loopholes and finding stronger solutions to gun crime.

The original aim was inspired by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Now, it’s now one of the largest gun control organizations in the US. Shannon herself travels throughout the US to lobby officials and push for change. This has led to the passing of gun safety legislation in 20 US states. Shannon’s work has also encouraged leading retailers to ban firearms.

3. Shaney Jo Darden – Founder of Keep a Breast Foundation

A friend’s breast cancer inspired Shaney Jo Darden to found the Keep a Breast Foundation. She used the support of the arts community to raise awareness of breast cancer and its effects. Raising awareness was only part of the story though. She also saw a lack of understanding of breast cancer – particularly for young women.

This gap in the market saw her develop educational programs for younger women. This included a Traveling Education Booth and self-check cards. Both aimed to encourage young women to check their breasts and know the signs of breast cancer. From there, she launched the Keep a Breast Foundation in 2005.

4. Jenny Gaither – Founder of Movemeant Foundation

Jenny Gaither believes that young females should know their self-worth. She set up a foundation that has fitness and positive body image at its heart. The Movemeant Foundation empowers women to build self-confidence through physical activity. The focus is on helping females to recognize their worth, with fitness and body image as the basis.

She created The Movemeant Foundation off the back of her own personal struggles. Having found the positive benefits of dance, she tried to pursue a professional career in it. She quit after experiencing body image issues and an eating disorder.

On the road to recovery, she became a SoulCycle instructor. This helped her to regain her self-confidence. She wanted to empower young women to build resilience through fitness.Movemeant’s reach includes a 12 week middle school curriculum. This encourages young girls to enjoy healthy and positive relationships with their bodies. Certified instructors lead the program.

Jenny is currently a body positive health coach and motivational speaker.

5. Malala Yousafzai – Founder of the Malala Foundation

Malala’s story began in 2008, when the Taliban raided her village in Pakistan. This led to harsh punishments for defying the strict rules laid out by the extremists.  In 2012, Malala spoke out against the ban on female education. She became a target and was shot in the head by a gunman who had boarded her school bus.

Her recovery took several years and encouraged her to set up the Malala Foundation. The charity aims to allow free and safe education to girls around the world. This involves breaking down barriers that prevent millions of girls from attending school.

6. Zainab Salbi – Founder of Women for Women International

Zainab Salbi founded the Women for Women International charity at the age of 23. The grassroots charity aims to help women to enact lasting change by teaching them valuable life skills. The majority of their work takes place in war torn countries and offers them the tools they need to escape poverty and become self-sufficient. Their reach has grown from supporting 30 women to more than 400,000 women. From a financial perspective, they have invested over $100 million in micro credit loans and direct aid to Zainab has featured in People magazine’s “25 Women Changing the World”, Foreign Policy’s “100 Leading Global Thinkers” and Fast Company’s “The Most Creative People in Business”. Zainab stepped down as CEO of the charity in 2011. She continues to shine a light on issues affecting countries in the developing world.

7. Eunice Kennedy Shriver – Founder of the Special Olympics

Eunice Kennedy Shriver is best known for founding the Special Olympics. Her sister had an intellectual disability and this inspired her work. She saw sports as a platform to increase opportunities for people like her sister.

She set up a summer day camp in her backyard for people with intellectual disabilities. This paved the way for an International Special Olympics Games, which has held in 1968 in Chicago. The Special Olympics International movement has involved more than 4.7 million people in 170 countries.

8. Blythe Hill – Founder of Dressember

Blythe Hill introduced Dressember in 2009 as a personal challenge. She pledged to wear a dress throughout the month. There was no fundraising element attached to it at first. This changed as her challenge gained more attention. As more people got involved, Blythe saw a chance to raise awareness for human trafficking. Since 2013, Dressember has raised over $7.5 million through its partners and advocates.

9. Iris Rave – Co Founder of Camp Kesem

Camp Kesem was set up in 2000 by Iris Rave and several of her fellow students at Stanford University. As a lifelong camper, she saw the potential for using it to support children who have a parent with cancer. Kesem is now the largest US organization of its kind, with free access to camps. It has supported over 11,000 children to improve self-esteem and offer camaraderie.

10. Leila Janah – Co- Founder of Samahope, Samasource and Samaschool

Leila is the founder of several nonprofit initiatives, including Samaschool and Samasource. Samaschool supports low income communities to become independent workers. She also co-founded the Samahope nonprofit. This enabled crowdfunding of doctors to provide surgery in poor areas. Samahope has since merged with Johnson and Johnson’s CaringCrowd platform.

Whether you’re a nonprofit employee or you’re inspired to found a nonprofit, raising funds is always a challenge. Donorbox is currently helping more than 20,000 nonprofits to raise funds through a state of the art recurring donation software. Find out how we can help your organization to take your fundraising efforts to the next level.

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