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I met Mark Gunther at last month’s Exponent Philanthropy CONNECT conference in Denver. He is Managing Director of the Eva Gunther Foundation in the Bay Area. Mark and The Eva Foundation were instrumental in creating the Alliance for Girls, the largest regional alliance of girls’ organizations and champions in the country. I asked him to share his story about how a small funder can achieve big impact.

Tell me about the history of the Eva Gunther Foundation.

The Eva Foundation was founded to honor the memory our oldest daughter, Eva Leah Gunther, killed in 1997 by a drunk driver. We, her parents and grandparents, wanted to share Eva’s love by giving other girls opportunities similar to those that Eva had. To that end, we established two programs, one supporting scholarship funds at local girl’s service agencies and the other a small-scale make-a-wish style of program we call the Eva Gunther Fellowship.

The Foundation has supported hundreds of girls in pursuing their dreams and ambitions. At some point, you made a decision to increase your impact by organizing the Alliance for Girls. What factors moved you to take your work to this other level?

I’d say that we grew into it. The factors mostly were internal to the Eva Foundation–our communitarian impulses and desire to fulfill our mission coupled to an obvious community need and an ability to act. Through our girl-focused grantmaking, we came to know the sector. We thought the people we met would benefit from getting together and that proved to be the case. The work took itself to the next level; we just greased the wheels.

What kinds of change have you seen as a result of the Alliance for Girls’ efforts?

The Alliance has developed into a successful and effective representative of the participating network of organizations.

What advice and counsel would you share with other foundations that are considering moving their work to another level?

Be vulnerable to your constituency. We took advantage of our ability as a small, nimble organization to do a deep dive and stick around. We were happy to become a part of the girls support web. This enabled the need for deeper association to become apparent and be managed to a successful conclusion. I think the point is that a foundation picks the lens through which it perceives its work; self-perception is more of a limitation on “level-ness” than any perceived lack of capacity or intention.

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