The Growing Influence Of Women's Way The Agency's Achievements Also Serve As Yeakel's Record, And Have Become An Issue In Her Campaign.

Posted: September 06, 1992

When Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Lynn Yeakel needed to meet Pennsylvania's television viewers last spring, her vehicle was a commercial that proclaimed Yeakel had "helped change the lives of more people than anyone else running for the United States Senate."

In the ad, she strides through board rooms, tossing commands to male assistants as a narrator says that Yeakel has aided tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians as "leader of one of our most accomplished nonprofit organizations."

Yeakel's media advisers can be forgiven for never naming the organization. It was probably not much better known than Yeakel herself.

But no longer.

The name is Women's Way. Founded in 1976 by feminists seeking reliable financing for controversial women's health and social-service agencies, Women's Way by 1992 had enough influence to give Yeakel the base for her campaign against Republican U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. And Yeakel's 11-year tenure there serves as her "record," since she has never held public office.

Women's Way - which Yeakel headed from late 1980 until formally resigning in May - has an impressive history.

It has grown from tiny roots to become the most successful women's charity of its type in the nation, according to experts in the field.

But the achievements touted in the ad - the chief vehicle used to make the little-known Yeakel a credible candidate - are also an issue in her campaign against Specter.

While Yeakel's ad suggests that her agency was the sole organization that helped those thousands of people, Women's Way typically provides only 10 to 20 percent of the budgets of member agencies. Yeakel says those funds are crucially important, but Specter's campaign calls the ad's contention a ''misleading" exaggeration.

What is uncontested about Women's Way, however, is its growth under Yeakel, and the role it has played in getting major corporations and businesses to support social services that, as Yeakel says, were once considered part of the radical fringe.

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In absolute terms, Women's Way is not a giant among area fund-raisers. The United Way, for example, raised $55 million last year, compared with the $1.5 million raised by Women's Way.

But Women's Way serves as a symbol of female financial strength and independence, and has become a way for law firms and corporations to comfortably express support on issues such as day care, battered women and rape counseling.

The annual dinner given by Women's Way attracts 2,000 people and is one of the largest events of its kind in Philadelphia. Indeed, so attractive are Women's Way activities that one of its advisory council members is Joan Specter, the wife of the senator.

RUN BY WOMEN

Women's Way is "more than a collection of agencies," said Elizabeth Werthan, chairwoman of the board of directors. "All Women's Way agencies are women-run for women," with the goal of creating a "just and humane society," she said.

At its core, Women's Way has 11 member organizations. Each is run by, and provides services primarily to, women and, in some instances, their families.

In return, each agrees to abide by Women's Way's fund-raising rules, and to support its mission statement, calling for an end to violence against women, equal opportunity, an end to discrimination, economic self-determination and ''reproductive freedom."

It is that last item that first brought Women's Way its first wide publicity. In 1980, Yeakel helped orchestrate the disclosure that United Way had an agreement with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia not to finance agencies that provided abortions or abortion counseling.

The resulting public furor played a pivotal role in bringing about United Way's "donor choice," by which individuals could target their donations to specific agencies - including Women's Way.

However, Women's Way has its own requirement that member agencies must support reproductive choice. An organization that opposed abortion could not become a Woman's Way member agency.

Yeakel, in a recent interview, said there was no contradiction involved. ''It wasn't that Women's Way objected to United Way's policies," she said. ''United Way objected to Women's Way policies."

Yeakel said Women's Way was unlikely to be forced to turn down an otherwise

qualified applicant because of the abortion issue.

"They wouldn't apply," she said. "The organization is made up of members, and the members apply, based on their interest in joining."

Yeakel also noted that United Way's policy was little known; Women's Way's support of abortion rights is widely known.

Creation of donor choice helped Women's Way find its way to fiscal strength. One year after the donor-option policy went into effect, annual contributions jumped from $130,000 to $206,000.

Last year, Women's Way distributed $979,456. The largest portion went to its 11 core agencies - most received $67,000 grants. There are four associate members that receive lesser amounts. Some 30 other agencies received smaller grants, often of $1,000 or $2,000.

Women's Way allocates $30,000 to a discretionary fund that issues the small grants to the 30 agencies. The guidelines applying to member agencies do not apply to discretionary-fund recipients. One of the agencies getting those

funds this year is the Project Rainbow/Drueding Center, which provides housing to homeless women and children and is run by the Sisters of the Holy Redeemer, a Roman Catholic order.

MEMBER GROUPS

The core agencies include Choice, a telephone counseling agency that handles 30,000 calls a year, where Yeakel was a volunteer counselor in the 1970s. Another is the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center for Women, a health clinic that provides abortions and other medical services to women. The newest member organization, which joined in 1990, is the Tenants' Action Group, whose former director, Eva Gladstein, is Yeakel's campaign manager.

It was added as part of an outreach program to include an agency run primarily by and for African Americans, Yeakel said.

Along with providing services, Women's Way members also attempt to be advocates for social change. The most influential is the Women's Law Project, which gets about 20 percent of its budget from Women's Way, and has played a key role in fighting the Pennsylvania legislature's attempt to restrict abortion rights.

"The Women's Law Project wouldn't exist if we didn't get the allocation

from Women's Way," said Carol E. Tracy, the executive director. Last year it received $67,000.

Yeakel concentrated on fund-raising and public relations. She did not decide what health or social service programs would be provided, and most major decisions affecting Women's Way were in the hands of a large and active board of directors.

Allocations to member agencies are determined automatically - each receives an equal share, but no more than 30 percent of its total budget.

"My role as CEO at Women's Way was to promote all of those organizations and to serve as the funding conduit," said Yeakel, including "making the case" that Women's Way deserved the support of corporations and foundations.

She was successful. Women's Way's list of corporate donors includes some of the region's largest firms, including Sun Co., Arco Chemical Co., ARA Services, Bell of Pennsylvania, Fidelity Bank and Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., which publishes The Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News.

"Lynn had a charismatic role in the organization," said Marilyn Wood, former director of the Community Women's Education Project, a Women's Way agency that provides education and training to low-income women. "She was the principal fund-raiser, and was able to draw in resources and energy into the organization. She did guide and structure things."

Under Yeakel, the office staff expanded in the late 1980s, from four to 10. The office staff now absorbs one-third of the money Women's Way raises.

An official of the National Charity Information Bureau reviewed Women's Way

financial data, and said it appeared to follow the bureau's guideline that charities limit administrative, publicity and fund-raising expenditures to no more than 30 percent of revenue.

The staff expansion was also part of a plan to expand contributions. Total

revenues increased from $1.05 million in 1988 to $1.53 million in June 1991, with the portion allocated to Women's Way's office holding steady at about one-third.

As for the television commercial, Yeakel said it was fair to suggest that Women's Way alone was responsible for all the services provided because without Women's Way many member organizations "would probably not exist."

"Many were just barely surviving when Women's Way was formed," she said.

Women's Way membership has significantly changed since its early years. Now, the heads of member agencies said the funding was important because it could be used for any purpose, including advocacy and administrative costs typically not funded by other grants.

"For the early agencies, the struggle would have been greater (without Women's Way)," Werthan said. "More might have not made it, but like in other communities, there are many services that do."

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