There are two things J. Jill executives understand about the women who buy their apparel: They are philanthropic and “they want to align themselves with a brand that stands for more than just providing clothing,” says Chris Gayton, senior director of brand marketing.
That’s why, for the past 12 years, J. Jill has supported organizations nationwide that help women in need of education, job skills and housing.
The Quincy-based women’s retailer – which operates more than 225 stores nationwide – makes grants through its Compassion Fund, a Donor Advised Fund at the Boston Foundation. In recent years, the Fund received over 600 applications and awarded 25-30 grants per year, ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. In 2013, J. Jill reexamined its philanthropy and realized it did not have a solid understanding of the impact the Compassion Fund was having on its corporate goals or the communities served. Moreover, local efforts – although rewarding for stores – were not rolling up into a greater company-wide strategy.
This realization came at the same time that J. Jill was rolling out its new brand platform, “Uncomplicate,” which is their way of saying, “trust us to take care of what you wear, so you can focus on the things that are most important to you,” explains Chris. J. Jill’s new tagline stressed a desire to make the lives of its customers easier and the company hired TPI to “uncomplicate” its philanthropic strategy as well.
The Philanthropic Initiative helped J. Jill recalibrate its strategy to align more closely with corporate goals and have greater impact on grantees and women served. To get the most value out of the Compassion Fund, TPI worked to “uncomplicate” the grantmaking process to build equity in key markets with fewer, larger grants that maximized impact and partnerships. We helped J. Jill streamline their process by pre-screening potential partners, and soliciting proposals only from organizations that truly aligned with the Compassion Fund’s mission to help women in need regain their self-sufficiency and independence. We then collaborated with J. Jill executives to select grantees that were best equipped to partner with the company over the long term to help women transform their lives.
In the last 12 years, the J. Jill Compassion Fund has given away more than $3 million in grants to 60 organizations across the country. Last year, grants were awarded to 11 organizations in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, D.C. One of those organizations is Wellspring House in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Wellspring helps individuals and families with basic needs, education and job training that empowers them to fulfill their potential and break through the cycle of poverty.
“The grants from the Compassion Fund have allowed us to offer high quality education and job training programs that help women get to work or enroll in a post-secondary institution,” says Kay O’Rourke, President and Executive Director.
One of those programs is MediClerk, a job training program that the Compassion Fund grants supported and that is designed to provide the skills necessary to succeed in an administrative position in the healthcare field.
Stephanie Paulino, a recent student of MediClerk, describes how the program changed her life. “I had given up on myself. I thought I would never get to have the job I have been longing for for so many years. However, being in this program not only have I learned new skills to help me progress, I have also learned how to believe in myself again.”
Support from the Compassion Fund allows women like Stephanie to have the opportunity to turn their lives around. “Our students and participants are hungry for the opportunity to do life differently, to support themselves and their children,” explains Kay. “The Compassion Fund ensures that these opportunities are available to the poorest women and their families.”