Personal Space: Melanie Bridgeforth

A one-on-one conversation with Melanie Bridgeforth, president and CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham.

Melanie Bridgeforth is president and CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, which works to accelerate economic opportunity for women and their families through philanthropy, research and advocacy. A fifth-generation Alabamian and descendent of a former slave who established a farm in Limestone County before Reconstruction, which still operates today, Bridgeforth has long made a name for herself in the simple business of changing the world—through non-profits, public policy development, advocacy, and now at The Women’s Fund. 

Bridgeforth recently took a moment to tell us about what drives her.  

B-Metro: You’ve been executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children and Alabama’s governmental relations director for the American Heart Association, among other impactful positions in the community. Was there anything that felt like a different kind of challenge or responsibility when you took the helm at The Women’s Fund? 

Bridgeforth: The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham represented an opportunity to leverage my years of experience in non-profit executive management, expertise in public policy development, legislative advocacy, and strategic communications as well as my statewide platform and relationships as a catalyst for elevating a credible philanthropic organization with a sound mission to that of an influencer and powerful voice for women. Moving into the world of philanthropy was a significant shift for me professionally and a new level of responsibility—one that I welcomed because philanthropy is one of the greatest tools for social change. 

B-Metro: Politics—and by extension, policy—have become so divisive in recent years. Is there any issue the Women’s Fund touches where you and your staff have to be careful in how you frame your agenda? 

Bridgeforth: It is vitally important to clearly and accurately articulate our mission and vision for change. Our aspiration to change systems to accelerate economic opportunity for women—and by extension entire communities—aligns with the compassionate and kindhearted people of Alabama. We promote common sense solutions that promote the common good. What can be more unifying than that? 

B-Metro: What were you like as a kid or teenager? Have you always had strong opinions about righting wrongs in the community? 

Bridgeforth: For as long as I can remember I’ve been consumed with the social ills of the world and what I now know to be concepts of fairness and equity. Speaking out against wrongdoings came as natural then as it does now. In hindsight this had a great deal to do with my upbringing and the messages sent to me by my parents especially, who rejected labels like “bossy” and “opinionated” used to describe me and replaced them with words like “confident” and “bold.” They taught me that my voice absolutely matters and that it should be used in service to others. 

B-Metro: Who is your greatest mentor?

Bridgeforth: I think often of how lucky I am to have my best friend, role model, and mentor wrapped into one human being—which happens to be my mom. She is as compassionate as she is strong. While my father instilled important values of being fearless and tough, my mom taught me to be kind and self-aware. When society sent me messages that were destructive to my sense of self-worth, my mom was always there waiting in the wings to counter those messages with a constant reminder of my inherent greatness.

B-Metro: Other than the fabulous position you have—can you name one dream job that sounds crazily exciting to you? Astronaut, ballet dancer, Oprah?  

Bridgeforth: I get to wake up every day and do what I love. It’s actually quite hard to imagine myself doing anything else. Although not my chosen career paths, I very much enjoy fashion and interior design—both of which I dabble in. Being an interior designer by day and an image consultant by night would be quite the combination!  

B-Metro: What is the most important thing you want people to know about The Women’s Fund?

Bridgeforth: Modern-day women are at the forefront of philanthropic engagement and impact, which is to be applauded. Yet, those same giving patterns demonstrate that less than seven percent of U.S. philanthropy targets benefiting the lives of women and girls. Gender-impact investing has immense potential for positive social change, not only for women, but for their families and communities. It lifts everyone. Everywhere I go, I encourage people to give and target your gift in a way that lifts all ships. Investing in women produces that outcome. 

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