I’m With Her: Reboarding the Feminist Train to Build Local and Global Sisterhood

Boarding the Train to the Boston March. Pictured are Emily Nielsen Jones with her sister and two sister-friends.

One of the tricky things about the progression of feminism in America is how it has gone from being a fringe movement to being a taken-for-granted social norm. Because of this, it is easy to forget that gender equality still needs safeguarding.

Women once took to the streets to seek the right to vote and own property, to not be deemed as subordinates, to be treated as full human beings in their own right.

My 80’s wall decor.

Now women have taken to the streets again. It turns out we still need feminism, and this new wave of the movement can hardly be considered fringe. Far outstripping predictions, roughly 1.2 million marchers gathered in Washington, DC and 3 million more in cities and towns across the US. Over 5 million marched together around the world.

Aerial view of the Boston March for America with a decidedly pink hue, drawing in over 200,000 marchers.

There were many factors that  made the women’s march a stunning success:  the incredible organizing of the march leadership, the adept use of social media, and women stepping up to fund behind-the-scenes.

But the real contagion that got millions of us to board crowded buses and trains didn’t happen online or out on the streets. It happened in a tender, heartbroken place inside.

A few highlights of the “Donald Trump” gender norm paraded before us in the long 2016 election – This is NOT what democracy looks like!

From the beginning of the 2016 election season, internal alarm bells rang as I watched the gender issues play out on the national stage.  “Lock her up!”  “Trump that bitch!”  

Thankfully, I have not been alone with experiencing these internal alarm bells. So many of us have had the same alarm bells going off not only in response to unsettling gender dynamics, but also to Trump’s overall psychological instability, flair for demagoguery, and demeaning comments to so many different groups. So much about Donald Trump seems to mock the very fabric and ideals of our democracy.

My Women’s March Signs & Inspiration

As much as I wish the outcome of the election were different, let me go on record saying Thank you Donald Trump for re-awakening the sleeping women’s movement. 

The women’s movement has now been shocked out of dormancy. We now know we still have much work to do to create a world where there is no need for feminism.  Whether the “f” word is used or not, millions have re-boarded the Feminist Train with a reawakened sense of urgency.

Make Way for Ducklings Greeting Marchers in Boston

What was it that got roughly 1% of the American population into the streets on that January Saturday?  What kicked so many into gear on January 21st were those internal alarm bells ringing on overdrive. It was a massive case of heartache at the prospect of losing essential features of American democracy.

As a child of the 70’s, the trajectory of my life was shaped by the optimism of the women’s movement of that time. Thanks to the passage of Title IV in 1972, I played sports, unlike my mother who did not have that opportunity. In the 80’s, I watched my mother go back to work in computer programming with the help of an initiative at IBM which reached out to women who had left the workforce to raise children.

My mother was not a vocal, out-there feminist. She didn’t march like many of her contemporaries, but she quietly lived out the values of feminism for her three daughters to see and internalize. She enthusiastically signed us up for sports and joined in with us.  She helped us process and reject the demeaning gender messages of the Southern Baptist Church we attended, and encouraged us to think for ourselves. She modeled what it meant to partner with our father in marriage and in life, and how to navigate all those subtle yet stubborn manifestations of patriarchy. Before “mansplaining” was a thing,  my mother in her own way helped us learn strategies to subvert and spot male presumption a mile away.

Feminism 70’s style

And last but not least, my mom bought us that iconic pink Free To Be You And Me record, which played in the background of our lives, seeding positive, empowering subliminal messages. That album launched us into the world with a presumption of equality and progress that might have been a little too rosy.

Many women of my mom’s generation were dealt a serious blow by this election. I feel their shock, too, but what they are feeling is more acute, more visceral: they remember the days when it was normal for women in the workforce to be subjected to sexual assault, where you had to keep quiet about it and keep a smile on your face. They have living memories of their own mothers having very few options outside of the home. In so many different ways, my mother’s generation did their part to give their daughters a better world with more opportunity and dignity that changed how we saw ourselves and gender norms.

I look back on my childhood and see that I was the beneficiary of progress made by my grandmother’s and mother’s generations. They marched quietly through the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, doing what they could to keep the needle moving forward, for themselves, but mostly for us, their daughters.  They boarded the feminist train that so many younger generations of women today do not realize only moves forward if all of us stay on it.  

I do not want to let our mother’s generation down. I feel a maternal sense of protectiveness toward our mothers and want to honor the strides they have made for all of us by doing my little part to get on that train and get it moving in the right direction again.

My mother is now a grandmother and she marched with and for her granddaughters’ generation.  My incredible 75-year-old mother drove three hours to meet my sister before dawn in Raleigh, North Carolina to board a bus for six hours to DC.

My mom & sister taking a break from their 12 mile trek through DC

This is what feminism looks like in 2017.  

This is what democracy looks like.

My Sister and Friends Boarding the Train to Boston.

Like many, I was overcome with emotion as I boarded the  packed-to-the-gills train into Boston with my sister and my daughter and a group of friends.

My Daughter & Her Girl Posse About to Board the Train to Boston.

This is what feminism looks like in 2017.  

This is what democracy looks like.

Like many, if I had not had the march on January 21st, I might have descended into a dark hole. I admit to having knit nine pink hats (my sister knit 15 and my mother 5) and handing off skeins of yarn to knit away some of this angst.

Yes, even this is what feminism looks like in 2017!

A “Knit In” Two Days Before the March .

This is what democracy looks like.

Led by a global sisterhood, we came together, as Gloria Steinem often says, as people who are no longer ranked, but are rather linked together by our common values and ideals and our determination not to go back. In all of the sister marches, women walked miles through a crowded sea of pink hats and signs.

In Boston, I was overwhelmed by joy and peace — a sense of solidarity, a sense that we were saying, let’s look out for one another, let’s keep bending the long, slow arc of justice not just for women but for all of us as human beings and as Americans.

One of my favorite posters.

Everyone came with their own unique message and intentions—some hysterically edgy and feisty, while others more sublime. All of us were united in our intention to not be passive but do something productive with those unsettling, foreboding alarm bells.

My mom and sister in DC with part of their bus group from NC.

This is what feminism looks like.

This is what democracy looks like.

This is what America looks like.

Each and everyone of us, free to be ourselves without fear of being diminished or marginalized, and with full expectation of an equal seat at the table of life.

May it be so.

Thank you to all of the boys and men who showed up in solidarity at the march, sporting pink hats and supportive signs. Thank you to all you male allies who serve as role models to boys, reminding us all that feminism is good for all of us.  Thank you to everyone who works to throw off the chains of any group that is marginalized.

Surrounded By A Sea of Pink.

Thank you to all of the women and girls whose internal liberty bells have been ringing, kicking us back into gear to take to the streets and re-board the feminist train that our forebears set into motion so that we could presume our own equality and be outraged by things that should not be normal becoming normal. All of us have something at stake in this ongoing struggle for a world that does not limit or demean or seek to force us into a mold not of our choosing.

As I have engaged with women’s groups and NGO’s working globally to empower women and girls, I have heard an eerily similar refrain: hard won progress for women and girls’ basic human and democratic rights is being rolled back. Due to a rise of religious fundamentalism and nationalism, women’s equality is being framed as a battleground between tradition and modernity.

With Trump now in power, we find ourselves in closer alignment with  women across the globe, where gender norms are sliding back in shocking ways:  the comeback of the burka, the rise and “medicalization” of female genital cutting, and shocking stories that fill our news feeds every day of girls being forced to marry their rapists, and sold into sexual slavery.

The advance of both feminism and democracy depends on us all tuning in to hear Lady Liberty’s alarm bells ringing within when equality and freedom is threatened.  We must be ever watchful for all of the sneaky ways that the needle of equality and freedom can so easily slide backward right before our eyes.

I wish feminism could one day be on auto-pilot and not be so prone to endless regressions, but for the forseeable future, let us proudly stay on the feminist train. Let us listen within for the timeless ring of Lady Liberty’s bells.

I’m With Her.  Lady Liberty.  I see her in my sisters, my mother, my aunt, my daughter, my nieces, and in the vast sisterhood which surrounded me at the march.

Doesn’t This Say It All?

She is what feminism looks like.

She is what democracy looks like.

She is what America looks like.

It is she who has been ringing the liberty bell in each of our hearts getting us to board a bus or train to march shoulder-to-shoulder in packed crowds with friends, family, and complete strangers. Let us hold onto and cherish the beautiful accomplishment that so many helped make happen on January 21st. But let us expand its impact and not lose that sense of solidarity we felt on the buses and trains and as we marched.  Let us stay on the feminist train that our mothers and grandmothers set into motion for us.

On this train, let us join together, hand and heart, across generational lines and across all the dividing lines of race, class, gender, and ideology to work harder than we have to truly be linked not ranked and together imagine and make real the better world we all seek.

Let us continue to band together to do big and small acts of resistance to stand up for our neighbors and our cherished American values and ideals when they are threatened.

My sister & me in front of her favorite sign : )

Let’s remember too to laugh and find joy and to persevere in the strange acts of dissent we find ourselves in.  And let us keep marching because—as we have seen everywhere—if the feminist and the democratic train is not moving forward, it will go backward. Our democracy is built on ideals which, as we are seeing now, are very fragile and precious and continually, in every generation, in need of being safeguarded.

Let us also not forget that equality does not happen without funding. The incredible success of the Women’s March for America would not have happened without women giving at all levels to make it happen.  We can all be philanthropists and activists.  Giving along with doing awakens joy and solidarity and a sense that we are making history.

My sentiments exactly.

It would have been so incredible for my mother and her generation (and all of us) to see a woman in the oval office. That was not in the cards for this election, but may we each do our part to create a world where this is possible soon. Movements of justice don’t happen without a lot of behind the scenes investments of all types: organizing, fomenting, inviting, and funding. May we all keep doing our part to make sure that this incredibly historic march truly becomes a movement.

I’m With Them.

May our daughters look back on this march with pride and say, thank you mom, thank you aunts, grandmothers and so many friends for marching for the better world that we all seek.

Washington Area Women’s Foundation Pushes for 100 Days of Action for Women and Girls

Join the Washington Area Women’s Foundation campaign to activate #our100days

Back in April of 2016, I wrote an article for Inside Philanthropy profiling Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, President and CEO of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation (WAWF). It was exciting to learn about how Lockwood-Shabat was leading an ambitious campaign to raise funds for the amplification of WAWF’s work.

Now, WAWF is leading a campaign to keep gender equality activism on track. The new campaign, #our100days, is an effort for gender equality advocates to claim the first 100 days of the Trump presidency as a time to complete a single task every day that will help improve the lives of women and girls in America.

Want to know more about Lockwood-Shabat and how women’s funds are building community and solidarity for women and other marginalized groups? Lockwood-Shabat will be presenting at DREAM, DARE, DO, a symposium on March 14 and 15th of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. I will be there to learn from Lockwood-Shabat and other experts in the field of women’s philanthropy. I hope you will be there, too.

From WAWF:


We are already seeing some of the new administration’s priorities, and they will continue to become more clear as their first 100 days unfold. That’s why we’re proud to invite you to #our100days campaign — because these 100 days will be our 100 days too. Each day, we’ll give you a single task. As more join our movement, our message will be amplified across social media and throughout our communities.

There is much at stake for women and girls — health care, education, jobs, and our most basic rights. In his inaugural address, President Trump said, “This moment is your moment, it belongs to you,” and he is right. This is our moment.

To get started, please forward this email to those in your life who believe in the power and potential of women and girls. Sign up on our site to join me and thousands of other women and men to create lasting change in #our100days. To see the latest Twitter feed of #our100days, click here. 

And now, my profile of Lockwood-Shabat:

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, The Washington Area Women’s Foundation

Every community across the U.S. has unique features, but the challenges facing women tend to be depressingly similar. For example, in the Washington D.C. region, as in so many other places, many women are just barely getting by economically. Women make up about two-thirds of all low-wage workers in the D.C. area, earning $10.10 an hour or less.

“There is a tremendous gap between what many women in our region are earning, and what they really need to survive and take care of their families,” says Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, President and CEO of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, which serves as a hub for on-the-ground services and advocacy for women and girls in the greater D.C. metropolitan region.

This is a mandate that many women’s foundations take on—bridging the gap for low-income women so that they can not only get a job, but also get ahead, with child care services, housing, and asset building—all ways to build more financial stability into their lives, and the lives of their families.

As part of this work, the Washington Area Women’s Foundation is one of the 28 women’s foundations across the country collaborating in Prosperity Together, which pledged collectively to invest $100 million over the next five years to improve the economic security of women and girls of color. The funding investment was made in partnership with the White House Council on Women and Girls in November 2015.

Now, under the leadership of Lockwood-Shabat, the foundation has mapped out a five-year strategic plan called Together We Thrive, that will amp up the resources available to help women and girls, and broaden the range of practices and financial tools—including donor-advised funds—to make the foundation a more powerful giver, convener, and influencer in the D.C. area.

The Washington Area Women’s Foundation has been around since 1998, starting out with $35,000 in funds raised in the first year, with half of that redistributed as grants to the community. The foundation does not have an endowment and instead raises and redistributes its funding yearly.

In 2014, the Washington Area Women’s Foundation granted $1,015,000 in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. But this milestone is small compared to Lockwood-Shabat’s hopes for the foundation—which is to quintuple its grantmaking to $5 million a year over the next five years, essentially adding another million dollars in funding every year by persuading more donors to put their money toward funding for women and girls.

Where does Lockwood-Shabat see this funding coming from? “We’ve been taking a long look at the role of women in philanthropy, and how we connect women in our region who, in many ways, have made it—they are at the pinnacle of their careers, and they are looking for ways to give back.”

Estimates of the net worth of women in the D.C. metro region are at $253 billion, said Lockwood-Shabat. “That number is projected to grow to $500 billion in the next 10 years, so harnessing the power of those resources, and catalyzing those resources toward women and families who need a little bit of investment to lift themselves out of poverty, is our goal.”

One difference in empowering women financially is that the money is more fully reinvested in the community. “Studies show that in female-headed households, women will reinvest as much as 90 percent of their new income back into their families, so for every dollar that we’re able to raise the income of low-income women, a great deal of that is going back into their families and to their children. This is really about improving the entire community.”

The foundation has a long list of grantee organizations, many of which are providing much-needed child care, educational, and workforce development services on the ground in the community. The Women’s Foundation currently supports places such as SOME’s Center for Employment Training, which places women into good jobs, and the YWCA of the National Capital Area and College Success Foundation of D.C., partner organizations that provide academic, social-emotional, and financial support for students and their families—a two-generation approach that serves middle school-aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers.

The foundation also takes a systemic approach to social issues that impact women and girls, with funding for advocacy through organizations like Voices for Virginia Children, which fosters public policies to prepare all children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, for kindergarten, and a partnership between D.C. Appleseed and D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute to advocate for high-quality child care for low-income families in D.C..

The foundation is also looking to expand its partnerships with government, businesses, and philanthropy to encourage and influence funding programs with a gender focus.

“We have a number of corporate partners that participate in our Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative,” Lockwood-Shabat said. “These are private, family, and corporate foundations pooling their dollars, all to invest in early care and education across the region.” She added that the Early Care and Education Collaborative is just one example of a partnership designed to educate and influence others about the unique barriers faced by women in the region.

Partnerships with corporations and others are not just about funding, said Lockwood-Shabat. “Sometimes it’s about influencing how a corporation thinks about their own workplace policies and how they can better support women in their workplace. Or it’s about influencing how a government agency administers a program. That kind of education and influence is critically important—just as important as the dollars going out into the community.”

Lockwood-Shabat also wants to target the foundation’s dollars more specifically on piloting new methods of philanthropy and community engagement. She sees great potential for this coming from the unprecedented power of female philanthropy. “Women want to be very connected to the work, they want to see it, to touch it, to feel it. It’s not just about the impact today or a year from now, but a deeper focus on significant, long-term impact. Many of our donors have a deep understanding of the need for advocacy at the same time that we focus on direct service.”

Lockwood-Shabat is at the helm of a quickly evolving women’s foundation, one that is hoping to take off and fly, tapping into piles of new wealth in the hands of D.C.-area women. For Lockwood-Shabat, much of this is about cultivating the next generation of women leaders who can bring more gender equity and economic stability to our nation’s capital region.

“The more we can do to invest in young women, to strengthen their voices and their leadership skills early on, the better,” she said. “At a very grassroots level in their neighborhood or school, we can encourage young women to use their voices for greater things.”

Which Funders are Helping Young Women and Girls of Color Build Community Activism?

Girls for Gender Equity received a $250,000 grant from the NYC Fund for Girls and Young Women of Color

With grassroots activism on the rise across the country, we are seeing more and more funders step up to address populations who face multiple forms of marginalization, especially the combination of both gender and race.

Now, the NYC Fund for Girls and Young Women of Color (the Fund), a collaboration of 16 foundations, has announced grants totaling $2.1 million, awarded to 28 non-profit organizations across the five boroughs.

These organizations are the ground-level hubs where young women and girls of color go in communities to engage in leadership development, health and employment advocacy, educational support, and help with community safety issues including violence against women.

The Sadie Nash Leadership Project received $100,000 in funding from the NYC Fund for Girls and Young Women of Color.

“There’s a renewed sense of urgency, and a renewed sense of focusing on the biggest disparities for young women and girls. We find them localized around dimensions of racial and ethnic difference,” said Ana Oliveira, CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation, in a recent chat with Philanthropy Women about this new set of grants.

Oliveira described how The New York Women’s Foundation developed this multi-funder partnership that is granting this new money.  “We began with our main partner, The NoVo Foundation, and said, ‘let’s come together and ignite a process with others.'”

The two foundations invited a host of their colleagues to join them in focusing on girls and young women of color, and many foundations took them up on the offer. The Ford Foundation came on board, as did other well-known and established progressive foundations, including the Surdna Foundation, the Schott Foundation, the Pinkerton Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, and the Foundation for a Just Society.

Communities foundations also stepped up and joined, including the New York Community Trust and the Brooklyn Community Foundation. Family foundations also came to the table including the Andrus Family Fund and the Cricket Island Foundation. Feminist Foundation allies the Ms. Foundation and Third Wave Fund also came on board.

“We’re just beginning,” said Oliveira, of the process of rounding up foundations to focus on young women and girls of color. “We are going to continue to invite colleagues in the foundation world to join our coalition. It’s more important now than ever.”

The Fund was initially launched by The New York Women’s Foundation and NoVo Foundation in 2014 as a way to increase philanthropic resources available to organizations that advance the leadership of New York’s girls and young women of color. The Fund also seeks to address longstanding barriers to opportunity for young women and girls of color at the structural level.

“We all want to get to the tipping point of supporting enough organizations that are helping women, that we can resolve economic and social injustice for women,” said Oliveira. “We want to make sure these organizations can do their work and grow. We want to make sure they are ready first responders in community fights for justice and equity.”

“If we want to create a world in which girls can live free from violence and discrimination, we must truly listen to them and follow their lead,” said Pamela Shifman, Executive Director of the NoVo Foundation, in a press release announcing the grants. “Girls and young women of color are the best agents in transforming their communities and it’s time we invest in their leadership. That’s exactly what these grants will do.”

The 2016 NYC Fund for Girls and Young Women grantees are:

Ancient Song Doula Services
Arab American Association of New York
Arab American Family Support Center
Atlas: DIY
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
Black Women’s Blueprint
CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities
Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education
Community Connections for Youth, Inc.
DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving
Girls for Gender Equity
Hetrick-Martin Institute
Make the Road New York
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
New York City Anti-Violence Project
Resilience Advocacy Project
Sadie Nash Leadership Project
South Asian Youth Action
S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
The Alex House Project, Inc
The Audre Lorde Project, Inc.
The Brotherhood/Sister Sol
Turning Point for Women and Families
Welfare Rights Initiative
YWCA/The Young Women’s Christian Association Of The City Of New York $50,000



Why These Two Funders are Stepping Up to Close the Film Industry Gender Gap

Film Fatales, a collaborative of women film makers and television directors, has received two new grants.

Want to see how philanthropy can amplify movements for women’s equality? Look no further than this new funding collaboration between the Harnisch Foundation and the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, which will create long-term growth for women film makers and television directors.

“The Harnisch Foundation’s strategy for social change includes supporting creative communities, and investing in the power of storytelling,” said Ruth Ann Harnisch, Founder and President of the Harnisch Foundation. “Film Fatales hits both of those targets, giving women more opportunities, visibility, and connections. We share the goal of gender parity in making media.”

Film Fatales, once a relatively small network of women filmmakers sharing resources, has evolved into something much bigger. What was once a group of women in New York gathering for mentoring and support has blossomed into an organization of “over 500 women feature film and television directors in New York and Los Angeles, and scores more in sister cities across Europe, North America, and Australia.”

The evolution of Film Fatales has taken the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in a new direction this year, where twenty members of the network are premiering films, episodics, and virtual reality projects. These new works include the popular Amazon series I Love Dickco-directed by Jill Soloway, Andrea Arnold, and Kimberly Peirce, and starring Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Hahn.

Film Fatales also hosted Sundance’s opening weekend Women’s Brunch, a female filmmaker dinner with Kickstarter, and held their annual Film Fatales party at the event, with sponsorship from Blue Fever, Luna Bar, Tangerine Entertainment, and the Utah Film Commission.

Now, with new funding from the Harnisch Foundation and the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, Film Fatales is on the runway for a major takeoff in production of films by women. These two new grants will help the organization develop long-term sustainability, so that the large gender gap in film and television can begin to be closed. As of 2015, only 16 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on top-grossing films were women.

The first of these two new grants, from the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, is a recurring grant for $10,000 and will fund media efforts which will raise the visibility of Film Fatales productions as well as other feature films by women around the world. This is the first time the Adrienne Shelley Foundation has given a grant to an organization instead of directly to filmmakers.

The Harnisch Foundation is providing a second grant of $25,000 to Film Fatales for General Operating Support. With over $10 million in grants since 1998, the Harnisch Foundation is also a funder of Women Make Movies, Sundance Institute, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, and Chicken & Egg Pictures.

Films directed by Film Fatales at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival:

Band Aid directed by Zoe Lister Jones

Beach Rats directed by Eliza Hittman

Before I Fall directed by Ry Russo Young

Bitch directed by Marianna Palka

Buena Vista Social Club documentary directed by Lucy Walker

Deirdra & Laney directed by Sydney Freeland

Hold On directed by Christine Turner

I Love Dick co-directed by Jill Soloway, Andrea Arnold, Kimberly Peirce

If Not Love directed by Rose Troche

Landline directed by Gillian Robespierre

Lemon directed by Janicza Bravo

Motherland directed by Ramona Diaz

Step directed by Amanda Lipitz

Strangers co-directed by Celia Rowlson-Hall and Mia Lidofsky

This is Everything directed by Barbara Kopple

Through You co-directed by Lily Baldwin

Tokyo Idols directed by Kyoko Miyake

XX co-directed by Annie Clark, Jovanka Vuckovic, Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin


Why Civil Society Tops the Agenda for Women’s Philanthropy at DREAM, DARE, DO

Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of the YWCA and opening speaker for Dream, Dare, Do on March 14, 2017 in Chicago.

Grassroots activism is on the rise, from Standing Rock to the Women’s March on Washington to local organizing across the country. In the midst of all this, what better thing to do than attend a conference that is all about how to enhance civil society — the engagement of citizens in collective activity for the common good.

With this focus on growing civil society, the 2017 Symposium of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute offers panelists, speakers, and interaction aimed at understanding how women envision a better society, and then dare to take action to create that better place.

The Symposium, slated for March 14 and 15 in Chicago, will start with the leaders of two of the oldest and most venerable community-based organizations in the country — the YWCA, and the Junior League. “These organizations have lived through so much, and they adapted to the times to remain vibrant and vital,” said Andrea Pactor, Associate Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, in a recent chat with Philanthropy Women about the upcoming conference.

As many in the U.S. plan to press on for gender equality, valuing it as a cornerstone of civil society, The Women’s Philanthropy Institute is offering a wide array of expertise to feed the conversation about where women in philanthropy fits into this landscape.

The opening speaker for the conference will be Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of the YWCA, and a key figure in community-based leadership nationwide. “The YWCA is a classic example of how women developed new resources for civil society early on,” said Pactor. 

During the mid-1800’s industrialization of the nation, the YWCA grew out of a need for women to have a safe place to stay overnight. By starting the conference with Dr. Richardson-Heron, WPI is framing the narrative for women in philanthropy around a core value of having a safe place for everyone in the community, even as people moved or migrated to find new work.  

“There is no question that public policy and legislation can affect more people overall,” noted Pactor, “but while we’re waiting for that to happen, organizations in local communities like the YWCA and the Junior League are getting things done.”

Pactor observed that both of these organizations have been at the forefront of social and political movements since before women got the right to vote, and they continue to lead with innovative strategies for community engagement, such as the Junior League’s partnership with Kaboom! which builds playgrounds where they are needed. “This is a great partnership, because public space is where people can come together and when we come together we find we’re not so different after all,” said Pactor.

The Junior League, in particular, has deep roots for women’s community-building leadership. Mary Harriman, a 19-year-old heiress to a railroad fortune, founded The Junior League in 1901 to help women organize and take collective action to improve their communities.

“We’re starting from an institutional point of view, and then we move right into an individual perspective,” said Pactor, referencing the next speaker on opening day, Becky Straw, Co-Founder and CEO of The Adventure Project. “In some ways, Becky Straw is the new Mary Harriman, harnessing technology and integrating it into her work from the get-go.”

Becky Straw, Founder and CEO, The Adventure Project

At 29 years of age, Becky Straw co-founded The Adventure Project in order to “marry good intentions with measurable impact.” Straw’s project allows donors to invest in entrepreneurs in countries like Kenya and Uganda, and through technology, provides a direct link connecting the recipient of the donation with the donor.

Pactor said Straw will discuss how this connection enhances women’s giving, helping donor and recipient align in their goals and invest more deeply in the cause.  “So this is a conference that is connecting the new and the old, and thinking how women have worked in this public space over time,” said Pactor.

Other sessions of the conference are dedicated to women’s social entrepreneurship and impact investing. Leaders of Prosperity Together will also be presenting, including Lee Roper-Batker, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, and Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, CEO of the Greater Washington Area Women’s Foundation. Pactor was quick to point out that these women leaders in philanthropy, in their own ways, are also social entrepreneurs.

“Can we think about Prosperity Together as an entrepreneurial effort?” Pactor said the women’s funds leaders at the conference would be talking about how the Prosperity Together — the collaborative effort of 29 women’s funds and foundations across the country to increase economic security for women — has been “one of the most impactful campaigns that the women’s funds have ever taken on.” Hearing the insights of these leaders can help entrepreneurs of all sorts consider new ways to leverage social impact while also providing a service and contributing to the economy.

“Can those changes at the local level be brought to scale? Can the United Way Women’s Leadership Council in Anderson, South Carolina which took on teen pregnancy and was very successful, can this kind of work be replicated in other communities?” Pactor said questions like these, and other instances of women-led locally-based grantmaking, will be discussed more deeply.  “In Jacksonville, how has the Women’s Giving Alliance focus on mental health affecting the community? Could we build a national movement through women’s collective grantmaking around mental health?”

The conference also aims to stimulate discussion of what can be done to encourage women to step fully into their philanthropy. Using small group work and other collaborative techniques, participants can deepen their awareness of how to use their skills more effectively.

The conference trends in the direction of action, said Pactor. “Another tool that women have at their disposal that some are reluctant to use is advocacy,” said Pactor. “That’s why we’re bringing Sonya Campion to talk about advocacy both from the big picture and on the grassroots level.”

Sonya Campion added advocacy to her portfolio after feeling frustrated with the progress their foundation was making on its strategic goals. She and her husband, Tom, started a 501(c)4 in 2013 to invest in advocacy around the same causes their foundation supports. “They created a 501(c)4 so they bring different approaches to the table,” said Pactor. “Sonya Campion is not afraid to use advocacy as a tool to reach public policy makers to effect the kinds of changes they want to see.”

Ultimately, said Pactor, the conference hopes to close with a message that that encourages women to use all the tools at their disposal – whether leveraging their assets in impact investing, creating collaborations, enriching their work through advocacy, supporting innovative social enterprises, or growing grassroots giving circles.  

“We have to think strategically about the kinds of partnerships we want as women in philanthropy,” said Pactor. “I mean, think of it: Prosperity Together was launched at The White House. That says a lot about the kinds of partnerships that women in philanthropy are growing across the country.”

I had to ask: Did Pactor think Prosperity Together would be invited to the Trump White House? “We’re going to hope that they will be. Trump campaigned on the message of jobs and bringing better jobs to America. That’s what Prosperity Together is all about, so why wouldn’t he invite Prosperity Together to The White House?”

There Will Be No Progress for This Nation Without Progress for Gender Equality

Philanthropy Women will be out in full force at the rally in Providence today for women’s solidarity. Gender equality is the cornerstone of civil society and there will be no progress for this nation without progress for gender equality. #philanthrowomen

The List of Most Powerful Women in Philanthropy is Growing, and We Need Your Help

Last year when I was writing for Inside Philanthropy, David Callahan and I co-authored a list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in U.S. Philanthropy. It was a big hit. This year, I have decided to follow up and develop eight shorter lists. The lists will start with Emerging Most Powerful Women.

Why start with emerging? Using emerging women leaders as our starting point helps us get a sense of how these women are influencing some of the changing dynamics of philanthropy. Some of the emerging women are quite different from the more established women leaders in philanthropy. Many of these emerging leaders take a strong stance on the need for philanthropy to be more integrated into the economy and inclusive of marginalized groups. A heightened awareness of the need for collaboration across sectors to achieve systemic change is also a key point for many of them.

Speaking of inclusiveness, we want to make the process of establishing this list more inclusive, by asking for nominations from the public. So please, use this contact page to send me your nominations or leave them in the comments below. Make sure to say which category you are nominating someone for.

The point to all this list-making? I believe that the more women in philanthropy can be seen by the larger public, and the more their strategies can be known and replicated, the stronger movements for women’s leadership and gender equality will become. So please join me in identifying and celebrating this growing trend in social progress.

Categories for the Most Powerful Women in U.S. Philanthropy

  1. Emerging Leaders — These are women leaders who have not yet ascended to a highly visible position in the landscape of philanthropy, but appear destined to do so.
  2. Network and Collaborative Giving Leaders — The donor network and giving circle women leaders who are forging new paths for philanthropy.
  3. Thought and Strategy Leaders — Women leaders in academia, media, or journalism who are helping to conceptualize and amplify the world of women’s giving.
  4. Corporate Giving Leaders — Women leading our corporations who are putting gender equity high on the agenda and working it into the fabric of the corporation as thoroughly as possible.
  5. Foundation Leaders — Women who are making gender equity a priority in the country’s largest and most influential foundations.
  6. High Net Worth Givers — Women of substantially higher net worth who are also very active in the world of giving.
  7. Feminist Foundation and Women’s Fund Leaders — Women who are making feminism part of the central platform of their funding work.
  8. Celebrity Women Leaders — Women who use their stardom as well as their philanthropic prowess to move the needle on gender equity.

Beyond Planning Fundraisers: How Women’s Giving Circles Move Millions for Children’s Nonprofits

Jacqueline Caster

“When you think of the big gala events, you have to scratch your head and say, ‘why do people go to all that effort?’ I mean, those can be effective fundraisers, if done responsibly. But when they net very little or fail to  break even, doing nothing but raising awareness, I don’t buy into that.”

These are the words of Jacqueline Caster, founder and president of the Everychild Foundation, and master of the art of creating women’s giving circles—an effective and increasingly popular way to raise money.

The Everychild Foundation model has had a significant impact, and not just locally. It has been replicated by over 15 organizations, including two in London, some in other states, and many throughout California.

So how did this model arise? In part, it was a reaction to the grind of other approaches, especially galas, that were a common way for women to raise money for causes they care about—but which Caster and many other women did not find to be the best use of their time, treasure or talent. Caster writes eloquently of the different nature of her philanthropy in an essay in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. “For a growing number of contemporary women, particularly the highly educated, arranging fundraising events is often not, in fact, fulfilling or stimulating. For many, it under-utilizes their intellect, talent, education, professional skills, and general life experience.”

So what’s a highly educated contemporary woman to do? She might consider starting or joining a giving circle.

“Giving circles can be created at any price point, for any cause, and with any demographic as the membership,” said Caster in a recent interview. “You can do it with no paid staff and a tiny percentage of operational costs, compared to bigger foundations.”

Inside Philanthropy has covered giving circles before, including ones raising money for niche areas, like the Asian American LGBT community, or nonprofit work in specific locales like Philadelphia. Giving circles play to women’s strengths as networkers and collaborators, and they offer a way for smaller donors to be part of something larger—but not so large they have no meaningful voice.

Caster developed her alternative approach for giving in Los Angeles in 1999, and incorporated Everychild Foundation as a 501(c)(3) the following year. The model is relatively simple. The foundation’s mission is to ease suffering of Los Angeles-area children whether due to disease, disability, abuse, neglect or poverty. Each member makes an annual $5,000 tax-deductible donation. The money is then pooled to fund a single, targeted $1 million grant to a local organization with a dream project. The project ideally involves an innovative prototype that can be replicated, thereby leveraging the dollars even further.  

Less than 10 percent of the funds collected are used to operate the organization. There is no rent or salaried staff. Caster and all the other members donate all of their hours. However, there are some accounting, bookkeeping and a few other miscellaneous costs, plus the services of a professional grant consultant who advises the grant board.

Starting with 56 members in 2000, Everychild has now grown to its target of 225 members, giving it the financial muscle to make $1 million grants each year since 2006.

One of Everychild’s earliest grants tells an interesting story about impact. The foundation made a 2001 grant to Queenscare to fund a mobile dental clinic staffed by the University of Southern California School of Dentistry. When dentists started serving large numbers of low-income children in the first months, they uncovered such a huge unmet health need in the community that Queenscare sought out funding from other major local foundations; three more dental clinics were added, for a total of four clinics, all still operating today.

Each member of the Everychild Foundation donates the same amount and is permitted one vote on the million-dollar grantee for the year, so there is no inequality between the donors. “Members have frequently expressed how refreshing it is to participate in a charity without the typical hierarchy of  donors who are treated differently according to their gift size,” said Caster.

The Everychild Foundation begins soliciting proposals at the end of each calendar year. From January through May, the grant screening board narrows that pool of proposals down from roughly 25 to about six or eight. The board then evaluates items such as their financials, success handling other large grants and sustaining new projects. Next come site visits to each group in this final pool in May. “We meet the board, see the facility. We send questions before and after the site visit,” said Caster.

“We eventually vote on two finalists who spend the summer putting together a full proposal. The presentation to our membership takes place in October. About half the members attend the hearing every year.”

Members then mail in their ballots in the following two weeks. “Some discuss the choice in online chat groups. They talk it over at the dinner table with their families and partners,” said Caster. “It becomes a really interesting period as the final proposals are discussed.”

The model affords a great deal of latitude for participation, from not much at all to active involvement in the grantee review process or grant monitoring after the grants have been awarded. Some members don’t even vote for which grantee is chosen, trusting that the group has done its due diligence. Interested Everychild members also have the opportunity to advocate for a variety of children’s issues at the county, state and federal levels as part of the Public Policy Committee.

The Everychild Foundation’s level of due diligence in selecting the finalists has become legendary in the Los Angeles community. “Directors at other prestigious local foundations have said that if a project can survive Everychild’s rigorous review process, it must have merit,” said Caster.

Consequently, not only do Everychild’s chosen grantees receive $1 million, but the runners-up in Everychild’s process often see significant dollar support, either from Everychild members, or other foundations, not infrequently, even receiving the full million.

Which brings us to this year’s winner and runner-up.

The winner is Richstone Family Center, which will be creating a new healing arts center with the $1 million grant. “Richstone serves the areas of L.A. County experiencing the highest concentration of gang violence, child trafficking, drug-related crime, prostitution, and poverty,” said Caster in a press release about the winner. “The Everychild Foundation Healing Center has the ability to change the life trajectories of at-risk and abused children and their families.”

The runner-up this year is also providing vital services in the community, and is ripe for scaling up with additional funding. Jovenes, of Boyle Heights, helps homeless and at-risk children and families. The project it pitched will provide housing and other supportive services for hundreds of homeless community college students, many of whom are aged-out former foster youth. Caster acknowledged the difficult letdown of not getting the Everychild grant, but sometimes being the runner-up can actually surpass winning the Everychild Foundation’s grant. “One year, the runner-up received $2 million from another funder,” said Caster.

“We work really hard to help find funding for the runner-up,” said Caster. This year, after announcing the winner, she sent out an email about the runner-up, and already heard back from one funder who wanted to provide a five-figure grant and another who might be interested in funding the whole thing.

More information about Everychild’s grant process is here.

Philanthropy Women Will Be at Dream, Dare, Do in Chicago. How About You?

I am making my plans to be at Dream, Dare, Do in Chicago, the 2017 Symposium of the Indiana University Women’s Philanthropy Institute, happening on March 14-15. Why? Because I believe it is more necessary than ever to pay attention to women’s leadership, particularly in philanthropy.

I believe women’s leadership in philanthropy is an essential key to social progress, and an important way to grow that leadership is by valuing it more and making it more visible to the public. So I will be there — raising the visibility of women like Ruth Ann Harnisch, founder of The Harnisch Foundation,  Hali Lee, Founder of the Asian Women’s Giving Circle, and Marsha Morgan, Vice Chair of the Community Investment Network.

So go to the website and take a look at the 27 different speakers for this conference. Then consider how amazing it would be to attend an event that will enhance our understanding of the power of women’s leadership in philanthropy, feeding what is already an exciting trend for social progress.


Insights for Philanthropy Women from Take the Lead Women Happy Hour

Gloria Feldt, Co-Founder of Take the Lead Women and Former President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1996 to 2005.

Last evening, I had the pleasure of listening to Take the Lead Women’s Happy Hour with guests Rebecca Traister and Alyson Palmer. The preeminent Gloria Feldt, founder of Take the Lead Women and longtime leader for women in reproductive rights, moderated the discussion. All three women said things that not only lifted my spirits, but gave me some new directions to consider as I continue to develop Philanthropy Women. 

Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies and writer for New York Magazine and The Cut, talked about how she came to feminist journalism, starting with a job at Salon in the early 2000’s, where her editor was a woman and much of the staff was comprised of women. She started to write more from a feminist perspective at Salon, and that work gained traction online.

Rebecca Traister, Author and Feminist Journalism Pioneer

Traister also talked about how attention to gender equality on the left grew during the Howard Dean campaign for President of 2003-2004, when women writers called attention to the gender equality deficits on the Left. “In the years that followed I got to surf a wave of feminist journalism.”

Alyson Palmer, feminist activist and band member of BETTY, talked about her journey to a feminist awareness. Palmer referenced a formative experience in her teen years when she faced down her father as he was mistreating her brother. “You will never do that again,” she recalled telling her father. “Something about that moment changed me forever.”

Alyson Palmer, Musician and Feminist

Another formative experience Palmer referenced was in college, when she worked helping to book bands. A partner in the work kept wanting to book bands that Palmer felt “put me down,” and so she began to articulate a critique of how some music treats women. “I kept challenging him about that, and my feminism grew more from there.”

She then discovered playing the bass, and soon after met up with her fellow band members. “Once I found this little pod of females, that’s when I found my feminist voice.” Palmer has been part of the band BETTY now for thirty years. She advised women to “find at least two girl friends,” in order to grow their feminism and valuing of their own ideas and visions. “Have a small group of women you can turn to.”

Palmer is the mastermind behind a campaign called “1 at 1,” which calls all women to spend one minute at 1 pm EST on January 21 to “envision a world of gender equality.”

“The first thing we have to do is go beyond the bubble,” said Palmer. “What if the march could somehow go to you? What if every women who believes in equality could do the same thing at the same time?”

“What if all of us stood up in complete silence, and had a vision of women’s equality?” Palmer started telling people about 1 at 1, and the campaign has been catching on and growing quickly.

“It’s the simplicity of it,” she said. “I truly believe we need a structuring from the bottom up of how we see ourselves, and how we believe in ourselves.”

Initially, Palmer expected she might get 1,000 or 2,000 people interested, but the interest in 1 at 1 has been growing dramatically. Sister marches across the country are planning to participate in One at One and now, Gloria Steinem has signed on to do the countdown to the event. International interest is also growing. Women’s groups in Iraq, Norway and Israel are all planning to participate in One at One in some way. More information about the 1 at 1 campaign is available here. 

Palmer also talked about other movements for women happening internationally.  In India, women are organizing against “Eve Teasing” — the harassing of Indian women at night. To fight back, women in India are marching on multiple evenings.

Feldt posed a question from a listener in Brooklyn, Kiera, asking about  what women need to do in order to rise up and press on for gender quality. “What is the one thing women should say to themselves at the beginning of every day?”

Palmer responded by sharing a question she asks herself every day. “One of the best things you can ask yourself is:  what am I going to do for myself today? It gives me a sense of value, and a sense of time and place for myself within the day.”

Traister responded by speaking to the “untold diversity” of women and the enormous task of trying to represent women’s experiences. “I also think there are lots of women who could stand to think about what they’re going to do for other people, too,” she said. Traister referenced the unexpected voting patterns of white women in the recent election, with more white women still aligning with Republicans. She noted that, for women, “itcomes down to where you put your gender and interest in other women in comparison with where you put your interest in race or your connection to men.”

Feldt brought up a significant pattern that has emerged in the history of feminism in the US. “What we see is a pattern of having gotten started and making some big steps forward, and then voluntarily stepping back, often to let another group go first.”

“Zigging and zagging,” observed Palmer. “That is what we do. It’s very hard when your culture is always telling you to put others first.”

“We don’t want to lose the positive value of putting others first, but it’s a tricky balance,” said Feldt.

Traister made the point that there have been an enormous shift in marriage patterns in the US, contributing to cultural shifts that need more attention. She noted that for most of US history, “Women as a class were dependent on men economically. Women had to kick off their adulthoods with marriage for hundreds of years in this country.”

But that is no longer the case. Starting in the early 1990’s, that marriage pattern began to change dramatically. “For women who did marry, the median age of marriage rose. Starting in 1990 it jumped to 23.9. Today it is over 27, and in many cities, it is now over 30.”

“There are now more unmarried women in the US than there are married women. I was fascinated by that,” said Traister, which is a big part of why she wrote All the Single Ladies. 

“Housing policy, tax policy, the way that government has supported men’s participation in the workforce” were all designed around the idea that women would marry in early adulthood. “Now that we have women participating in the world differently, and we need a completely revamped set of public policies” to address that change, said Traister.

Traister said she recently learned that Hillary Clinton had put together an economic team for her presidency that “was going to redefine infrastructure to be about not just bridges and tunnels but about the infrastructure of care work — child care and elder care, those things were going to be right at the center.”

Traister expected that more women would vote for Clinton, based on how much her agenda planned to center around their concerns. “I did expect more women would vote for that. Women of color did. White women did not.”

Next up in the happy hour came a question from none other than me. “Kiersten in Rhode Island wants to know: what role can philanthropy play for creating optimism for women?” asked Feldt.

“Women are gaining power as they gain more wealth,” said Traister. “Philanthropy can play a role in terms of giving women direction about how to help, and it’s exciting to think about putting your energy and your dollars toward getting closer to equality.”

But Traister cautioned that philanthropy cannot be a stand-alone remedy for big social issues. “I also want to see philanthropy push for those policy shifts we are going to need. Don’t let up the pressure on the state institutions that are supposed to be providing for all of us.”

Palmer added that philanthropy happens at many levels in society and is not just about high net worth women. “There are people at all levels who are giving a percentage of their wealth who have very little money, but who are still giving at the same percentages. That fuels American progress, always.”

“It’s one of the things that has been characteristic of our culture in the US,” added Feldt. She noted that the philanthropic strain is more pronounced in American culture, and that government doesn’t tend to take on issues unless the grassroots, much of it supported by philanthropy, pushes for change. “Government doesn’t tend to take that responsibility unless we at the grassroots are setting the tone.”