The Grateful Activist: This Longtime Philanthropy Leader Shares Insights

Tracy Gary has played a key role in building the infrastructure of women’s philanthropy over the past 40 years.

Tracy Gary says she starts every day as a “grateful activist.” That’s a good way to approach the morning, and an attitude that infuses the 66-year old Gary’s now 40-year career as philanthropy advisor, non-profit leader, donor and consultant.

A founder of nearly two dozen non-profits, Gary heads Unleashing Generosity and Inspired Legacies, and is on the road 40 days per year working with non-profits, foundations, and donors. That’s down from the 200 days away from home she used to log, but in the last few years she has reduced her workload (which used to run to 60-80 hours per week) and dropped 100 pounds. It’s a matter of staying healthy, and staying on the planet, so that she can continue mentoring the next generation of inheritors and philanthropy professionals.

Gary spoke to me by phone from her home in Tiburon, California just north of San Francisco, and had plenty to say on matters philanthropic, political and personal. (A very short side bar: she liked Wonder Woman, go see it).

Raised in a wealthy New York family, Gary studied mythology at Sarah Lawrence College, moved to California in the 1970s, and soon became active in the philanthropy and non-profit world. She now occupies a unique position in the women’s philanthropy sphere as she wears, and has worn, so many different hats. (If she was inclined toward the flashy, a retinue of milliners would be in order).

First, Gary is a donor herself: she gave away most of the $1.3 million ($7.5 million in 2017 dollars) that she inherited when she turned 21. She also donates a third of her yearly earnings to progressive organizations and causes. Over the course of her working life, this sum has totaled about two million dollars. Second, Tracy Gary has served as a non-profit worker, founder and leader, and so knows a thing or two about starting, growing and maintaining organizations. A “serial non-profit entrepreneur,” Gary says she would start an organization, “raise that first million,” hire staff, and then move on after five to seven years. Two of her early efforts were helping establish the Women’s Foundation of California (a model for the now well over 100 women’s foundations around the country) and the Women Donors Network.

Tracy Gary’s experience as both a donor and organization builder has fueled her career as a speaker, writer, facilitator, coach and consultant. Her work has taken her to 50 states and 23 countries, and there are few who can match Gary’s depth and breadth of expertise in women’s philanthropy. “I’m here to support people,” she says of her role as a mentor to the current and next generation of philanthropists, inheritors and non-profits.

Gary is frequently invited to speak and consult with banks, foundations, social justice funds, and feminist and LGBTQ organizations. In a two-day visit, she will pack a lot in: delivering a tailored keynote to the organization hiring her, giving workshops to staff, educating development professionals on cultivating wealthy women, meeting with high-level donors, and canvassing the area for women of means to bring into the fold. If she’s not coming to your town, Gary has a series of podcasts available on the Inspired Legacies site, in which she and colleague Louis Wellmeier talk to a range of people about money and giving.

Tracy Gary has no problem staying motivated: “If someone had told me that giving money away would have provided me such a sense of community and joy,” says Gary, “I wouldn’t have believed it.” She also thinks that spreading the wealth around is a matter of survival.“Either we work for the good of all, or we will see these implosions continue around us.”

Some of these implosions are Trump-related, and, while not happy about the election, Gary is not discouraged. “A lot is breaking down, but a lot is breaking through,” she says. She sees Trump’s election as a wake-up call, the result of a combination of “falling asleep at the wheel” and most Americans getting caught in the vicious cycle of consumerism. Gary notes that increasing inequality has sown divisions.“You can’t have zero social mobility for the bottom 40 percent for 25 years and not expect a revolution.”

There is a lot of rancor and division in the country, but Gary says the only way to combat it is through love, tolerance and a focus on justice. Women are key to resisting the ever-increasing flow of money into the coffers of the 1 percent, to the detriment of the poor, and the planet. Trump did not start this trend, but Gary sees Trump’s regressive policies as accelerating it. “We have to be the counterbalance,” she says, not just in the U.S., but globally. “The UN has years of data showing that if you invest in women, you improve towns and communities.”

One of Gary’s early philanthropic efforts was giving to and volunteering for a battered women’s shelter. An insight she gained from this time was that while work in the field is valuable and necessary, system-level reform is needed. “In order to change the conditions of violence, we had to change the laws and attitudes in place.” Increasingly, Gary says, the big picture is getting clearer. “A lot of funders and donors are realizing what advocacy and policy is,” she says. Once again, the 2016 presidential election has been a wake-up call, and Gary would like to see more women run for office. A significant barrier she notes is that women perform the lion’s share of child and elder care.

Of late, Gary has been concerned with tax policy, specifically the way the tax code favors the very wealthy. She is tough on the rich, decrying the rotting fruits of “run-away capitalism” and noting that, “Too much money in the hands of wealthy people is not good.”

Gary would like to see donors be “intentional” in trying to decrease inequality in society. “Giving to the elite schools your kids attend is race and class self-interest,” she says, and further notes that some of what passes for philanthropy supports “things that are counter to democracy.” Gary would like nothing more than to free the rich from the burden of their great assets. “I’ve seen what too much wealth can do,” she says, and notes the isolation, stress and joylessness of the super-rich as they become prisoners of their multiple houses and jet-setting accoutrements.

Her message to the wealthy is presented with love, but with a point: “You can give much more than you already are.” To this end, over the last 40 years Gary has sought to build an infrastructure of giving, particularly for women’s philanthropy. One of her chief aims is get donors into the community, to make them less passive. “I try to bring wealthy people out of their cocoons,” she says.

Gary is also dedicated to bringing women together, noting that wealthy women can act as powerful role models for one another in furthering female-centered giving. “A lot of women have not shown up to say how they want their family’s money invested,” she says. Another piece of the puzzle is working with women (and men) on “aligning their values with their philanthropy.” In other words, if social and environmental justice are important to a person, then their giving should reflect that, something that is not always the case when money is shoveled into a donor-advised fund with little investigation or reflection. She would also like donors to become activists themselves, to use their wealth and power to advance progressive causes and engage politically, finding it unconscionable that big guns like Gates and Buffett are silent on issues like the Flint water crisis and the repeal of Obamacare.

It’s not just the wealthy who can do and give a little more; Gary argues that the middle class can step up its game as well. Her book Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy gets into some of the nitty gritty of giving money away. While she often meets one-on-one with wealthy donors, providing advice on how and where to give, the idea behind the book was to discuss strategies that are “just as useful for a family giving $2,000 a year as one giving $200,000 or two million.”

Tracy Gary left me with lots to chew on, as well as one specific piece of advice (in addition to seeing Wonder Woman): give to the organizations you support before summer kicks in, as these are typically lean months for donations in the non-profit world.

New Initiatives Launch for Women and Girls of Color in DC and Beyond

A Fair Chance, a new report from the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, provides key statistics that map out the problems needing to be addressed for women and girls of color, such as high suspension rates in school.

“We have been very intentional to make sure that organizations that are connected to communities and girls of color are at the table,” said C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D., Vice President of Programs for the Washington Area Women’s Foundation (WAWF), when talking with Philanthropy Women recently about the launch of the Young Women’s Initiative (YWI).

This connectedness to the community is a big factor in what makes YWI a powerful vehicle for youth empowerment for girls of color as well as for transgender and non-gender conforming youth.

“We’ve also been in conversation with the D.C. government and the mayor’s office, to make sure that pieces of legislation for women and youth of color are supported,” added Mason.

The connections with the community extend to the national level. One of the speakers at the launch, Kalisha Dessources, Director of the National Coalition for Young Women’s Initiatives and a former advisor to President Obama’s work for women and girls, spoke of how WAWF’s launch is one in a series that will take place across the country. These different YWI initiatives will be led by six other women’s foundations who joined Prosperity Together, the Obama Administration’s coalition of women’s funds and foundations pushing extra hard for advancements for young women and girls of color. Launches of YWI initiatives are also happening in Memphis, Western Massachusetts, Dallas, Birmingham, Minnesota, and California.

“We’re bringing new allies to the table,” said Dessources. “And expanding what allies look like — to corporations, to national philanthropies, to local businesses. We need to make sure that the voices of girls of color are heard around the country.”

“Young women and girls of color were more likely to report not feeling safe walking to school,” said Mason, in talking about examples of how WAWF puts boots to the ground to address problems for young women and girls of color. “So how do we make sure that girls feel safe in their neighborhoods?”

One way YWI is combatting that problem is by working with the local city council in D.C. to introduce legislation to end street harassment. Council Member Nadeau introduced the measure in February, which would mandate the training of city employees about street harassment and how to address it.

Dr. C. Nicole Mason, Vice President, Programs, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, HyeSook Chung, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, President & CEO, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Storme Gray, Program Officer, Washington Area Women’s Foundation

I offered my appreciation to Mason for the initiative’s inclusiveness of youth who are questioning their gender or transitioning to another gender. As a clinical social worker who welcomes referrals from the Rhode Island Youth PRIDE, an advocacy and support organization for LGBTQ youth, I am aware of how important it is to highlight the needs of this population.

“We have been operating in a very binary space in terms of gender and how we support gender nonconforming youth,” said Mason. “So what I’m excited about is that all these initiatives are doing the work to be gender inclusive.”

Mason noted that “the data that the city collects on transgender youth is very limited,” which adds to the challenge of inclusion, but YWI has done and will continue to media creation to help learn about the range of gender experiences for youth. As part of YWI, a storytelling initiative will be produced and disseminated on a regular basis. “We are profiling a range of young women, including transgender youth. We will be rolling a story out a month.”

Mason emphasized the way that YWI is led by young women of color, a big shift from the way foundations typically operate. “The traditional model is that adults tell young people what to do,” said Mason. “With YWI, young women were able to define the space for themselves. We allowed them to tell us what it means to be safe in the community. We let young people take the lead in helping to shape the initiative, and I think that’s the right approach.”

Mason added that on the individual level, the experience for young women and girls of color participating in YWI is a life-enhancing experience. “Being a part of YWI is an amazing leadership opportunity. The women and girls who participate will be able to use their voice to make change in their communities.”

More from the press release:

On May 24, Washington Area Women’s Foundation officially launched the Young Women’s Initiative, a city-wide effort to improve life outcomes and increase opportunities for young women, girls, transgender women, and gender non-conforming youth of color between the ages of 12-24. With over 200 community leaders, activists, government officials, philanthropists and young girls in the audience, The Women’s Foundation shared the purpose of the Initiative, including key statistics about the state of women and girls in the District of Columbia, and ended the program with a poignant and powerful panel of youth who shared their unique experiences in the District.

We cannot talk about the needs of, and the opportunities for, young women and girls in DC, without being explicit about the fact that girls and young women, transgender women, and gender non-conforming youth of color face barriers and challenges that many of us, including me, a straight, white cisgender woman, have never faced and will never face,” said Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, President & CEO, Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Dr. C. Nicole Mason, Vice President, Programs, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, presented statistics from The Foundation’s new report “A Fair Chance: Improving Outcomes and Reducing Barriers to Success and Opportunity for Girls, Young Women, Transgender Young Women and Gender Non-Conforming Youth of Color in DC.” Girls and women of color in the District experience higher rates of poverty, homelessness, teen pregnancy, and more involvement in the juvenile justice system and are at a greater risk for in-school disciplinary actions and suspension.

“The fact that you invited me and want to partner with government agency speaks volumes because again, we cannot do this alone,” said HyeSook Chung, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. “The Women’s Foundation is committed to racial equity, as we are, and to building the leadership of girls and young women who will be the future.”

“Last night was a powerful and inspiring moment for the organization. It was a reminder of the wisdom and courage that our young women possess, and a reaffirmation that we have chosen the right time to launch our Young Women’s Initiative,” said Storme Gray, Program Officer, Washington Area Women’s Foundation. “I’m so appreciative of the young women on the stage and in the audience who spoke their truths with great authenticity and power. It was an amazing sight to see.”

Community leaders and partners can get involved in the Young Women’s Initiative, to build solutions to embolden and support the young women and girls in DC, in several ways. They can nominate a young woman to join the Young Women’s Advisory Council. Nominations are still open, and will be through June 1st. The Women’s Foundation is creating opportunities for girls to lead, and asks that you to nominate a dynamic young woman to participate in this great opportunity. Another way to get involved would be to make a donation to the Washington Area Women’s Foundation to support the Young Women’s Initiative.

A full video of the Young Women’s Initiative launch is here: 



Video: Grantmakers for Girls of Color Convened 125 Funders

Today, Grantmakers for Girls of Color will hold its second annual convening, with more than 125 funders meeting in New York for a day-long dialogue about girls of color and safety.

Grantmakers for Girls of Color (GGOC) is an unprecedented collaboration of philanthropic funders that are particularly focused on challenges faced by girls of color.

From the press release:

At the convening we will learn how girls of color are most impacted by interpersonal and state violence and how movements are responding. Together, this is a chance for funders to focus on intersecting safety concerns facing girls of color, as prioritized by those leading movements, and to explore how we can best support efforts working to create safety.

You can find much more information here and a Facebook Live feed will be available from 9am-12:30pm Eastern here.

Business Worldwide Aligns with Global Goals, But Trump Rejects New Economy

Launched in January of 2016, The Business and Development Commission makes the  case for achieving a sustainable economy that will also address environmental issues. The Commission helps businesses align with the Global Goals, and track the economic gains of adhering to these goals.

Because of the importance of addressing climate change for women worldwide (as well as for all other manner of human and other species), it is important to take note of the economic activity that other countries are poised to engage in as a result of the Paris Accord. It’s also important to note how the U.S. will miss out on these economic opportunities because of our current poor (and non-representative) presidential leadership.

Recently, a new international commission formed to encourage more businesses to see the sustainable development goals as a smart business move — one that will generate an estimated $5 trillion and 230 million jobs in Asia alone by 2030.

From the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC):

Better Business, Better World Asia is part of a series of reports, first launched in January 2017, which make the business case for the Sustainable Development Goals, or Global Goals—17 objectives to eliminate poverty, improve education and health outcomes, create better jobs and tackle our key environmental challenges by 2030.

The research shows that, instead of being a constraint to growth, companies pursuing strategies aligned with the Global Goals could open economic opportunities across 60 “hot spots” worth up to US$12 trillion and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs globally by 2030. Asia represents 40 percent of the global value, and nearly two-thirds of total jobs.

Better Business, Better World Asia breaks down the estimated US$5 trillion of economic value across four key systems:

Food & Agriculture: US$1 trillion
Cities: US$1.5 trillion
Energy & Minerals: US$1.9 trillion
Health & Well-being: US$670 billion

Of the total value for Asia, around US$2.3 trillion could be found in China alone, US$1.1 trillion in India, US$1.1 trillion in developing and emerging Asia, and US$0.7 trillion in developed Asia, which include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea.

“Asia’s economic transformation in recent decades is unprecedented, thanks to smart government intervention and business innovation, but the ‘Asian Century’ is threatened by persistent inequality, environmental collapse and unabated climate change,” said Mark Malloch-Brown, chair of the Business & Sustainable Development Commission. “The same ingenuity that catalysed Asia’s rise can also turn these challenges into opportunities that rewards both business and society. Better Business, Better World Asia shows that the continent already has the means to do so—it needs only the will to realise this US$5 trillion opportunity.”

The estimated value of US$5 trillion is conservative. Additional value could be released from other sectors, including information communication technologies (ICT), education, and consumer goods. Globally, these sectors could add a further 66 percent to the global value of US$12 trillion. Pricing in environmental costs such as climate change could increase the ‘real’ size of the prize by a further 40 percent. And making progress on the single global goal of gender equality in countries in Asia where women are not strongly engaged in the economy is likely to add an additional 30 percent to the economic growth of these countries.

“With the locus of global influence shifting East and South and with 40 percent of a US$12 trillion prize at stake, the opportunities for businesses serving consumers in Asia are obvious,” said Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and member of the Business Commission. Strategies that sustainably meet the demands of the growing middle-class in the region, whilst at the same time tackling urgent environmental and social challenges will ultimately be successful in unlocking market value. Aligning these strategies with the Global Goals is not just good for society and the environment, but makes strategic business sense.”

The 20 largest opportunities identified in the report account for more than 70 percent of this prize; they also vary across countries. In China and the rest of developing and emerging Asia, affordable housing presents the largest business opportunity, reflecting a large unmet need. In India, where much of the population is not covered by health insurance, risk pooling in healthcare presents the biggest opportunity. In developed Asia, creating closed-loop systems in automotive and appliances presents the biggest opportunities, due in part to the manufacturing power of Japan and South Korea. Reducing food waste in food supply chains, worth US$260 million, is the largest single opportunity in food and agriculture; while low-income food markets comes in second, with a value of US$190 billion.

“Feeding Asia has become an urgent priority, with its current 4.4 billion and still-growing population. Sustainable agriculture at scale has never been more crucial, even as farming participation continues to fall in Asia,” said Sunny Verghese, Co-Founder and Group CEO of Olam International, and a commissioner. “We believe that businesses have a critical role to play in ensuring agriculture remains viable by partnering with smallholders who constitute the majority of Asian farmers to enable them to help feed the world sustainably.”

According to the report 230 million jobs that could be generated through SDGs-aligned business models in Asia, However, these jobs created will only meet Global Goals targets if they provide decent work which create sufficient reward and development opportunities for workers.

An estimated US$1.7 trillion is needed annually to develop all the opportunities across the four systems in Asia. Blended financing—where public and philanthropic bodies take on the high risk and more policy-sensitive tranches of investment—can fill the funding gap and help bring in private investors at lower risk.

Cherie Nursalim, Vice Chairman, GITI Group.

“The Global Goals can be see through a local lens, for example, through Balinese philosophy, Tri Hita Karana, or ‘Three Ways to Happiness,’ which emphasizes harmony with people, nature, and spirit,” said Cherie Nursalim, Vice Chairman of GITI Group, and a member of the Commission. “The Global Goals align with these age old traditions through what we call an ‘SDG Pyramid.’”

The new report, Better Business, Better World Asia, was produced in partnership with Temasek, an investment company headquartered in Singapore, and AlphaBeta, a “strategy and economics” firm based in both Singapore and Sydney.

Business leaders wanting to learn more about aligning their companies with the Global Goals can visit

Which Countries Fund Gender Equality Most? And Will #1 Keep Its Spot?

The report, created from data produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), shows where member countries rank in providing funding for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Another day, another fascinating report on the status of gender equality philanthropy. Today I came across the report, Aid in Support of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, and read about how the United States stacks up against other Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member nations in terms of funding gender equality.

The data shows that as of 2014, the U.S. was the largest supporter of gender equality and women’s empowerment among the DAC membership. The report shows that of the $40.2 billion committed to gender equality and women’s empowerment, the U.S. was responsible for $26,211,000 of that. Second behind the U.S. is Japan, with a total of $16,817,000 in total aid screened. (It’s a complicated mix of ways this money is calculated, so you should look at the notes in the report to get an accurate sense of what they mean by “total aid screened” and other terms.) Third behind Japan in total aid screened is EU Institutions, with a total of $16,312,000.

My first instinct in taking in this data is to wonder whether, with Trump as President, the U.S. will remain a top funder internationally of gender equality and women’s empowerment. It doesn’t seem likely, given the significant cuts that have already been made to the UNFPA. Trump’s decision to cut $32.5 million from the UNFPA’s budget is one that will absolutely devastate worldwide efforts to help women with services as basic as safe childbirth and shelter for abused women. From CNN:

The decision “could have devastating effects on the health of vulnerable women and girls and their families around the world,” said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres through a spokesman.

Guterres “deeply regrets the decision by the United States to cut financial support for the UN Population Fund (and) believes that the decision is based on an inaccurate perception of the nature and importance of the work done by UNFPA,” said his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

In Syria, UNPFA said it has helped an estimated 48,000 women with safe childbirth, some 74,700 individuals with gender-based violence outreach, and offered health services and psychological support. It has created 64 women’s centers and safe spaces.

On top of this, Trump is threatening to cut more State Department programs and other humanitarian aid to the United Nations.

That’s not good. With an estimated 222 million women in the world who still lack access to contraceptive services, this appears to be a rather cutthroat way to downsize movements for equality worldwide.

Further reading on the history of funding for gender equality is here at AWID: Donors thinking big: beyond gender equality funds