How Lady Gaga Responded to the Community While on Tour

Lady Gaga’s nonprofit, Born This Way Foundation, conducted a Channel Kindness Tour that coincided with her music tour and raised funds for 35 local organizations.

I’m always on the lookout for ways that women leaders are doing philanthropy differently — mixing and melding the work into different spaces, finding ways to combine giving with other activities and make philanthropy more accessible to the public. One effort that recently caught my eye was Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation (BTWF) and its collaborating-while-touring work with local organizations.

First, just to clear up a technical detail, BTWF is not actually a foundation, but a nonprofit with the mission of enhancing mental wellness and kindness in the community. This year, rather than using its end-of-year fundraising period to raise money for BTWF, the organization is giving all the money it raised during its partnership with its Channel Kindness Tour  to grassroots organizations in communities across the country, many of which are doing groundbreaking work with inclusion as an essential value to building a healthy community.

The Channel Kindness Tour coincided with Lady Gaga’s “Joanne” World Tour, a series of 30 concerts performed by the singer this past year.  The tour involved a series of pop up activations, youth-led services events and community gatherings in locations across the United States and Canada. Maya Enista Smith, Executive Director of BTWF, spoke with us at Philanthropy Women, to tell us more about this unusual method of combining touring with activism and philanthropy.

“Our goal is to build a kinder and braver world. We feel young people are uniquely positioned to build that younger and braver world,” said Smith. BTWF is a relatively young organization, celebrating its sixth year this month. Initially founded by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, the foundation has a diverse funding base including corporate partners like Staples and Starbucks, and foundation support from  Microsoft and Find Your Grind, as well as individual donors.

“We visited 30 communities on that tour and we met with 65 organizations. When we started this tour, we didn’t know that the fundraising piece was going to be part of it, but we were just so overwhelmed with the incredible work that these local organizations were doing in service to young people, to spreading kindness and encouraging a culture of mental wellness,” said Smith.  “So we decided to leverage the platform we had with the Channel Kindness Tour to not only shine a light on these organizations, but also do more, so we decided to dedicate our year-end fundraising campaign for these organizations.”

Through its Channel Kindness Tour, BTWF visited the organizations and volunteered with them, helping them to garner media attention.  The nonprofits were also invited to have informational tables in the concert venues in order to call more attention to their work.

Many of the organizations receiving support emphasize inclusiveness in their missions. Youth Emergency Services in Omaha, Nebraska, for example, provides housing to homeless youth. Artmix, an organization in Indiana, provides art classes to young people with disabilities, particularly focusing on reaching out to low income communities. Downtown Eastside Women’s Center in Vancouver, Canada, serves women and families in poverty with food and other basic services.

Over the course of the tour, BTWF raised over $12,000, and both Lady Gaga and the Foundation matched these funds, so that in total $38,000 was raised to support organizations that engaged with the tour. As a result, 35 organizations will receive grants of $1,000 for their work.

This fundraising effort shifts the model in an interesting way. By connecting with nonprofits in the communities where Lady Gaga was touring, BTWF learned about important local activism and then responded by bringing more resources to them. Imagine if more performers took the time to reach out and get to know local nonprofits as they toured, finding ways to bring more attention and funding to their work. Smith said that BTWF got over 100 new donations with this effort, demonstrating the high level of interest in being connected to funding more work at the grassroots.

Many of the organizations receiving support also emphasize LGBTQ rights and gender equality. Cool Girls in Atlanta, for example, provides after-school programming for at-risk girls in grades 2 through 8, with activities ranging from fitness to STEM. Women of the World in Utah provides career pathways for young women, training women in careers and working to address the gender wage gap.

“We look for organizations that value youth voices,” said Smith. “Every organization we met with, young people are at the center of their work.”

Another way that BTWF is working to collaborate with the nonprofits it met with in communities is by highlighting their work on Channel Kindness. To get the word out about the value of kindness, BTWF has brought together 50 reporters from across the country to find and report on “heroic acts of kindness.”

Lady Gaga has used her talents and celebrity status to be part of important gender equality activism in the past. For the documentary film The Hunting Ground, for example, she was the artist who co-wrote the soundtrack Til It Happens to You, which was nominated for an Oscar award for Best Original Song. With executive producer was Ruth Ann Harnisch (one of Philanthropy Women’s lead sponsors), The Hunting Ground opened the public’s eyes to the problem of rape on college campuses.

Now with her nonprofit organization, Born This Way Foundation, Lady Gaga is finding new and creative ways to blend her artistic talents with philanthropy. It’s just another example of how women donors are finding new ways to listen to and respond to the community with philanthropy. Hopefully other celebrities and organizations can learn from Born This Way Foundation and its innovative practices.

Click here to find out more about the organizations receiving donations.


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New York Women’s Foundation Announces Additional $4 Million in Grants for 2017

The New York Women’s Foundation granted an additional $4 million in 2017.

Good news for progressive women’s organizations in and around New York City, as the New York Women’s Foundation today announced that they made an additional $4.21 million in grants in 2017, bringing the total for their grantmaking in 2017 to $8 million, the largest amount ever given out by the foundation in a single year.

Recipients of the grants span a wide range of issue areas related to women’s health and well-being. Grants are provided through a model of grantmaking that is achieves added impact by using community engagement, advocacy, and networking to produce significant social change.

The Foundation also provided an additional $2,525,000 from The NYC Fund for Girls and Young Women of Color to 41 “emerging groups” — groups that are working to build the leadership and influence of young women, transgender people, and gender non-conforming youth of color.

The grantmaking of the New York Women’s Foundation is part of a growing trend in philanthropy called participatory grantmaking — a process of involving grantees in the grantmaking process and bringing grantees onto foundation boards, as a way to make the funding more impactful. There’s a lot of attention going toward participatory grantmaking right now in philanthropy, with Helen LaKelly Hunt writing a piece in the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s blog recently about women’s funds and the origins of participatory grantmaking. Well-known philanthropy expert Marc Gunther also recently covered the movement in his blog, Nonprofit Chronicles, emphasizing that participatory grantmaking “fits this political moment.” In addition, other larger grantmaking is happening in this space with grantmakers like Wikimedia Foundation increasing the amount of participatory grantmaking happening in recent years.  

The New York Women’s Foundation emphasizes the participatory grantmaking strategy particularly in its grantmaking for young women and girls of color, stating that it provides support to this constituency “on their own terms and in their own voice.”

More news on the New York Women’s Foundation is available on their website.


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The Many Faces of Love: Responses on Take the Lead Virtual Happy Hour

Virtual Happy Hour, hosted by Take the Lead, is a once-a-month event spotlighting women leaders.

Last evening, I had the pleasure of being a panelist on Take the Lead Virtual Happy Hour, hosted by Gloria Feldt. The topic for discussion was The Many Faces of Love: How Women & Philanthropy Can Change the World. Here are my responses:

  • What are the challenges for you in philanthropy?

Like everyone, my challenges are fundraising. I knew when I launched Philanthropy Women, I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed key stakeholders, so reached out for support from women who I knew who wanted to grow the sector of media attention for gender equality philanthropy.

For my own personal philanthropy, like many couples, I work in a team with my husband. Our giving has tended to center on the Episcopal church and related social justice initiatives, music education, and independent journalism. Now we also give to The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, and also to the Rhode Island Coalition against Domestic Violence. My husband and I also support organizations doing global gender equality work, and we have funded local arts initiatives for women and girls through a giving circle I formed, which I hope to do more with in the future.

  • How can a woman get started?  And is there a way for her to align her job and a philanthropic cause she believes in?

My advice is to start small and celebrate new breakthroughs in the progress for your business development. In any business, it takes several years to get traction, to build your skills, your identity, and your reputation.

Also, be flexible with yourself. Change course if needed. I’ve seen friends decide to end their startup and go back to working full time, and sometimes that’s what needs to happen. Give yourself what you need.

For me, being a social worker naturally aligned me to pursue writing about social justice, and my interest in women’s studies goes back to both my undergraduate education at Hunter, and my graduate education at Smith. The internet is helpful for aligning your job and your philanthropy, since it helps connect you to a wider population and find the people who share your particular interest.

  • How can women make their contributions count?

The beauty of working in online media is that all of your efforts are documented. I encourage women to build their reputations online, whatever they do, as it is a powerful tool, and by default, your contributions are counted. It becomes easier over time to find the paper trail that leads to you, and the more you do online, the more that paper trail can show.

  • What have you learned from the women you’ve worked with?

From the women I have helped treat in my private practice, I have learned about the amazing resilience of the human spirit. The #Metoo stories coming out today help me realize how much women have suffered in silence through the years of my lifetime. Many important #MeToo stories are surfacing, and every woman has to choose for herself whether to make her story public and consider the potential legal ramifications. We all have to figure out how to navigate forward at our own pace.

From leaders in women’s philanthropy, I’ve learned to keep challenging myself. I do this by staying in touch with many remarkable women leaders in philanthropy, who inspire me with their attention to social issues, particularly the needs and rights of vulnerable communities. 

  • What are the passions driving women in philanthropy?

I can only speak about gender equality givers, since that is the sector that I focus on. The passions driving gender equality women givers are outlined well by WPI’s recent report on high net-worth women. These women are driven by deeply ingrained values that often come from a religious upbringing. They’re very research-driven and yet empathetic. They’re risk-takers. They see the added value of philanthropy directed at women and girls. They are focused on systemic and structural change. All of these things make gender equality givers, in my opinion, the best givers. That’s why I study them and practice gender equality giving myself.

  • Is philanthropy a gender-neutral field?  Are there parity issues here as in other industries?

Philanthropy is absolutely not a gender neutral field! Philanthropy exists within the patriarchy, and is borne of a capitalist economic system that, sadly, leaves many people locked out.  As the stories are now surfacing about sexual harassment and abuse in the nonprofit sector, hopefully the sector will begin to recognize that there is much work to be done internally.

  • How has the philanthropic world changed—what issues have driven that change?

Philanthropy is starting to pay more attention to the pivotal role that women’s leadership can play within the sector. But more importantly, philanthropy is calling attention to the transformative role women can play in global economies, and within global health and public policy. It’s not a new realization, but there’s renewed emphasis on making gains in seeing the value of women’s leadership because we see under President Trump what can happen when an anti-feminist gets into the highest office in the country.

  • Opportunities and challenges women face in philanthropy?

I think what women offer the field is a stronger inclusive vision of the world, and this can be translated into opportunities not just in philanthropy, but in the crossover between socially responsible business and government collaboration. Women can be the bridge builders between the different sectors. They have the ideas and the mentality to change the world, but first they need to rise to critical mass in leadership. That is our big challenge now. To rise to that challenge, we need to ensure that more women are elected. That’s why we are seeing a lot of new investment in philanthropy in preparing women to run for office.

  • Advice for women looking to break into this world?

Be kind to yourself and to others. Build your authority over time by your ongoing kindness, as well as your strict attention to the ideals of justice and equality. Value all of your feelings, particularly your anger about injustice. That anger is telling you something important, and when employed strategically, it can fuel social change. That is part of what #MeToo  is teaching us — the importance of valuing our own anger.

  • Recommendations for women seeking leadership roles. What was your secret to making it?

Persistence through difficulty is key. Not every day is a barrel of laughs. There is drudgery in every profession, and some people need more outside structure to function at their best professionally. But there is also great value in building your career as much on your own terms as possible, so that in the end, you are the sole owner of what you have built. The traditional trajectory to leadership for someone in my profession is to work for several decades in a large agency or in government. Instead, I chose to become an independent provider for my clinical services, and from there realized that I could use the knowledge and experience I gained in my practice to add to the data on vulnerable people. At the same time, I could become a more visible public advocate for gender equality.

I look for opportunities to tie my daily clinical practice work directly into the work we discuss on Philanthropy Women, and because I specialize in treatment for survivors of physical and sexual abuse, there are many opportunities for me to tie my work into my philanthropy. I also specialize in financial social work, helping people pay attention to how their financial lives impact their emotional lives and relationships, so again that ties heavily into gender equality and how women wield their power with money.

Learn more about Take the Lead here. 


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Martha A. Taylor: On Accelerating Social Change for Women

Martha A. Taylor, longtime women’s philanthropy expert and Vice President of the University of Wisconsin Foundation, shares insights about how to accelerate social change for women.

“Major societal change happens through major institutions,” says Martha A. Taylor, women’s philanthropy pioneer and Vice President of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. Taylor doesn’t discount the energy that comes from the streets, and in January she attended the Women’s March with her then 94-year-old mother, who carried a sign invoking both FDR and Obama. Still, Taylor says that for women to effect change, they need to occupy leadership positions in major institutions.

That maxim applies to the corporate, political and non-profit spheres. “When you sit in a board room where hundreds of millions of dollars are raised, that gives you real power and ability to impact society,” says Taylor, who notes that prior to the women’s movement, women’s leverage was applied from outside the power structure. “Now women can exert our leadership from within as well,” she says, “Where real change takes place.”

Taylor started working at the University of Wisconsin Foundation (UWF) in 1975, after completing a BA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree focusing on philanthropy and higher education at West Virginia University. In 1988, she co-founded the UWF’s Women’s Philanthropy Council (WPC), the first co-ed university major gifts organization of women philanthropists. The impetus for its founding was simple. Traditionally, monied male graduates had comprised 95 percent of the prospects for fund-raising, and women were an afterthought. Taylor realized that half the team was sitting on the sidelines, and with the WPC she made a concerted effort to attract female donors of means.

One of Taylor’s pre-internet strategies for getting the word out on women’s philanthropy was to pick up the phone. “We would just call reporters at various papers and let them know what we were doing,” says Taylor. One of those calls resulted in a 1991 New York Times Magazine article by Anne Mathews entitled “Alma Maters Court Their Daughters.” The piece quoted Taylor extensively, and focused on the wellspring of untapped money and expertise residing in college alumnae.

The NYT Magazine article noted that women didn’t give as much as men because fundraisers didn’t think they had much potential and so didn’t cultivate them; predictably, this lack of attention yielded a low level of female support. Beyond that, other reasons women didn’t give at the same levels as men included fear for their own financial security should they give too much money away, and the age-old practice of deferring to a husband or other family member regarding financial matters, including charitable giving. Some successful women were also suspicious and resentful of their alma maters, perceiving the upper reaches of higher education to be old boys’ clubs that excluded women and didn’t deserve their support.

Higher education has changed dramatically since the early 90s, and women are starting to attain more positions in leadership. Taylor celebrates that the top three administrators at UW-Madison are women, and that the leadership of the University’s current capital campaign is half female. Women also currently occupy the top administrative post at the flagships of the Universities of Wisconsin, Illinois and North Carolina; the multi-campus University of California and State University of New York systems; and the universities of Virginia, Connecticut, Kansas and Washington, as well as Harvard, Penn, Emory, Case-Western, and Brown.

Women approach giving differently than men says Taylor, noting that today women often give to higher education because of its potential for personal and social transformation. They engage differently than men, and desire small group participation versus one-on-one visits by development officers. They are not nostalgic for the good old days; rather, they want to foster opportunities for the next generation.

Not all women donors focus on female-centered causes, and Taylor says that in the focus groups she organized decades ago, women resented being pigeon-holed as interested in “women’s issues.” However, when asked what they were most passionate about, women often cited education, health care, and opportunities for women and underserved communities. For this reason, Taylor is less concerned than some about a schism between the women’s fund movement (donating to causes that benefit women and girls) and women’s philanthropy (women as donors to all causes). Taylor is not one to leave money on the table for the sake of movement purity.

In the wake of that early 1990s NYT Magazine article, Taylor received a slew of calls from non-profits, prospective donors, and boards from around the country. The problem was what to do with all of the information, and interest. Months passed, and Taylor says, “I had 100 people who I’d told I’d get back to, but never did.” It was out of this energy and pent-up demand around the issue of women’s giving that the National Network of Women as Philanthropists (NNWP) was born. It started with a newsletter written in collaboration with Sondra Shaw-Hardy, Taylor’s long-time friend and collaborator on all things philanthropic. That first publication was mailed to 225 people. The nascent organization was loaned an office by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology, and had six founding members, each of whom developed a focus. Taylor’s primary interests were higher-ed and donor education, and Shaw-Hardy’s giving circles.

The NNWP became the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, and incorporated as a non-profit in 1997. In 2004, it joined the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. That alliance has given the WPI more resources, and a greater focus on research and education. Taylor is delighted with the evolution of the WPI, but says, “When Sondra and I founded it in 1991 we had to be more advocacy driven.” She notes that with its focus on media and advocacy Philanthropy Women is occupying a similar space as did WPI in its early years.

There had been women philanthropists for generations, but as far as conceptualizing the field, and seeing female donors as an entity distinct from men worthy of study and cultivation, Taylor and Shaw-Hardy were on the ground floor. To date, they have collaborated on several books on the topic, including the 1995 title Reinventing Fundraising: Realizing the Potential of Women’s Philanthropy, which defined the field. Taylor gladly shares the credit with her friend Shaw-Hardy, “I don’t think either one of us would have accomplished what we have if we had been working alone,” she says, adding, “It was so fun.”

Taylor has seen many changes over the last 40 years in women’s philanthropy. For starters, women are giving much more than previously. This is because they have physical and psychological control of more money than was the case years ago, and are increasingly the primary decision makers concerning philanthropy in the family. Moreover, today’s donors want to be partners in giving says Taylor, not simply check writers whose money is spent by others. Philanthropy is seen as a way for people to act on their values and pursue their passions. Rather than presenting donors with a laundry list of institutional needs, “We ask, what issues do you care about?” says Taylor. She has found that in the higher-ed arena, female donors are particularly interested in “programs and people,” with funding scholarships and professorships high on the agenda.

Taylor says that this less paternalistic approach to philanthropy has made women more generous, and powerful, than past generations. Taylor does sound a warning note, however, suggesting that while it is essential to see donors as collaborators rather than warm-blooded cash machines, one shouldn’t forget philanthropy’s reason for being: improving lives. She notes that donors can be lured into “feel-good giving” instead of “giving with an impact,” that can change lives. In order for the latter to happen, savvy donors need to financially support nonprofit and higher education organizational infrastructures and capacities. That’s why Taylor believes donor education is so important. Ultimately, all donors want their gifts to be used effectively.

A little ego is not a bad thing when you’re getting things done, and Taylor encourages women to use their names in their giving, rather than remaining anonymous. While every woman doesn’t need her name on the side of building, having women identified as major donors (whether alone or as part of a couple) provides a powerful example, and encourages others to realize their philanthropic potential. This is particularly important when courting very high net-worth individuals who are often surrounded by people of similar means. Visibility helps women donors understand and value their philanthropy and take full ownership of it. “You have to create the interest and passion around philanthropy,” says Taylor. “It needs to be just as exciting as buying a new house.”

Taylor, who lives in Madison with her husband, has two grown sons and three grandchildren. This year will be one of change, as she will be retiring from her position at the University of Wisconsin Foundation in July and moving over to the University itself where, not surprisingly, she will be teaching, researching and working in the women’s philanthropy field. Freed from actively soliciting funds herself, “I am going to drill down on donor education,” she says. Taylor says that her new role will included “teaching the culture of generosity,” as well as “leveraging women’s voices.” While Taylor has been focused on women’s philanthropy in higher education over the last several decades, ultimately she says she is asking “What is women’s role in our democracy? And how do we realize that through philanthropy?”


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Check Out These Events for Gender Equality Happening on V-Day

Tarana Burke will be hosted by Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design on February 14, 2017, for a discussion on the evolving #Metoo movement.

It’s a busy week for me, as well as for a lot of other gender equality advocates. Some big names in gender equality are coming out for Valentine’s Day. Here’s a list of a few of the events going on to give voice and power to gender equality movements on February 14th.

Tarana Burke Will Speak At Brown University: The recently rediscovered leader of the #Metoo movement, Tarana Burke, will be hosted by both RISD and Brown University for a discussion on February 14th. The title of the discussion is, #MeToo: What’s next in Healing and Activism, and the event is already sold out, but if you want to get on the waitlist, you can go here.

Eve Ensler, Author and Activist.

Eve Ensler, Author of Vagina Monologues Launches 20th Anniversary of V-Day: Activists worldwide have pledged to “Rise, Resist, and Unite” on February 14th for V-Day. “Probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade,” is how the New York Times once described The Vagina Monologues. 

Now that “vagina” is a familiar word in the English lexicon, Eve Ensler’s work has continued to evolve worldwide. Each year on V-day, performances of the show take place all over the world, many serving as benefits for organizations and groups doing work to prevent gender-based violence.  This year, in celebration of the 20th anniversary, activities include an anniversary benefit on February 14th at Manhattan Theater Club and V20: The Red Party at Carnegie Hall. Proceeds from these two events will benefit V-day’s global advocacy for gender equality and a safer world for women.

For the 20th anniversary, Ballantine Books is also releasing a new version of The Vagina Monologues featuring new voices and an updated intro by Eve Ensler, with new foreword by Jacqueline Woodson. In the past, V-Day campaigns have raised over a $100 million in funds for groups working to end violence and help survivors and their families.

For more about V-Day, go here. 

Okay, those are the two big events. The last event is about me. On February 14th, I will be a guest, along with Mona Sinha, on Take the Lead Happy Hour, hosted by Gloria Feldt. Details below:

Yours truly, Kiersten Marek, LICSW, editor and founder, Philanthropy Women.

The Many Faces of Love: How Women + Philanthropy Changes the World

Date: Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Live Run time: 6:30 – 7:30 pm ET

Join us on Valentine’s Day for a conversation about how women are giving and why.  Become part of the conversation with Kiersten  Marek, Founder and Publisher of Philanthropy Women;  Mona Sinha, Board Member of Women Moving Millions, founding member of the Asian Women’s Leadership University and Trustee of Smith College and Gloria Feldt.

Find out how to put your “power to” to work from these dynamic women who will share what they know about the world of philanthropic organizations, what women need to know about how to make their contributions count, and what they have learned from the women they’ve worked with in changing the world. 

Questions to be discussed:

  • What are the challenges for you in philanthropy?
  • How can a woman get started?  And is there a way for her to align her job and a philanthropic cause she believes in?
  • How can women make their contributions count?
  • What have you learned from the women you’ve worked with?
  • What are the passions driving women in philanthropy?
  • Is philanthropy a gender-neutral field?  Are there parity issues here as in other industries?
  • How has the philanthropic world changed—what issues have driven that change?
  • Opportunities and challenges women face in philanthropy?
  • Advice for women looking to break into this world?
  • Recommendations for women seeking leadership roles. What was your secret to making it?

Register for this event via the Eventbrite link!


Growing Women’s Financial Power: Microfinance as a Feminist Strategy

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Growing Women’s Financial Power: Microfinance as a Feminist Strategy

David Gough, CFO and Vice President of Grameen America, spoke with Philanthropy Women about Grameen’s new impact fund, which will make $140 million in loans over the next five years to low income women across the country.

With every day in America bringing news of regressive political changes that will negatively impact women, it’s important for those who want to increase gender equality to explore different strategies for reaching women who need resources. One strategy that recently caught my eye was Grameen America’s announcement that, in celebration of its 10-year anniversary in the U.S., it would enter the fray of impact investing and disburse an added $11 million in capital in microloans to low-income women across the country. With this new fund, over a five-year period, Grameen will make $140 million in loans to low-income women who are struggling to get a foothold in the U.S. economy as entrepreneurs.

In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008, many low-income women have been essentially locked out of the market for affordable financial products. These women are often excluded from traditional bank loans because of low or no credit, or they are gouged with usurious interest rates by predatory lenders. Microfinance, the loaning of small amounts (under $50,000) to borrowers with low or no credit, offers a nonprofit solution to this problem.

Grameen America is the fastest growing microfinance organization in the U.S., and its model of lending to low-income women can have profound impacts on individual lives. But ultimately, the growing popularity of microfinance in America may be another indicator of the increasingly unstable financial picture for many American families, who can’t get credit, and are patching together an income between part-time jobs, personal enterprises, and small loans.

To find out more about Grameen America’s efforts to loan money to some of the most marginalized women in our country, I spoke with David Gough, Chief Financial Officer for Grameen America. In particular, for philanthropists, I wanted to get Gough’s pitch for how Grameen America’s new Impact Fund is the best bang for your gender equality philanthropy dollar.

As it turns out, Grameen is looking to give donors new options for supporting its work. “We want to offer our donor base an additional way to fund our growth,” said David Gough, CFO of Grameen America, in a press release regarding the new Impact Fund. “Our stakeholders are interested in the concept of impact investments that have great social returns while offering an economic return as well. This new funding vehicle will help us expand our outreach and better serve the communities we’re in.”

Starting with an initial $11 million in funding, Grameen is hoping to bring in new stakeholders for impact investing in a series of Social Business Funds. If this plan to raise capital through both new and traditional means is successful, Grameen America will “disburse up to $2 billion in loans to low-income women within the next five years,” according to a press release announcing the new initiative.

“We are focused exclusively on serving low income women in the United States, living at or below the federal poverty levels. Drilling down a little further, we’re focused on entrepreneurial women in that segment,” said Gough, in a phone interview with Philanthropy Women. Gough has served as Grameen America’s CFO and Vice President since October of 2014. He also did a lengthy stint with Women’s World Banking in Business Development and prior to that, had an extensive career in traditional banking.

Currently Grameen America has 45,000 borrowers throughout its 20 U.S. branches, and is the largest microfinance business in the country.  Before its U.S. launch, Grameen had a history dating back to 1976 of being one of the largest micro-financiers on the globe.

Why has Grameen chosen to serve low-income women who are typically excluded from getting loans from traditional banks? Is this a recipe for making decent financial returns? As it turns out, yes. Grameen America recovers 99% of the money it loans out, and reports that it has loaned out $820 million over the last ten years.

How do they do it? Grameen’s strategic edge has to do with its model for cultivating women borrowers by setting them up in small working groups with other borrowers. Loans are distributed to the women who are part of a group with four other women. These groups of five meet every week over the six month course of the loan.

“We fund their economic activity, so they can grow their asset base, increase their net worth, and have a positive impact on themselves, their families, and their communities,” said Gough.

But being in the Grameen loan program requires real commitment and accountability, said Gough. “When a woman identifies herself as being interested in the program, she will go through a great deal of education about what the program entails.”

“We don’t mind if you don’t have credit or have broken credit,” said Gough, but borrowers need to take responsibility for repaying the loan, and provide proof of repayment to their five-person group.

“They also have to go through a week of financial literacy training before getting their first loan,” said Gough. “That’s five days of intensive training. It’s aspects like this that make our model unique.”

But Gough noted that microloans are most effective in an economy where there are other basic supports like access to health care and housing. He used the example of a woman borrower that was served out of Grameen America’s Jackson Heights, Queens branch. She was homeless and living in the subway with her child, after fleeing a domestic violence situation. “One of our staff in the Jackson Heights branch spoke to her about the program, said hey, this is what the program is. She came into the program, got a loan, and she used the proceeds to rent a chair in a nail salon. Fast forward five or six years, she is still being served out of our branch. She now has that space, and she’s renting out chairs to other women.”

A big part of what made the Grameen loan effective for this borrower was that she also had the support of the shelter system and transitioned to stable housing. With the support of a safety net for those most vulnerable, a loan from Grameen can further stabilize the situation.

“We can be part of the ecosystem of solutions,” said Gough.  “The intervention that we offer is to stabilize an individual woman, as a person in her own right, and therefore, in her community as well.” Gough emphasized that there is a ripple effect value to this intervention that can bring more stability to the community overall.  “There is a fantastic network effect to our work,” he added.

The average loan size for a Grameen America loan from this fund is $2,300 — not a lot of money, but enough to give a small business the ability to begin renting space or buying supplies in bulk to get cheaper rates.

$140 million in loans to low-income women over five years will have a real impact on the women receiving the loans and their families, but it is still only a partial solution to the growing problem of poverty in the U.S. It nibbles at the edges of our deeply flawed economy, where predatory lending is still alive and well in many parts of the country.

“That’s why there is great demand for our product,” said Gough. Grameen America is expanding its footprint on U.S. soil in response to this demand, opening new branches in Miami, and looking at new branches in Houston, Texas and Fresno, California. In addition, they are also looking to expand their existing branches in areas like Boston and New York.

The interest rates you pay on a Grameen loan are reasonable, especially when compared with what options are available to low-income women with little or no credit. “For every $1,000 that we lend to someone over six months, Grameen charges $53 in interest,” said Gough.

For funders who are looking for an effective way to move capital into distressed communities, Grameen America offers an option that can accelerate small business growth at the grassroots for women — a target that many gender equality philanthropists are focused on. The program’s emphasis on financial literacy and group support is another value-added feature that can enhance networking and community-building.

But Grameen’s model is not focused on structural change of the banking systems, so it can only provide an intervention for the limited numbers it is able to reach. Nevertheless, as part of a diverse strategy for gender equality giving, this new fund from Grameen America hits several targets at once. With more support from donors who understand Grameen’s positive impact on gender equality at the grassroots, the nonprofit could expand its reach to low-income women. 

“Over 90% of our borrowers keep coming back, so that means we need more capital,” said Gough.

Visit Grameen America to learn more.


Announcing the 2018 Philanthropy Women Leadership Awards

How BRAVA Investments is Taking Gender Lens Investing Mainstream

Women’s Philanthropy News Goes Mainstream in Forbes


Funders: Step Up and Help Women Lead America

Progressive women have pledged to bring #powertothepolls, but not enough funders are putting resources toward organizations doing the groundwork for a more representative democracy.

How would you turn a moment into a movement? That’s the question that organizations supporting women running for office have been asking themselves over the last year. It’s a hard question to answer in any field. Now imagine trying to answer it while being deluged by an unprecedented number of women ready to run for office.

There are nine national organizations dedicated to training and supporting women running for office. These are long-established organizations like Ignite and Emerge America. In addition, there are newer organizations dedicated to supporting women of color running for office such as Latinas Represent and Higher Heights. Regardless of when they were started or where they focus geographically or demographically, none of these organizations have experienced a moment like this – because, of course, the country has never experienced a moment like this.

The spark for this moment wasn’t just the election, but the first women’s march on January 21, 2017, when millions of women were buoyed by the energy and determination of a sea of sisters around the country. While some were still mourning the loss of the 2016 election, younger women were ready to fight. They organized the marches and took out their checkbooks to support women candidates and the organizations that prepared them to run for office.

Marya Stark, the co-founder of Emerge America, was a pioneer in this field when she started Emerge right after the election of 2004. The importance of women’s leadership has been growing for past 15 years. She said, “People are aware that elected women are more trusted by voters. There is actually an explosion of awareness about this from the 2016 election.”

Marya returned to the organization after a four-year hiatus to start Emerge New York because the election exposed the fallacy that all was safe for women in blue states. The reality is that there continues to be a huge deficit of women in elected office at every level in every state. Ny Whitaker was hired last month as the Executive Director of Emerge New York. Ny had previously run for local positions and found out how hard it was to run against the machinery of the old guard — particularly as a young African American woman. She ran for a position called female district leader in her home district of Harlem (yes, they still have district leader positions segregated by gender) and won by 93 votes. But the incumbent wasn’t happy with the result so she asked for a recount – three times. After the third time, Ny magically lost by nine votes. She was furious at a system that enabled these kinds of shenanigans, but as her mother said, “Sometimes you have to lose to win.” Ny decided that helping other women, particularly women of color, run for office in order to change the system was her way of winning. As she said, “In our communities, people of color don’t often have those conversations about running for office. I want to change that.”

Of course, the need to help women run for office has always existed, but now the supply of women actually running has exploded and is outpacing the help that can be provided. Anne Moses the CEO of Ignite, said “Our college chapters, trainings, conferences are all five times bigger than they were before the election.”

The urgency of this moment also highlights how far we need to go. Catherine Pino and Ingrid Duran launched the PODER PAC in 2008 after overwhelming response by Latinas to Hillary’s first run for president. However, the largest minority group in the country is represented by only ten Latinas in Congress. Catherine and Ingrid were also energized by last year’s Women’s March and this year. As Catherine said, “None of us could believe what had just happened. We had to raise more money, identify good candidates, partner with other organizations and work with them to ensure that we get out the vote.” And they have done that in the last year by partnering Emily’s List to help identify and support candidates earlier. In addition, Latina celebrities like Eva Longoria have been using their voices to highlight the dearth of women of color in elected office and encourage others to give and run.

Individual donors have increased their giving to these organizations substantially over the past year. As Marya Starks said, “Before the election, women (and men) supported Emerge because they believed that electing Democratic women was an expression of their values and would make democracy function better. But now, donors, particularly women, view this moment in existential terms.  Women feel like it’s up to us to save our democracy and restore decency.”

And even better news is that the women supporting this movement are younger than many other philanthropists. They are women in their 40s and 50s, many of whom made their own money. Rita Rodin, an Emerge donor in her 40s said, “A lot of women have the skills to bring, but they don’t have the network, and don’t understand the rudimentary things that need to get done to put together a campaign, much less win. Now more than ever the rhetoric, the lies, is crazy. I don’t see women lying like that, ever, for me there’s not a better place to devote my energy and money than to something like Emerge.”

Ny Whitaker echoed these sentiments saying, “Young professionals of color – it’s their turn. They’re moving up the ladders at corporate and industry, they’re entrepreneurs who are open to networking events and enjoy participating in giving circles.”

There are two shadows hovering around the silver cloud of increased giving to these efforts. The first is that individual donors too often want to give anonymously. Anne Moses describes the drawback of this. “In the last six months, we’ve received five anonymous gifts of $25,000 and up. Three foundations gave us $50k for two to three years, but we don’t know who they are and can’t cultivate them.” In addition, these anonymous donors aren’t encouraging their own networks to give.

The second challenge is that giving from institutional philanthropy has not yet risen to meet the moment. Local foundations like the New York Women’s Foundations provide support to Higher Heights. However, there are no national foundations making the support of women running for office a priority.

Here are suggestions for ways that philanthropy can meet this moment:

  1. Foundation, STEP UP! Ingrid Duran said it best: “Foundations should consider giving to the field. Not just for voter registration, but giving to voter turnout would be a huge help. New and different ways to get people to the polls are needed.”
  2. Invest in Laying the Groundwork. Investing more in educating girls about the importance of running for any office, literally from student body president to school board to Congress, would be tremendously helpful for creating a leadership pipeline that begins in elementary school. As Ny said, “The best investment a foundation can make is in a woman or a girl who wants to be in public service.”
  3. Research, Research, and More Research. Investing in research on women in elected positions of power is critical to fully understanding how to make investments. We tend to focus on counting the number of women in federal elections, however city and county councils often have even less representation from women. Much more research is needed to assess the state of women’s representation at local levels and better understand the barriers to running and winning (see Ny’s experience above) and ways to support women to climb the ladder of elected office.

The arc of history bends towards justice – but not without a fight, and not without funders fueling that fight. Making sure that women are equally represented in public office as decision-makers and influencers is a key part of ensuring that 2018 is the beginning of a movement and not the end of a moment.


LPAC Brings Anti-Freeze to Boston With Feminist Comic Kate Clinton

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Women’s Philanthropy News Goes Mainstream in Forbes

Countdown to the Women’s March, and Who Are the Funders?










Women’s Philanthropy News Goes Mainstream in Forbes

Forbes has a new article by Marianne Schnall entitled The Rising Activism in Women’s Philanthropy, which cites many of the organizations we have covered in depth at Philanthropy Women.

What a great way to start the day, with my daily news search for the term “philanthropy women” turning up an article on Forbes that discusses both our fiscal sponsor, Women’s Funding Network, and one of our spotlight organizations, Women Donors Network. The article also talks in detail about other work we’ve covered, including Emergent Fund’s rapid response funding for the Resistance, and the role that Donna Hall and WDN have played in bringing together progressive funders this past year.

I won’t be a spoiler for you — you can read Marianne Schnall’s fine article here. But it’s interesting to note that we reported on many of the funders and organizations in depth over the past year, and now here they are all rounded up in another article published on a much larger mainstream publication, and by such a reputable writer. Schnall has a resume that is bursting at the seams with knowledge and experience in the field of feminism, including being the founder and publisher of since 1996, and having two feminist book titles to her credit.

While I try to stay reality-based about the value of Philanthropy Women as a micropublisher, I can’t help but wonder if other feminist writers, when researching their articles, are googling terms like “philanthropy women” and “feminist philanthropy” and are turning up some of our content in the process. In any case, I am glad to see the enhanced attention to the important work being done by WDN, WFN, Groundswell, Emergent Fund, and all of the other women’s philanthropy leaders discussed in Schnall’s article.


Announcing the 2018 Philanthropy Women Leadership Awards

How WDN Connects Women and Cultivates Progressive Giving

We’re Scaling Up: Announcing Philanthropy Women’s First Lead Sponsors

Women of Wealth to Congress: Stop the GOP Tax Scam

Announcing a New Fiscal Sponsor for Philanthropy Women

To Aid Gender Equality, Reward Work, Not Wealth

A new report from Oxfam outlines clear steps that governments and the private sector can take to create an economy that works for ordinary people.

A new report from Oxfam takes a hard look at our growing inequality problems, and outlines steps that governments and businesses can take to work toward a more equitable and healthy economy.

Endorsed by several experts in development and labor, the report also has a section devoted to addressing the overlap between “economic and gender inequality” that looks at how the gender wealth gap plays out in women having less land ownership and other assets, and observes that “the neoliberal economic model has made this worse – reductions in public services, cuts to taxes for the richest, and a race to the bottom on wages and labour rights have all hurt women more than men.”

And what are some of the solutions? That was the most interesting part of this report, so am sharing some of my favorites here:

  • Oxfam calls for governments to set targets for income distribution, and gives specific suggestions: “The collective income of the top 10% to be no more than the income of the bottom 40%.”
  • The report calls for ending extreme wealth.  “To end extreme poverty, we must also end extreme wealth. Today’s gilded age is undermining our future. Governments should use regulation and taxation to radically reduce levels of extreme wealth, as well as limit the influence of wealthy individuals and groups over policy making.”
  • Use anti-capitalist business models that “incentivize business models that prioritize fairer returns, including cooperatives and employee participation in company governance and supply chains.”

There are lots of other recommendations I liked, such as pay ratios for keeping down CEO pay, but this was one also deserves particular attention:

  • Use tax to reduce extreme wealth. Prioritize taxes that are disproportionately paid by the very rich, such as wealth, property, inheritance and capital gains taxes. Increase tax rates and collection on high incomes. Introduce a global wealth tax on billionaires, to help finance the SDGs.

What a brilliant idea: financing the SDG’s, particularly SDG 5 for gender equality, with tax money that would end extreme wealth.

It all feels rather unobtainable now, while we are facing one of the most conservative and un-feminist governments ever in America. But it is helpful to read and consider recommendations from reports like this one. Leadership from Oxfam and others advocating for a fairer economy can provide critical guidance on how to make the economy work better for everyone.

Read the full report here. 


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