Introducing the Philanthropy Women Funding Guides

Philanthropy Women’s first funding guide is a condensed compilation of international funders for women and girls.

Now that we have gotten our feet wet with writing about a variety of funders in gender equality, it’s time for Philanthropy Women to build out some specific funding guides in the field. We are starting with a guide to international funders. Feminism has been a growing global movement for over 20 years, and now, more countries internationally are establishing funds and foundations of their own that address gender issues.

While some foundations fund both in the U.S. and internationally (and will thus appear on both lists) we hope the breakdown between these two funding sectors is uniquely helpful to grantseekers. Along with a guide to U.S. funders for women and girls, we will also be building out guides for corporate philanthropy for women and girls, STEM funders for women and girls, family foundations making grants for gender equality, feminist giving circles and networks, and feminist fellowships. We hope by breaking feminist philanthropy down into these different lists, we will save time and energy for grantseekers, so they can use more of their resources to focus on getting their applications in and getting more grants.

Although this list contains over 70 funders, it is not yet comprehensive, which is why it starts with information on how to contact us to be added, or to have your listing changed or updated. This is a fast-growing world and we know that we have not captured it all. But this is the beginning of a list that we hope is helpful for grantseekers, network builders, and people who want to know more about what is happening in gender equality funding.

And now, head on over to the new guide to Funders Supporting Women and Girls Internationally. 


Support Journalism about Feminist Philanthropy by Subscribing to PW

Year-End Thoughts and My Interview for Women’s Fund of Rhode Island

#MeToo and the Power Shift Women’s Funds Helped Create


Take the Lead Delves into Gender Parity in Journalism

Guests on tomorrow evening’s Virtual Happy Hour with Gloria Feldt include Reshma Gopaldas, Mira Lowe, and Amy Emmerich.

Tomorrow evening’s Take the Lead Virtual Happy Hour will feature an exciting group of women talking about one of my favorite topics: journalism. Tomorrow’s event is called The Real Story: Women in Journalism Finding Fair Solutions.

The web call will discuss ways to promote change that will make for more equal representation and pay of women journalists.  Given that Philanthropy Women is a journalism endeavor, I am planning to be on that call to see what I can learn for my work, and to discuss philanthropy’s current and future impact on these issues.

Here is more information about what is happening tomorrow night at 6:30 ET:

The Real Story: Women in Journalism Find Fair Solutions

Join us Wednesday, January 9 at 6:30 PM ET to learn the success secrets from two accomplished media leaders.

For our first Virtual Happy Hour of the new Year, we are thrilled to bring you Amy Emmerich, Chief Content Officer of Refinery29, and Mira Lowe, President-Elect of Journalism & Women Symposium and Director of the Innovation News Center at the University of Florida. These are women you definitely want to know! They’ll join co-hosts Gloria Feldt, President & Co-Founder of Take The Lead, and Reshma Gopaldas, Vice President, Video Programming at SheKnows Media. Click here to register. 

You will learn and have a chance to discuss:

–Trends and career opportunities in journalism and the media business

–How these women thrive and lead in times of rapid change and chaos

–How women can lead the change to reach pay and leadership parity in any sector, with special emphasis on journalism and the media business overall

–The impact of media on our self image and confidence as women

–The importance of the stories we tell and who gets to tell them–and why gender parity is a key to finding fair solutions

You can ask:


–You will be able to ask questions of our guests if you participate live.

–But sign up even if you can’t attend live, because we’ll send the link to everyone who registered.

–You can even tweet questions in advance to @takeleadwomen to make sure your question gets answered.

–When you register for the Virtual Happy Hour, you will receive an exclusive exercise to help you employ every medium–that’s Power Tool #8.


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

Joy-Ann Reid to Receive African American Policy Forum’s Journalism Award

High Net Worth Women Who Drove Progressive Giving in the Midterms

Subscribe to Philanthropy Women and Support Feminist Philanthropy Journalism!

Researching the Intersections: RI’s Women of Color Suffer More Poverty

A new report from Women’s Fund of Rhode Island discusses how women of color in Rhode Island suffer higher rates of poverty. (Graphic courtesy of report infographic)

Race and gender play an important role in economic outcomes. In addition to the gender pay gap, women of color lag well behind white women in economic well-being.

A recent infographic “Rhode Island Women of Color 2018: A Snapshot” published by the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island (WFRI) indicates sharp disparities between white women and women of color across a range of economic indicators including wages, poverty, educational attainment and home ownership. The WFRI research was done in partnership with the Providence, Rhode Island-based Economic Progress Institute.

Women of color comprise roughly a quarter of Rhode Island’s female population. They earn significantly lower wages than White women, and are much more likely to be poor. Among women 18-64 years of age, 9 percent of White women are poor, while 18 percent of Asian women, 22 percent of Black women and 20 percent of Latina women are below the poverty line. Among those over 65, there is an even greater discrepancy: 31 percent of Latina women are poor, three-and-half times the rate of White women.

Black and Latina women are more likely to be employed than are White women. The labor-force participation rate for females over the age of 16 in Rhode Island is 60 percent, and is lower for Whites (59 percent participation rate) than it is for Black (61 percent) and Latina (65 percent) women. One reason may be that young White women are more likely to be students than are women of color. White and Asian women hold four-year degrees at much higher rates than do Latina and Black women. Of course, these differences in educational attainment are a major factor affecting wages, and are among the reasons Latina woman can expect to earn $1.2 million less over the course of 40 years of work than a non-Hispanic White man.

Two in five Rhode Island women work in health care, social assistance or educational services. Women of color are particularly likely to labor in these fields, often in lower-paid positions like personal care aides and nursing assistants. Eighty-seven percent of Rhode Island’s healthcare support workers are women, and women of color account for nearly half of these workers. It is estimated that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would increase the wages of 96,700 Rhode Island women (either by raising their wage to $15, or as a result of increases as pay scales are adjusted).

Another area where women of color are at a disadvantage is housing, as a much larger percentage of their income goes to housing costs than is the case for White women. Latino women spend nearly half of their income (48 percent) on housing. The rates for Black, Asian and White women are 45, 39 and 30 percent respectively. Moreover, Rhode Island has the second lowest home ownership rate for households of color in the country.

“While we often hear about the gender wage gap and its subsequent wealth gap for women, this report really puts a spotlight on how deep the inequities go for our sisters of color,” said Kelly Nevins, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. “Efforts to increase the minimum wage and ensure fair pay are just a few initiatives that we are working on with community partners. However, more needs to be done. We want to hear from the community as to how best to use the findings of this report.”

The WFRI will hold a series of community forums to share information and invite ideas about how best to address the inequities. As part of the series, the Fund will host a ticketed event “Cocktails & Conversations: Women of Color Research” on January 30 from 6-8pm at the Tech Collective in Providence. Panelists will include Rachel Flum, Executive Director of the Economic Progress Institute; Angela Ankoma, Executive Vice President of the United Way of Rhode Island and Traniesha West, Community Organizer for Working Families.

The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island was founded in 2001 as a field of interest fund, and became a 501(c) in 2005. In addition to research and advocacy, it makes grants to local programs that improve the lives of women and girls. The Providence, Rhode Island-based Economic Progress Institute, a nonpartisan research and policy organization founded in 1999 by Linda Katz and Nancy Gerwitz, is dedicated to improving the economic well-being of low and modest-income Rhode Islanders.

While Rhode Island is a small state of approximately one million people, and regional and local economies and demographics vary across the country, gender and race disparities are found everywhere. Increasingly women’s foundations and other non-profits are upping their efforts in improving the lives of women of color. Among the major funders in this area is the NoVo Foundation which has recently allocated $90 million in funding to empower girls of color in the U.S. Southeast, and the Ms. Foundation which has committed $25 million to funding programs targeting women of color.


Interview with The Woman Project: “Reproductive Freedom is Essential”

Ms. Foundation Shifts Strategic Course Toward Women of Color

Post Election Buzz: Women’s Funds Welcome New Reflective Democracy

How Funny Girls Become Leading Women through Improv Programs

Funny Girls, a program created by the Harnisch Foundation, teaches girls five key skills of leadership in subtle yet profound ways. (Photo credit: Brittany Buongiorno)

“Funny Girls is a philanthropic investment in building the pipeline for female leadership,” says Jenny Raymond, of the Harnisch Foundation’s (HF) program employing improv techniques to build girls’ leadership skills.

Raymond, who is HF Executive Director, and Carla Blumenthal, Funny Girls Program Manager, spoke to me by phone from the HF offices in New York.

It’s an auspicious time for a program devoted to building the next generation of female leaders as 2018 saw a historic number of diverse women elected to political office. “That didn’t happen overnight. It was brewing for a long time,” says Raymond, who sees Funny Girls as a tool to build on these gains.

Programs fostering self-esteem and leadership skills in girls are not uncommon. What is unusual is the use of improv as the tool to achieve these ends. Funny Girls is not trying to develop comedians or actors: the participants are diverse groups of eight to thirteen-year old girls enrolled in after-school programs with a social justice focus. The improv methods are used to cultivate core leadership skills, particularly in low-income populations typically lacking opportunities for such development. “It’s about getting girls to recognize that they have a voice and deserve a seat at the table,” says Raymond.

The HF was founded in 1998 and its mission is to create a “fair, equitable and inclusive world.” It’s angle: empowering girls and women, particularly through storytelling, which can include everything from supporting women-centered film-making, TED Fellows and journalism, to leadership summits, coaching and social justice initiatives.

Funny Girls was developed in 2015 and its name (“it’s fun, it’s funny, it’s about girls,” says Raymond) came from a brain-storming session between Raymond and HF Founder and President Ruth Ann Harnisch. The Foundation looked at Stanford and M.I.T. executive training programs to see what particular challenges women were facing, and how they were being addressed. Women and girls face hurdles including boldness being reduced to “bossiness,” and their authorship of ideas being challenged. Working with experts in leadership curriculum development, Harnisch and Raymond chose specific leadership skills that overlapped with the main tenets of improv comedy, and built a curriculum for girls based on leadership, improv and creative movement.

While leadership can be one of those “I know it when I see it” attributes, the five key concepts of self-awareness (understanding one’s own perceptions of self, and how one might be perceived by others), learning agility (responding quickly and sharing one’s own insights), collaboration (prioritizing a goal and working together to meet it), empathy (recognizing others’ emotions), and resiliency (employing multiple strategies and learning from mistakes) are as good a place to start as any.

“These five skills have been a fantastic marriage with improv,” says Raymond. Funny Girls partnered with NYC’s Magnet Theater and the Pilobolus dance company to develop the curriculum. Pilobolus emphasizes collaboration in movement, a perfect fit with Funny Girls says Raymond. The attraction to Magnet was simple, “We observed all of the local improv companies and liked them the best.” The “story aspect” is key, Raymond says, “Magnet is very focused on developing a character; that is the tenor we wanted to represent in our curriculum.”

Funny Girls seeks to instill a “growth mindset” in girls to they can discover their own definition of leadership. (photo credit: Babita Patel)

The eleven-session Funny Girls program is now up and running and has six partners, all of them after-school programs with a social justice focus. “We train the instructors, who are drawn from the organizations we work with,” says Blumenthal. Each instructor receives 17 hours of training in combining leadership skills with improv. “We don’t do it for them,” says Blumenthal, “the instructors go back to their organization and run the program.”

Blumenthal says one program goal is to instill a “growth mindset” in the girls, and to have them explore their own definition of leadership. This is vital as different individuals, and cultures, have varying conceptions of what constitutes leadership. One improv concept that is valuable in this area is “yes, and …,” in which a participant accepts what someone else has said, and then expands on it. This encourages creativity, collaboration and open-mindedness.

With its emphasis on leadership development, Funny Girls works with the New York City school systems to provide its program. (Photo credit: Brittany Buongiorno)

Blumenthal also describes an improv game targeting resiliency in which one girl is a dolphin trainer, and another girl a dolphin. The trainer thinks of a gesture to teach the dolphin and tries to impart that lesson without using words. The dolphin-girl must figure out the gesture and perform it. The exercise can be both hilarious and frustrating, and take five minutes or more to complete. “By the end they embody resiliency – the girls had to try a lot of strategies to get where they needed,” says Blumenthal.

Funny Girls’ participants predominantly hail from communities of color in New York City (and one program in Richmond, Virginia). “The instructor brings their organization’s identity to the program,” says Raymond, and adds, “the instructor may know youth development, and certainly knows her own community, but likely not improv.” Funny Girls has proved to be a good fit with New York City after-school programs, as the city’s Department of Education mandates that programs receiving city funding incorporate leadership training in their curriculum.

The Funny Girls program was piloted in 2016 in three NYC schools, and currently has six partners:

The Arab American Family Support Center in downtown Brooklyn; Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education in the Bronx; Girls for a Change, supporting girls of color in Richmond, Virginia; Global Kids, providing a global perspective within a human rights framework for under-served NYC youth; The Red Hook Initiative, supporting youth development and empowerment for low-income youth in Red Hook, Brooklyn; and SAYA (South Asian Youth Action), providing academic, personal and professional development for youth in New York City.

The program concludes with a showcase that demonstrates games tied to leadership skills. “The girls make presentations in which they explain leadership skills and how they embody them in action,” says Blumenthal.

“Funny Girls is part of the continuum of work the Foundation has done from the beginning,” says Raymond. The Foundation has worked with thousands of women since its inception in 1998, and its leadership initiatives have included VoteRunLead and The OpEd Project, among other programs designed to “get women’s voices out into the world.” These efforts have been successful; still, “Countless women have told me,” says Raymond, “‘I wish there had been an opportunity when I was younger to develop leadership skills.’”

“We see a thirty percent drop in self-confidence among girls between ages eight to fourteen,” says Raymond. She notes that by the time they become teenagers, many girls stop raising their hand in class because they fear social repercussions for doing so; boys typically are not burdened by this fear.

“It is such a fragile time in the development of self,” Raymond notes, citing statistics from the Girl Scout Research Institute indicating that four-fifths of girls don’t believe they have the skills to be a leader. That’s the bad news. The good news: nine tenths of girls believe that leadership skills can be taught. “We are trying to shift girls’ perceptions of themselves as leaders so that they can use that mindset to engage civically, in the work place and in the home,” says Raymond. “We are arming our girls with self-confidence, whatever direction they ultimately head in.”

The recent elections saw a wave of women running for, and being elected to, political office. Naturally, not all girls are interested in the political sphere, nor is Funny Girls trying to push them in that direction. Leadership skills are transferable across a range of professions and interpersonal situations. “The girls are talking about leadership and breaking it down to see what skills women leaders have, whether they are Hilary Clinton or Beyoncé,” says Program Manager Carla Blumenthal.

Funny Girls is a new program and is limited in scale, with only a half-dozen participating organizations at present, all of which receive a grant to run the program, and some supplemental funds for the organization itself. Raymond notes that HF chooses its Funny Girls partners carefully, “Not all organizations need us, or are a good fit,” she says. There must be buy-in from the organization, and the program needs to fill an unmet need.

Funny Girls is off to a strong start and has a format that could be widely replicated. “I’d love to take this to hundreds of organizations,” says Raymond, “but I can’t give that level of support at this point.” HF is a private foundation, and Raymond notes, “We are in the enviable position of concentrating on programming, not fundraising.” The downside is that program budgets are limited.

What will be interesting to see in years to come is how “graduates” fare. The premise, and the promise, is intriguing, but will Funny Girls really build leadership skills? Raymond acknowledges the institutional and cultural barriers women face in exercising leadership, but maintains that one of the best ways to develop women as leaders is by starting when they are still girls, and using unique programming to develop core skills which can be built on throughout a lifetime.


How Funny Girls is Growing Improv-Driven Leadership for Tweens

Feminist Philanthropy Newsflash: #FunnyGirls Featured on NBC Tonight at 6:30

Editor’s Note: The Harnisch Foundation is a lead sponsor of Philanthropy Women, providing support for our work to expand feminist philanthropy journalism. 

Announcing the 2019 Philanthropy Women Leadership Awards

As we round the bend on our second year here at Philanthropy Women, it’s time to celebrate a new batch of recipients for our leadership awards. The people and organizations chosen for these awards have all demonstrated  exceptional leadership in the field of gender equality philanthropy this past year, and represent the growing diversity and strength of this work.

These awards draw on the database of Philanthropy Women’s coverage, and are therefore inherently biased toward the people and movement activity we have written about so far. As our database grows each year, we cover more ground, and have a wider field to cull from for the awards.


The People

Breakthrough Award for Thought and Strategy Leadership

Tarana Burke, Founder and Leader of the Me Too movement and Ana Oliveira, President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation, at The Foundation’s 2018 Celebrating Women Breakfast on May 10. (Photo Credit: Hannah Schillinger)

This year’s award for thought and strategy leadership in feminist philanthropy goes to two amazing trailblazers who are collaborating to bring new funding to sexual assault prevention: Ana Oliveira and Tarana Burke.

By founding the new Me Too Fund, Oliveira and Burke are accelerating a social movement that is turning civil society on its head and bringing needed attention to women and girls. Their bold pursuit of this work has added new dimensions to the movement to end violence against women, and has helped to shift the culture’s focus toward helping survivors and making perpetrators of assault accountable for their actions.  For these reasons, we award Ana Oliveira and Tarana Burke the Breakthrough Award for Thought and Strategy Leadership in feminist philanthropy.

She Persisted Award for Feminist Philanthropy Research and Development

Kathleen E. Loehr, author of Gender Matters, is Philanthropy Women’s recipient of the She Persisted Award for Feminist Philanthropy Research and Development.

It takes tremendous patience and stamina to keep going in the world of feminist philanthropy, despite that the topic is so compelling. That’s why we are awarding Kathleen E. Loehr the She Persisted Award for Feminist Philanthropy Research and Development.

Kathleen has been researching and writing about feminist philanthropy for over a decade, and her writing on the topic elucidates key aspects of the work. Her new book, Gender Matters: Growing Women’s Philanthropy, is particularly good at answering the important question of how fundraisers and those committed to women’s giving can take specific actions that will increase women’s philanthropy.

Famously Feminist Award for Celebrity Leadership on Gender Equality

David Schwimmer and Sigal Avin, who collaborated to create new media that highlights the many forms that sexual harassment can take. (Photo Credit: Build Series, #thatsharassment)

Men as collaborators was a big theme in feminist philanthropy this year. One man who did a particularly good job of helping the movement for women’s health and safety was David Schwimmer, who, in collaboration with Sigal Avin, created a series of public service messages called That’s Harassment, helping to flesh out the picture (pardon the pun!) on what sexual harassment looks like and feels like.

Because we know that media and stardom influence so many things today, and because we know from the research that men need clear examples of how to give to women and girls, we are giving this year’s Famously Feminist Award for Celebrity Leadership on Gender Equality to David Schwimmer and Sigal Avin.

The Organizations

One World Award for Feminist Leadership in International Philanthropy

This past year, Root Capital partnered with an Australian Program to provide loans for women in agriculture in South East Asia.

Leaders in international feminist philanthropy like Chief Executive of Women’s World Banking of Ghana, Charlotte Baidoo, called on microfinance institutions to do more when it comes to lending to women. One organization that broke new ground in doing this lending to women internationally was Root Capital.

By partnering with the Australian Government to give out new grants to women in South East Asia, Root Capital showed philanthropy a relatively straightforward and effective way to increase women’s power and stability in the world. For this reason, Philanthropy Women gives Root Capital our One World Award for Feminist Leadership in International Philanthropy.

Bridge Builders Award for Network and Collaborative Giving Leadership

Rachel’s Network distributes $60 million annually to address both climate change and gender equality.

The need for coordinating funding efforts is stronger than ever, and particularly the need to collaborate between environmental movements and women’s movements is of increasing importance as the impacts of global warming become more evident.

One organization that is serving as a lynchpin in bringing together gender equality and environmental work is Rachel’s Network. With its project work, research, and partnerships with groups like the Sierra Club to oppose the border wall with Mexico, Rachel’s Network has shown exemplary leadership in connecting the dots between feminism and environmentalism, and taking specific action to address problems. For these reasons, we award Rachel’s Network the Bridge Builders Award for Network and Collaborative Giving Leadership.

Rising Star Award for Emerging Leadership as an Organization

The Obama Foundation showed that it will be taking a considerable stake in addressing issues for women and girls when they launched the Global Girls Alliance.

When a retired president decides to actively take up the cause of promoting gender equality for girls worldwide, there is reason to celebrate. When he is married to a feminist visionary like Michelle Obama, there is even more reason to cheer.

This past year, the Obama Foundation launched into the world of funding for women and girls when they created the Global Girls Alliance, and began collaborating with as many as 1,500 nonprofits to bring education and well-being to girls around the world. The best news of all: this is just the beginning. Imagine how much progress and strength women’s movements will gain as the Obama Foundation ascends to their rightful place in the feminist philanthropy landscape. For this reason, we award The Obama Foundation the Rising Star Award for Emerging Leadership as an Organization.

Influencing the Corporate Agenda Award for Feminist Philanthropy

Girls Inc. announced the new #GirlsToo movement, which will work to prevent sexual abuse and harassment of girls.

Nonprofits can play a dramatic role in bringing together coalitions of corporate partners to underwrite a new movement. That was certainly the case this past year when Girls, Inc. launched the #GirlsToo movement. Girls, Inc. brought together a wide array of corporate partners and nonprofits to support this initiative and is providing a strong framework for how we can embed respectfulness in relationships. For this reason, we award Girls, Inc. the Philanthropy Women Influencing the Corporate Agenda Award for Feminist Philanthropy.

Outstanding Corporate Giving for Gender Equality

Girl Up is one of three organizations to receive $1.25 million in funding for the advancement of girls and women in tech from TE Connectivity.

Corporations have the potential to play a vital role in addressing gender equality. One corporation that did outstanding work in providing needed support for girls in tech education this past year was TE Connectivity. With a $1.25 million grant to Girl Up, which provides support for women and girls in tech, TE Connectivity provided an excellent model for other corporations to follow as they seek to deploy more of their profits into a more gender equal world. For this reason, we award TE Connectivity the Outstanding Corporate Giving for Gender Equality award. UPDATE: A reader has reached out to provide a counterpoint for this award, which was covered by the Boston Business Journal here. A PDF of the article is here: #MeToo’s darkest side_ Dialogue about workplace sexual harassment overlooks threat of physical assault or rape – Boston Business Journal

League of Their Own Award for Gender Equality Philanthropy

With its funding of large-scale initiatives in feminist philanthropy, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is working to address gender equality with several different strategies.

No awards list for gender equality philanthropy would be complete without acknowledging the increasingly significant role that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is playing in this landscape.

From supporting convenings of women funders to adding $200 million to a global initiative for the world’s poorest women to growing infrastructure development for women’s giving circles, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped forge new paths for feminist philanthropy in many different directions. For this reason, we award the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation the Philanthropy Women League of Their Own Award for Gender Equality Philanthropy.

Lady Justice Award for Leadership of Women’s Funds

All women’s funds and foundations are the recipients of Philanthropy Women’s Lady Justice Award, due to their inspiring work to help more women get elected to office this past year. Great work, women!

This year, it was hard to imagine choosing one women’s fund leader over another, as there was so much going on, and every women’s fund’s recipe for success is so different. Hence, this year’s Lady Justice Award for Leadership of Women’s Funds goes to all the women’s fund leaders (you know who you are!) who pressed for political engagement this past year, and in doing so helped us elect record numbers of women to office. This was a historic year for women in many ways, and leadership and advocacy coming from women’s funds helped make it much moreso. By boldly responding to #MeToo events and the Kavanaugh hearings, and by coming together to talk about ways to get more women elected, women’s funds pressed for change at an important historical inflection point.  For these reasons, we award all women’s fund and foundation leaders the Philanthropy Women Lady Justice Award for Leadership of Women’s Funds.


Announcing the 2018 Philanthropy Women Leadership Awards

Philanthropy Women Top 10 Posts of 2018

Support Journalism about Feminist Philanthropy by Subscribing to PW


Third Wave Fund’s Sex Worker Giving Circle Announces First Grantees

Third Wave Fund’s new Sex Worker Giving Circle has made its first $200,000 in grants to organizations across the U.S.

With $200,000 in new funding, sex worker organizations and advocates across the U.S. will have more resources to address safety, worker’s rights, and political power in the new year. Third Wave Fund, a 20-year-old foundation, recently announced its inaugural grantees from the first and only Sex Worker Giving Circle, a new collective created by the fund in 2018.

This new giving circle is unique in many ways. The Sex Worker Giving Circle (SWGC) is the first sex worker-led fund housed at a U.S. foundation. SWGC consisted of 10 Fellows who were trained and supported by Third Wave Fund in order to raise more than $100,000 of the grant funding, design the grant-making process, and decide which organizations would receive funding grants, which ranged from $6,818 to $21,818.

“Sex worker organizing is both more necessary and more under-funded than ever. The SWGC is a critical new funding source for sex worker movements,” said SWGC Fellow Janis Luna, referencing the “increasing discrimination and violence under SESTA/FOSTA” that many sex workers report they are facing. The SESTA/FOSTA laws passed in 2018, which seek to end online sex trafficking, were both celebrated and sharply criticized by different parts of the feminist community. Some feminists, such as Mary Mazzio, director of the film I Am Jane Doe, which shed light on the tragic sex trafficking of children in America, supported passage of the laws, while other groups like Survivors Against SESTA, argue that the laws are driving sex workers back into exploitative situations with pimps, and back onto the street where they face increased harassment and criminalization.

SWGC Fellow Janis Luna says that many sex workers today “are struggling to make ends meet” and need all the support philanthropy can provide. In general, philanthropy tends to avoid the subject of sex workers and their rights, leaving only a tiny sliver of funding, $1.1 million for the entire U.S., going to aid and support sex workers.

Rhode Island recently experienced a bit more interface with the sex worker community as one of the state’s longest-standing strip clubs, The Foxy Lady, was shut down by the city of Providence for promoting prostitution. Employees of the shut-down club came forward on Facebook with a GoFundMe page, and comments from community feminist leaders ranged from supporting the fundraiser to suggesting that now would be a good time to organize a worker’s union and reopen with a better workplace environment. Stories like Rhode Island’s suggest there is a great deal of work to be done to ensure that women’s health and safety are a priority in sex work.

SWGC grants will go toward projects to build power and well-being within sex worker communities. In New Orleans, Women With A Vision will be using part of its new grant to organize their second annual Black & Brown Sex Workers event called Second Line. Other grantees such as WeCareTN (Memphis) and The Outlaw Project (Phoenix) will use grant funds to support trans women of color sex workers as they advocate for increased safety, employment, and political power.

In a press release announcing the new funding, SWGC Fellow Sinnamon Love described a range of projects that will be supported by this new funding, including efforts to decriminalize sex work in Washington D.C., to healing initiatives for trans and queer sex workers in Seattle. “Each one is by-and-for sex workers, because we know what works best for our own communities,” said Love.

In a previous interview I did for Inside Philanthropy with Scott Campbell, executive director of the Elton John Aids Foundation and Crystal DeBoise, co-director of the Sex Workers Project, I learned about ways that  philanthropy can do more to bring the issue of sex workers’ rights in from the margins. Both of these experts noted that access to health care is still a big problem for many sex workers. Legal access issues include getting criminal charges vacated for former sex workers or helping being rejected from housing because the landlord discovers. Another immediate need is housing for homeless LGBTQ youth who often get involved in sex work out of desperation for money. Funding for more emergency housing for these youth would make a big impact on the problem. Philanthropy could also help with create more peer support networks for sex workers, so they can help each other find access to better employment or educational opportunities.

Given the many challenges that sex workers face, these new funds from Third Wave Fund’s Sex Worker Giving Circle are a needed antidote to a culture that largely excludes and stigmatizes this population.  The unique model for giving — with former and current sex workers doing the fundraising, the funding process design, and the funding decisions — adds  even more integrity to this work.

View a list of the grantees for the Sex Worker Giving Circle here. 


An Unusual Women’s Giving Circle in Boston Fuels Social Change Globally

Ripple Effect: Longtime Expert to Cultivate Giving Circles Worldwide

Scaling the Mount Everest of Gender Equality in Minnesota