A New Award for Women of Color Environmental Leaders

Rachel’s Network Catalyst Award will provide $10,000 to up five women environmental leaders of color.

This week, Rachel’s Network launched the Catalyst Award as a new way to build women’s leadership in environmental work. The awards will recognize as many as five women of color who are making a significant impact on environmental issues in communities across the United States.

Each award winner will receive $10,000 as well as networking and mentorship support throughout the year.

Rachel’s Network works at the intersection of gender equality and environmentalism, providing $1.7 million in collective funding grants since its founding aimed at addressing both climate change and women’s rights. Rachel’s Network received the Bridge Builders Award for Network and Collaborative Giving Leadership from Philanthropy Women in January of 2019 for its exceptional work in growing gender equality movements intersectionally with environmental work.

This award is particularly noteworthy for its integration of both race and gender issues in addressing diversity in environmental work. In addition, the award creators are widening the lens on what it means to make an impact on environmental work by inviting women from the arts, agriculture, law, journalism, education, and faith communities to apply for the awards.

“We want this award to be the connective tissue between the wide landscape of existing fellowships for emerging leaders of color and executive leadership,” said Fern Shepard, President of Rachel’s Network, in a press release announcing the new awards. “We hope our investment catalyzes not only individual women’s career trajectories, but the environmental movement as a whole in becoming more representative and just.”

If this work interests you or brings to mind someone who would be an ideal applicant, don’t tarry: Applications are due by April 15, 2019. You will find more information and can begin the application process on their website.

Funder collaboratives like Rachel’s Network are providing progressive leadership with a deep understanding of the connections between environmental and gender justice. Now, with the Catalyst Award, Rachel’s Network is taking their work further to address the intersections of both race and gender.

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How This Investment Advisor Wants to Build Financial Power for Women

Linda Davis Taylor, CEO of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors, shares her vision of the growing influence of women in philanthropy and finance.

If there’s one thing Linda Davis Taylor thinks there’s too much of, it’s women taking concessions in salary negotiations. As the CEO and Chairman of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors, Taylor is calling on all women to create a culture where women ask for what they deserve at their jobs.

“I still hear so many women say they don’t know how to negotiate their salary, even women in top leadership positions,” said Taylor, in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women. She wants to see women get much more comfortable with having those difficult conversations that ensure equal pay and benefits for work at all levels and in all industries. She also wants to find more ways to ensure that “we start early enough in encouraging women to understand their role in salary negotiation.”

To that end, Taylor recently created a new tool for young women, to help them plan early for a healthy financial life. It’s called How to Build You Financial Power and Take Your Seat at the Table and it offers young women actionable, realistic advice on becoming aware of their money challenges and getting a plan early in life to grow their assets and invest in ways that align with both their long-term financial stability and their core personal values. Taylor sees tremendous potential for young women today to “harness the power of their money in order to shape the world around them.”

Taylor comes from a robust background in women’s education. For part of her career in financial management, she served as Chief Advancement Officer and later Chair of the Board of Trustees for Scripps College, a four-year private women’s college in Claremont, California. “Scripps introduced me to thousands of amazing women,” said Taylor. “My work centered on philanthropy and financial support of the women’s college, but it opened my eyes to so many issues and barriers that women face.”

Taylor saw many women in philanthropic families who “didn’t have an understanding of the financial system as they might, and didn’t feel entitled all the time to make aspirational gifts to their school even if the family had the wealth.” Women’s tendencies to put their own needs last, or at least several notches down on the list, resulted in women not making the same kinds of pledges to their alma maters as men.

But for women today, that is changing. Referencing the research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute on the growing influence of women in philanthropy, Taylor is seizing the opportunity and providing more services that catalyze women’s impact.  “Women are more often being given the responsibilities, whether we are ready or not, to take on financial roles in our families. Taylor sees her approach as two-pronged, growing both the “competence and the confidence” that women need to become stronger agents of change with their money.

Taylor’s online guide for young women emphasizes embracing student loans as a reality that must be addressed in the financial plan, and uses language like “financial boundaries” to help young women figure out where to put their money, and how to begin saving early and often.

Taylor’s background for creating the guide includes her work establishing a program at Scripps College in financial literacy, helping young women figure out how to get off to a strong financial start after finishing their degree. “This message needs to be expanded throughout women’s lives, but we need to make sure that we start as early as we can to build in those tools. It’s more challenging for women today because they have student debt and may be working in a job that doesn’t make much money at first,” said Taylor.

As women advance in their careers, Taylor sees many who want to get into gender lens investing with their assets. “It’s all connected right now, there’s this global change with more women being active and involved and vocal, and then they’re recognizing there are so many things they want to directly impact, whether it’s with their job or with their giving.”

But for Taylor, it all starts with a woman developing good financial skills early in life. “To be effective as a donor to any organization you want to support, you first have to develop your own financial habits.” With her work with families, Taylor sees an integral part of that work as raising awareness around the issue of women’s financial empowerment. “We try to take a holistic view when we work with a family. We try to help a family be really clear about their value system and their purpose. Women in particular seem to resonate with that.”

Taylor sees multiple benefits to this approach, helping to connect the family and build trust. She often meets with family members as a group and asks them what it means to be part of their family. “That simple question is a tremendous ice-breaker. Everybody has an answer.” From there, Taylor says the conversation often naturally moves toward discussing values and charitable goals. “Those can be tremendous financial education opportunities with families.”

By focusing on financial empowerment of women, Taylor sees more movement for women to influence social change. “Chances are, they are going to be working longer, living longer, inheriting more wealth, so the power will be moving in that direction.”

More about Linda Davis Taylor here.

Linda Davis Taylor is the CEO and chairman of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors in Pasadena, California, and a champion for women’s economic independence and strength. She is a frequent speaker on wealth transition, family governance, and philanthropy, and author of The Business of Family.

All opinions expressed by Linda Davis Taylor are solely her opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors. You should not treat any opinion expressed by Ms. Taylor as a specific recommendation to make a particular investment. Ms. Taylor’s opinions are based upon information she considers reliable.

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50 Women Can: Cultivating Women’s Leadership in Journalism

Take the Lead recently announced the launch of a new program to strengthen women’s leadership in journalism.

Women’s leadership is getting more strategic support to improve gender equity in journalism. Recently, Take the Lead announced a new program that is launching with support from both the Ford Foundation and the Democracy Fund. The program is called 50 Women Can Change the World in Journalism, and is aimed at “harness[ing] the collective power of women in journalism to build a more just and equal world,” according to a press release announcing the new endeavor.

Starting this year, 50 women journalists will engage in online and immersive learning with the program. The cohort will work to “re-envision journalism,” a profession dominated by women, but where women rarely make it into the top spots or earn as much as men.

“Women represent more than half of the journalism workforce, but are chronically underrepresented or misrepresented in journalism leadership,” said Gloria Feldt, Co-founder and CEO of Take the Lead. “Inequities within journalism must be rectified.”

To chip away at this inequity, the new journalism program will provide support and ongoing partnership with its first cohort of fifty professional journalists stationed around the country in publishing outlets. “Cohort members for this first #50WomenCan journalism program include many leading figures in communications,” says Feldt. “From The New York Times to The Center for Investigative Journalism to NBC News, our attendees are coming from the industry’s top media outlets.”

The Ford Foundation’s support for this project grows out of its mission to address equality in society. “Gender equity in journalism, as it is in any profession, is needed to ensure that all voices and viewpoints are heard, reflected and respected,” said Farai Chideya, Program Officer for Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation. “50 Women Can Change the World ensures this will happen.”

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How Celebrating Women in Sports Bolsters Women’s Leadership

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How Celebrating Women in Sports Bolsters Women’s Leadership

Billie Jean King, tennis legend and founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation, is pictured here with girl athletes. (Photo Credit: Women’s Sports Foundation)

National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) is commemorated annually in the first week of February. According to its sponsor, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), the day represents “a national observance celebrating the extraordinary achievements of girls and women in sports.”

The WNBA honored female athletes on February 6, and was one of many institutions noting the value of sport in fostering not just fitness and health in girls and women, but also self-confidence and leadership skills. “Lead Her Forward” was the 2019 NGWSD theme, and the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Deborah Antoine noted, “NGWSD is a great time to uplift these girls and women, along with the advocates using their platforms to inspire greatness in female athletes. We are also more committed than ever to protect Title IX, along with strong policies and safeguards for women in sports and all industries.”

Several marquee female athletes traveled to Capitol Hill to celebrate the day and advocate for women’s athletics. The contingent included WSF President and three-time Olympic bobsled medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, Paralympics swimming gold medalist Jessica Long, and World Rugby Hall of Famer Phaidra Knight.

The Capitol Hill visit focused on keeping Title IX strong, supporting a Senate bill to establish a commission on the state of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement, and advocating for more sports and fitness opportunities for girls and women at all levels.

In addition to pressing legislators to improve funding for and access to sports for girls and women, the athletes also had a little play time at the George Washington University campus. Star athletes led elementary, middle and high school girls in multi-sport clinics, including Olympic ice hockey medalist Meghan Duggan, 1984 Olympic hurdles gold medalist Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, Paralympic basketball and alpine skiing gold medalist Alana Nichols, and three-time U.S. National Champion climber Sasha DiGiulian.  Following the clinics, WSF President Meyers Taylor led discussions on Title IX, and shared her thoughts on athletic and leadership opportunities for girls after graduation.

“Access to sports and all the benefits they provide is critical for girls and women. Sports teach girls leadership, teamwork and confidence,” said Meyers Taylor. “National Girls & Women in Sports Day is a great time to reconnect with the girls and women we serve and call for a national push to support girls and women in sports.”

The Women’s Sports Foundation partners with the National Women’s Law Center, George Washington University, Girls Inc. and the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition in promoting the nationwide day dedicated to women’s athletics. NGWSD began in 1987 to bring national attention to the promise of girls and women in sports, and has since evolved into an event to acknowledge the accomplishments of female athletes, the positive influence of sports participation, and the continuing struggle for equality for women in sports.

The WSF is a 501(c)(3), and since its formation in 1974 by tennis legend Billie Jean King has advocated and organized to promote equal access to sports and physical activity for girls and women. While only a small fraction of athletes will play professionally or in top-tier college programs, engaging in sports and fitness activities improves mental and physical health throughout a lifetime. The WSF has relationships with more than 1,000 of the world’s elite female athletes, and has impacted the lives of more than three-million youth, high school and collegiate student-athletes.

The mission of the Women’s Sports Foundation “is dedicated to creating leaders by ensuring all girls access to sports.” There is no better example of this than its founder Billie Jean King, one of the premier female tennis players in history, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. King was a pioneer on and off the court. She was a founding member of the Women’s Tennis Association, defeated Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match (brilliantly captured in the eponymous 2017 movie with Emma Stone and Steve Carrel) and was designated one of Life Magazine’s “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” in 1990. Exceptional on the court, King’s greatest legacy is no doubt the increased respect, visibility and compensation she gained for female tennis pros (and women athletes in general).

The WSF’s focus is not just on elite athletes, but also the benefits of sport for all girls and women. The WSF notes that it “distributes upwards of $10,000 per week from operating dollars to provide opportunities for socioeconomically underprivileged and inactive girls to participate in sports and physical activity.” The WSF has also been a powerful advocate for sports scholarships for women; scholarship money has increased from $100,000 in 1972 to over $1.8 billion across the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) today.

The WSF has fought for equal facilities and access to sports for girls and women, with major grant programs including GoGirlGo, which has gotten over one million girls physically active, and Sports 4 Life, which has targeted grass-roots sports opportunities for over 6,000 girls of color aged 11-18. The WSF has also given over 1,300 grants to champion athletes and teams to fund training and travel, and produced more than 40 studies on gender equity and sports.

Naturally, the WSF is a key supporter of “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” the legislation that while perhaps not leveling the playing field, at least allowed access to it. The WSF works with NCAA leadership, the Office of Civil Rights, coaches, parents and media in maintaining support for the law, which bars gender discrimination in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. The law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Consequently, girls’ participation in K-12 and collegiate sports has dramatically increased since the 1970s. Still, the WSF notes that only one-quarter of girls get sufficient physical exercise, and there are persistent gender, socioeconomic and racial barriers to health and fitness. This is crucial, as in addition to obvious health benefits, physical activity improves body image over time, reducing depression, eating disorders, and other mental health difficulties. Sports are also key in developing discipline, teamwork, perseverance and leadership skills, valuable attributes on and off the field.

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How Macro Social Work Can Help Inform Feminist Philanthropy

Rachel L. West of #MacroSW discusses how philanthropy can collaborate with social work to address systemic and structural problems..

Sometimes people misunderstand social workers as professionals who are not focused on impacting larger systems with their work. This mistake was brought home in philanthropy recently when the MacroSW collective, a group of social workers focused on larger social issues, had to correct the perception being given at the Nonprofit Quarterly that “You can’t social work this” as a way of saying “You can’t fix this problem with social work.”

The response from the MacroSW collective, entitled Why We Have to Social Work This, points out that many social workers commit their life’s work to addressing systemic and structural problems in society, providing leadership for policy, legislation, and community organizations. It’s called Macro Social Work — as in looking at the “macro” or bigger picture to find solutions to social problems.

Since 2014, a group of social workers has been gathering online to discuss issues of macro practice and how social workers and their allies can come together to impact big social problems like immigration, sexual harassment, and LGBTQ rights.

West described macro social work practice as the practice of focusing interventions on larger systems, such as communities and organizations. “It encompasses a broad spectrum of actions and ideas, ranging from community organizing and education to legislative advocacy and policy analysis,” said West, in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women. 

West sees social work as having unrealized potential for influencing public policy and systems change. “The social work profession is grounded in social justice,” said West. “Social workers strategize, network and collaborate to address injustice in the world, be inclusive, and plug-in politically to change policy and laws.”

West also asserted that social work is also ideally positioned to provide leadership for gender equality movements. She noted that social workers are often “in a key position to tap into an army of smart women all focused on diversity and gender equality.”

The collective of #MacroSW contains an array of chat partners in the social work realm, including Kristin Battista-Frazee, who goes by the Twitter handle @Porndaughter, and has written a book about her childhood, growing up as the daughter of Anthony Battista, who was convicted of pornography distribution for his role in disseminating Deep Throat in the 1970’s. (Battista has a funny trailer for her book that stars actor David Koechner, who plays Todd Packer in The Office).

Other members of the collective include ACOSA (Association for Community Organizing and Social Action), Stephen Cummings of the University of Iowa School of Social Work; Sunya Folayan, founder of The Empowerment Project; Pat Shelly from the University of Buffalo School of Social Work; Vilissa Thompson, a disability rights consultant and advocate; and Karen Zgoda. All of these folks get together on Twitter and talk about issues ranging from Native American heritage to the upcoming elections to #MeToo and disability rights.

Now #MacroSW is beginning to fundraise through Patreon to support its work, and is hoping that more donors will come to the table, especially progressive women who understand the added value that social workers bring with both clinical and social policy expertise.

West also invited progressive women donors to be peer collaborators with #MacroSW. “Giving money is always great, but providing mentorship and inroads for social workers to become leaders is sometimes even more important,” said West. West alluded to how this networking may help talented social workers take on challenges like running for office or scaling up a business. “We believe this is a powerful combination and social workers are natural collaborators,” added West.

#MacroSW chats have been so popular that they have increased to a weekly event happening on Thursdays at 9:00 PM EST, and are open to the public. Learn more about #MacroSW here. 

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Melinda on Colbert: Cell Phones as Tools for Women’s Empowerment

Stephen Colbert recently hosted Bill and Melinda Gates to discuss “surprises” — the theme of their annual letter this year. (Image credit: Youtube)

Starting with a joke about who would be the word hog between the couple, Stephen Colbert recently interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates. The couple talked about their philanthropy in the context of larger political issues such as growing inequality, and shared some of their “surprises”  — the theme of their annual letter this year.

Colbert remarked that Bill Gates used to be the richest man in the world, but has now fallen into the number two spot for the world’s most wealthy person.  “Well, we’re trying to give it away faster,” said Bill.

“There’s a lot of talk that billionaires shouldn’t exist,” said Colbert, suggesting that too much money accumulating at the top is a failure of capitalism.

“We might be biased,” said Bill with a chuckle. “I think you can make the tax system take a much higher proportion from people with wealth.”

“70%?” asked Colbert.

Bill Gates talked about how tax rates on the rich should be higher, but, “I think that if you go so far as to say that there is a total upper limit,” that could be problematic for the economy. Colbert then asked what the Gateses have observed as they travel the world and visit other countries with higher tax rates on the wealthy. “How is that going for them?” asked Colbert.

“Not necessarily that well,” said Melinda Gates. “There’ll be many times we’re in France, and you’ll hear, ‘Gosh, we wish we could have a Bill Gates. We wish we could have such a vibrant tech sector,'” but Melinda Gates cautioned that some tax systems dampen growth. In France, Melinda Gates said,  “the tax system has been done there in such a way that it doesn’t actually stimulate good growth. So we believe in a tax system that does tax the wealthy more than low income people, for sure,” said Melinda.

“More than presently is being taxed?” asked Colbert.

“Yes,” Melinda said.

“We’ve been lobbying in favor of increasing the estate tax,” Bill broke in, and then went on about how the estate tax used to be higher and could be made higher again to garner more taxes from the rich.

“We do believe that to whom much is given, much is expected,” added Melinda Gates.

Here, Melinda Gates began connecting the narrative to women, and how women’s control of money can be catalytic to global change.  Melinda Gates sees philanthropy’s support of women’s empowerment as just the beginning, saying “Philanthropy can never make up for taxes, but it is that catalytic edge,” where experimenting and model-testing can be done before government gets involved to bring  health or education initiatives to full scale.

Melinda Gates then talked about one of her big surprises for 2019:

“That cell phone has so much power in the hands of a poor woman. […] When she has a digital bank account — they’re not welcomed at the bank, they don’t have the money to get on the bus to get there, and if they do, they might get robbed — but when she can save one or two dollars a day on her cell phone, she spends it on behalf of her family, on the health and education of her kids, and she also starts to see herself differently, she sees herself as a working woman, and she’ll tell you, her husband sees her differently, if she’s in India, her mother-in-law sees her differently. Her older son sees her differently when she buys him a bike. So it’s not the only tool, but it’s one of the tools that will help empower women.”

There is a lot packed into that short message, but it helps elucidate how Melinda Gates sees the role of women in the global economy, and where she is focusing for hope — on financial empowerment, and on women using technology to come out of isolation and into community, so they are no longer controlled by repressive gender norms.

On the question of whether billionaires like Howard Schultz should run for President, Bill Gates spoke for the couple and said that, “We work with politicians but neither of us will choose to run for office.” Colbert then presented the couple with honorary t-shirts saying: GATES 2020: Not an Option.

All of this mainstream media discussion of women’s empowerment is good news for feminist philanthropy. As more progressive women donors get in front of the cameras, they are feeding a healthy trend of growing awareness about the value of women’s leadership.

The Gates Annual letter is here. 

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Women Donors: What Can You Do to Support Women in Union Jobs?

Women workers belonging to unions earn more money. How can feminist philanthropists support unionized women? (Image courtesy of National Nurses United.)

As I scour the internet in my never-ending quest to know more about feminist strategies in philanthropy, I don’t often come across union support as a primary strategy. The Ms. Foundation for Women does some work in this area with its support of the Miami Worker’s Center and the Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, but supporting unions like the American Federation of Teachers or National Nurses United does not appear to be a primary focus of most feminist philanthropy strategies.

Consequently, this article on Apolitical by Odette Chalaby garnered my attention as one that progressive women donors might want to read and think about in terms of how they are aligning their strategy with union activity. There are many potential benefits for women’s empowerment to supporting unions that are primarily comprised of women.

First, some background on the problem:

Women in Unions Have Gender Pay Gaps that are Half the Size

While unions are often seen as largely white and male, it’s Hispanic women that stand to gain the most from membership in the US today.

Women that are members of unions or covered by union contracts have gender pay gaps that are half the size of those outside. Union women are paid 90 cents for every dollar paid to unionised working men, compared with 81 cents for non-union women as a share of the non-union male dollar.

A similar effect on the pay gap has also been found in many other countries, including Canada and the UK.

The pay gap with white men is narrowed even further for women of colour. Unionised hispanic women earn $264 more weekly than those not in a union — a 47% increase.

Unionised women are also more likely to have access to paid leave — enabling them to balance work and family obligations — and to have employer-provided health insurance and a pension plan. Overall, they earn 30% more than non-union women workers.

Despite this, union membership is still less popular among women than men in the US. So where do the benefits come from, and why don’t more women take advantage of them?

The article goes on to explain that union jobs have greater pay transparency and there is generally a more recognizable path to getting promoted or advancing into leadership.  Julie Anderson (Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and author of a recent study on the topic) cited race and gender discrimination in non-union jobs as contributing to the depressed pay for women.

Required secrecy around pay in non-union jobs is contributing further, with employers having strict regulations about whether or not employees can discuss pay. In addition, unions give workers the ability to participate in a grievance process and a representative who addresses wage complaints, making it easier for employees to question and remedy a wage gap.

The article also talks about examples of compelling interventions to deal with the pay gap:

Many states and cities are trying to deal with these issues head on — Boston is providing free salary negotiation classes for women, and a ground-breaking series of recent changes to equal pay laws in California, New York, and Massachusetts now allow all employees to discuss wages with each other.

But unions have long led the way. They have been instrumental in providing many policies that particularly benefit women with families, including the 40-hour working week, a minimum wage, overtime pay, and, more recently, paid sick and family leave. 

One more important point for women donors to think about: While union membership in the US has been on the decline for decades, there is a silver lining for women:

While unions are declining overall, there has still been a broad trend of women breaking their traditional male dominance. Women’s membership as a share of overall union membership increased from 34% to 46% from 1984 to 2014, and women are projected to be the majority of American union members by 2025.

Unions may provide a great way to work with large swaths of professional women to enact major feminist goals, including access to reproductive rights, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, legislation to mandate testing of rape kits, and laws to end female genital mutilation.

Feminist philanthropists can also support growing the women’s leadership pipeline for unions, so that more women make it into the top brass of these organizations that primarily represent women. Strategies to do this might include providing mentoring, education, and leadership development programs for union women.

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Prince Charles Debuts $100 Million Gender Lens Fund for South Asia

Prince Charles announced the launch of a new $100 million fund to support women and girls in South Asia at Buckingham Palace. (Photo courtesy Clarendon House)

The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, announced this week the launch of a new $100 million fund that aims to reach half a million women and girls in South Asia with education and professional opportunities in five years.

“The sustainable development goals endorsed by 193 member states at the United Nations cannot be achieved unless radical new approaches are developed,” said Prince Charles, upon unveiling the new fund. “I am very proud that the British Asian Trust is at the forefront of developing such innovations.”

British Asian Trust (BAT) will act as the investment banker for this project, raising capital and implementing the project, and will seek funding for new project from the big bank foundations for the initial risk investment. Added funding will be sought from national governments and other big donors.

The British Asian Trust was founded in 2007 at the suggestion of Prince Charles and is one of the Prince’s 20 charities.  For this $100 million investment in women and girls, BAT’s plan is to combine venture capital funding with options contracts that are paid when certain social goals of investment are made.

This “pay for success” type funding innovation has become increasingly popular, as investors look for ways to get a return on their money and also fulfill corporate social responsibility targets.

Prince Charles’ announcement of the new activity for BAT comes at a time when donors are increasingly recognizing the value of both a social and financial return on their investments. Women donors, in particular, may want to be alerted to this new venture impacting the lives of women and girls in South Asia.

Prince Charles referred to the new project as BAT’s “most ambitious to date.” As gender lens investing and gender lens grantmaking continue to evolve, we expect to see much more activity like this announcement from the Prince of Wales.

More on the announcement here. 

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Vision and Decision-Making: Straight Talk from a DAF Giving Expert

Eileen R. Heisman, CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust, shares ideas and strategies for philanthropists.

Eileen R. Heisman, CEO of National Philanthropic Trust (NPT), has a 30 year record of professional achievements in philanthropy, but it all started  with being a social worker. I wanted to learn more about Heisman’s early social work origins, and also about how she led NPT from a small nonprofit in 1996 to the $6 billion dollar grantmaking organization it is today, making an indelible imprint on the landscape of modern philanthropy.

When we began our conversation, I asked Heisman to comment on what it felt like to run the country’s largest host organization for Donor Advised Funds. “When I read my own bio, sometimes it feels kind of like an out of body experience,” said Heisman with a chuckle. “But it’s nice to be able to say all those things are true.”

For all the time and energy Heisman has put into growing NPT over the past 22 years, she says the things that have kept her up at night were more parenting-related than work-related. Her children are now young adults and Heisman, now age 64 (“I feel like I’m about 39!”), is still steering NPT toward bigger and better things, with NPT now managing over 7,400 Donor Advised Funds and continuing to grow. NPT has raised over $13 billion in charitable contributions and currently manages $7.4 billion in charitable assets, making it one of top 25 largest grantmaking institutions in the US.

Vision + Decision-Making = Success

With her breadth of experience, I asked Heisman to talk about what attributes she sees as critical to success for philanthropists today.

“Two things are key to success: having a vision and being able to make decisions in a timely way,” said Heisman. “Even if you make a wrong decision from time to time, people want to see leaders who are decisive.”

Heisman emphasized that being able to envision growing the organization is critical, even if plans take a change of direction. “I like planning and I would do a lot of incremental planning about how it was going to work.”

In terms of how to make decisions, Heisman advised, “knowing your conscience and being a great data gatherer,” as a key combination.

While seemingly obvious, Heisman says paying attention to these two key elements — vision and decision-making — will put you leagues ahead as an organizational leader. Next, Heisman credits her ability to hire well and form successful professional relationships with her staff. “Hiring smart people, making sure they have enough resources to do their job, that they’re well trained, and relying on them when you’re not the best person to make a decision,” said Heisman. “I loved the idea of hiring people who were better at something than I was, and giving them the chance to do it.”

Leadership: It’s About the Relationships

I commented on how Heisman depended on relationships to build the  strength of NPT as an organization. “I think relationships are almost more important than knowledge sometimes — learning who you can trust, who is a big picture thinker, who is a detail person, who do you go to when you’re upset and angry, who can go to who to process information and they aren’t threatened by it or upset by it.”

For Heisman, this kind of relationship-building is a big key to NPT’s growth over the past two decades. She talked about keeping a close eye on the roster of people around her, choosing carefully who to be in contact with, and what the intent is of the relationship. “I love having those thought partners around me.”

Heisman also described how leaders need to be fluent in dealing with disagreement, and create an environment where people can be different but also stay connected. “So if you have divergent points of view, how do you have civil discourse about it?”

Women’s Leadership and Political Giving

On the role of women in leadership, Heisman expressed frustration at the slow pace of change. “I think that women are really effective leaders, and I’m astounded at how few women are on corporate boards or running publicly traded companies. I find it really sad and unfortunate.”

While criticizing the lack of leadership opportunities for women, Heisman suggested that the most effective way for many high net worth women to influence this problem is through political support for candidates and PACs.

“The way women come to the forefront on topics like gender equality is through PAC’s and supporting campaigns of the leaders taking us there,” said Heisman. She sees tremendous potential for philanthropic women to direct some of their resources toward gender equality political action. “Philanthropy does effect the fringes of how some ideas get started, but the real substantial things happen when the government gets involved.”

Heisman cautioned, though, that NPT’s intent is not to direct donors in giving in any way. “Donors come to us from all different arenas and political points of view,” she said. “I’m in a different position [at NPT] where my personal points of view are really not important. I really have to stay out of that public discourse, and it’s hard sometimes.”

The Potential Chilling Effect of the New Tax Law on Small Nonprofits

I offered Heisman a chance to comment on the effects of the Trump tax laws on charitable giving, particularly the laws which took away the charitable giving deduction for a certain segment of the middle class. “I think small gifts to charities are going to decrease,” said Heisman. “The question is how much. You need two or three or four years of data points to see a trend. Maybe by that time, the tax laws will change back to being more reasonable relative to giving.”

“Another trend is even scarier,” added Heisman. “Twenty million fewer households are giving in the US, but giving is going up. So the wealthier are giving the lion’s share of the gifts in the US and regular everyday households are already giving less. Then we add the tax law change,” said Heisman, and suggested that the new tax law will likely even further exacerbate the trend of reduced giving from small donors and increased giving from the ultra-rich.

“Do we want giving in the US to be only the domain of the ultra wealthy? I think no,” said Heisman. She sees philanthropy’s definition as tied to the definition of a democracy in which people can use charitable giving to organize at the grassroots to improve their communities. “I think the idea that fewer people are giving is concerning,” she said, “And if I were running a small human services charity in a community, I would be concerned right now.”

Heisman described a dynamic whereby high net worth givers get cultivated by hospitals, universities, and research institutions and end up giving large sums in that direction. Meanwhile, small charities have a hard time accessing wealthy individuals, so there is a big division between the haves and the have-nots in how this plays out.

“This is going to be the first time people are trying these new regulations on,” said Heisman. “There’s been a big push on Capitol Hill to have a universal deduction, where people get to deduct every charitable gift regardless of where they stand for income. If I had my wish as a policy maker, that’s what I would be promoting.”

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Women Leaders Convening to Build Election Power in Dallas

ReflectUS is a bipartisan coalition of leaders working to get more women elected to public office.

One of the largest public women’s foundations in the country is hosting a convening of leaders in Dallas to address the lack of gender equality in local government.

The Texas Women’s Foundation will host 60 women leaders from diverse backgrounds to work on getting more women elected to public office in Dallas County. On February 6, these leaders will come from many organizations we have talked about here at Philanthropy Women, including IGNITE, Vote Run Lead, and She Should Run.

All of these organizations are part of a larger network called ReflectUS.  Reflect.US is a nonpartisan coalition of seven leading women’s organizations: Represent Women, She Should Run, Empowered Women, Women’s Public Leadership Network, IGNITE, Vote Run Lead and Latinas Represent.

ReflectUS is a striking example of coalition-building across political party lines, as the organization is currently co-led by Jennifer Nassour, former Chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, and Delia Garcia, former Democratic State Representative from Kansas.

“We are extremely encouraged by the interest we have already received in Dallas,” said ReflectUS CEO, Jennifer Nassour, in a press release announcing the convening. “The work of the coalition is important to understand the barriers women face in winning and holding public office and the opportunities that exist to achieve equal representation, starting at the local level.”

Feminist philanthropists may want to know more about this effort to achieve equal representation, since this work may yield results that can be replicated. The upcoming meeting will focus specifically on Dallas, where more than half (52%) of the city councils have zero or one woman.  The day-long event on February 6 will serve be the beginning of ReflectUS’s strategic planning to achieve gender equal representation in Dallas County over the next two election cycles.

The founding members of the ReflectUS coalition will be present at the Dallas convening: Anne Moses and Kristin Hayden of IGNITE, Larissa Martinez of the Women’s Public Leadership Network, Erin Vilardi of Vote Run Lead, Erin Loos Cutraro of She Should Run, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas of Latinas Represent, Cynthia Terrell of Represent Women, and Mindy Finn of Empowered Women.

The event will run from 8:30am to 4:00pm on Wednesday, February 6, 2019, at the Texas Women’s Foundation at Campbell Centre II, 8150 N Central Expy #110, Dallas, TX 75206.

Related:

How One Feminist Scholar is Putting Corporate Philanthropy On Notice

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