Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Kinga Wisniewska, the Resource Mobilization Manager at FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, a youth-led feminist fund working to support grassroots organizers in over 120 countries in the Global South.
1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
The fundraising field is quite secretive, as organizations fear that sharing their donor experiences would have repercussions on their relationships, or that they would have to compete for funds if they disclosed what opportunities they are working on. It’s so weighty to work in silos, feel isolated and overwhelmed with the “I have to do it all on my own” mentality. That makes fundraising burnout very real, with lasting effects on our well-being and health, and affects so many of us in philanthropy, especially those working in resource mobilization.
But it does not have to be this way. What I wish I had known, contrary to what I was made to believe, is that if we increase collaboration and transparency, and center self and collective care, burnout can be avoided.
At FRIDA, we try to place collaboration over competition in all aspects of our work, including fundraising. We work with sister organizations, sharing our experiences and challenges openly, and we don’t shy away from being vulnerable. In addition, our work results from internal collective processes, such as co-leadership and co-creation. These practices open space for an important sense of belonging for all and cross the strategies of the different teams.
Also, for us, self-care and collective care are a political commitment, so we are always making sure that members have time and resources to ensure their well-being. Being human is more important than being productive. I believe that this approach not only helps us avoid burnout and stay happy in this challenging profession, but also brings more and better resources to the feminist movements supported by FRIDA – and by other organizations.
2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?
Some of the biggest philanthropic givers, particularly in the United States, manage grantmaking budgets that are larger than development spending of several countries combined. Yet, with this incredible power comes little accountability. The private foundations are free to simply change their minds from one day to another, adjusting priorities that can affect hundreds of organizations and communities that count on their support. And the consequences of such sudden changes are proportional to their size.
I see this lack of accountability to the movements by large donors as a huge professional challenge when fundraising on behalf of young feminist organizing. The ever-present possibility of funders changing their direction without consulting with the grassroots organizations is a real threat to the sustainability of the movements.
I believe that large funders could learn a lot from participatory organizations such as FRIDA, where the decision making is placed back in hands of the communities we support. FRIDA community gives a mandate to operate in a certain way, but when circumstances change, we come back and consult them again. “Nothing about us, without us” should be a guiding principle of all funders, regardless of their size.
3. What inspires you most about your work?
What inspires me most is the courage, resilience, and creativity of young feminist organizers who work to advance social justice causes in all corners of the world. When I talk to donors, pitching new projects or grants for FRIDA’s community, I have the privilege of sharing the amazing work of grassroots activists, which brings about meaningful and lasting change. The money we bring to FRIDA is theirs, and it should be the community that decides where that money should be spent, and where it should come from. In addition to FRIDA’s long-established participatory grantmaking process, we recently launched FRIDA’s Resource Mobilization Ethics Policy.
We know that money is scarce, especially the funding available to support women’s and trans rights work. Because of that, we understand that our community should be the one deciding whether FRIDA accepts grants from funders that may not be completely in accordance with feminist values. The policy itself came after an in-depth consultation, which opened up an inspiring and honest conversation about ethics of resource mobilization. These conversations were not without contradictions and didn’t build a consensus – neither did we want that. This was a very rich process that led us to define our limits very clearly and establish collective structures of decision making about accepting grants or not. This process is also allowing our fundraising work to support our philanthropic advocacy. As an activist fund, FRIDA will always push for better practices of philanthropists, including our own funders, and walk away from partnerships that may impact negatively the activists we are set to support.
4. How does your gender identity inform your work?
I identify as a young white European woman, which comes with a lot of privilege. While large-scale philanthropy in general is male-dominated, fundraising and programming teams in certain sectors, including women’s rights funders, are predominantly from similar backgrounds to mine. This reduces the vibrancy and diversity of fundraising, and often leaves us entrenched in similar ideas and priorities we tried out for years. It is our responsibility to change that and actively make space for fundraisers from intersecting backgrounds, perspectives and identities.
5. Do you think your gender identity has affected your career?
As a young Eastern European woman working in fundraising, I often feel overlooked. In addition to pervading gender inequality and discrimination, philanthropy is also all about ageism. It has a real effect on what kind of space you are allowed to occupy in the sector. This often feels like a closed club, and if you are invited – even temporarily – you are supposed to be grateful for the opportunity, regardless of the outcome. I think this discourages fundraisers who “do not fit” to even try joining the circle.
It can feel dis-empowering and has a real impact on what kind of partnerships you can build – and of course, how the large philanthropic giving looks like. While I am still learning how to operate in these kinds of spaces, I think that we could create more solidarity between fundraisers who are “outsiders.” Feminist philanthropy is a form of activism, and we could accomplish much more as a collective.
6. How can philanthropy support gender equality?
To truly support gender equality in a meaningful and lasting way, philanthropy should center its efforts on supporting grassroots girls’, women’s, trans and intersex young people’s organizations and movements that offer powerful solutions to intersecting issues, like discrimination and structural violence. Funding paths to social justice must involve flexible, participatory, and multi-year grants that transform organizations in the long-term, allowing them to thrive and plan for the future – with space to adjust and reflect if circumstances change. Projectization of philanthropy can create a lot of harm to organizations that feel they need to adjust their programming or activities just to access funding from large donors, while often being unable to cover their basic institutional needs, such as salaries.
2020 has been a year of change that could not be predicted. But it is also showing us that project-based grantmaking is not suited to responding to crises. Only flexible core funding can give organizations space to react and adapt effectively when they need it the most.
7. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?
In the next 10 years, and hopefully sooner, I hope to see feminist movements leading in-depth reckoning within the development and gender equality ecosystem. Working in social justice does not make us immune to racism, discrimination, and violence. We must stop and reflect on our existing practices, questioning everything we do, including privilege of individuals and organizations in philanthropic spaces. I also see the feminist movements driving us all to much more ethical and coherent practices, making us accountable for the choices we make. I can’t imagine it going any other direction.
About Kinga Wisniewska: Kinga Wisniewska is the Resource Mobilization Manager at FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund. She is a feminist and a sexual and reproductive health and rights activist from Warsaw, Poland. She has experience in resource mobilization and fundraising from both public and private sectors, as well as social justice networks. FRIDA is a youth-led feminist fund working to support grassroots organizers in over 120 countries in the Global South.