Powerful Men Backing Feminism: Obama and Bill Surprise Melinda

In a video appearance, Barack Obama talks with Bill Gates about how to surprise Melinda Gates at the end of her book tour. “Please tell Melinda I’m committed to the Lift. We’re gonna do everything we can to keep pushing until every single girl has the rights and opportunities and the freedom to go as far as her dreams are going to take her,” said Obama in the call. (Image Credit: Twitter video)

Men make great feminist philanthropists, too.

On May 9th, during the final stop of the tour for Melinda Gates’ new book, The Moment of Lift, audience members in Seattle got a surprise video visit from former President Barack Obama.

In an introductory speech that shocked Melinda herself, her husband Bill Gates revealed that he had been unsure how best to introduce Melinda for the most important event of her tour, so he began “secretly scheming” with the former President to decide on the best method — and posted their “brainstorming” session on Twitter.

The video shows President Obama taking the call from Bill Gates (“Who? Oh, Bill! Right, right. Melinda’s husband!”) and giving his advice based on opportunities Obama has had to introduce his wife Michelle during her own tours. We’re treated to a montage of Obama’s potential options — an ice sculpture, a Mariachi band, a dance crew, a pizza delivery — before his final decision to present Michelle with a bouquet of flowers and a kiss on the cheek.

“Now that was right for Michelle,” says Obama. “You’ve got to do what’s right for Melinda.”

Bill’s decision? Wrapping up his introduction with a heartfelt message. “My gift to Melinda is simply to tell her that the moment we met was my ‘Moment of Lift.'”

We cannot achieve the gender equality we’re after unless men contribute to feminist philanthropy. Gates’ nod to Melinda’s book is more than just a reminder of why the seats were filled in the Seattle theater — it’s an adaptation of the book’s theme, and a mark of his support for Melinda’s campaign. Similarly, Obama’s contribution to the humorous introduction video is more than just a fun opportunity to call in a household name — it’s an endorsement of Melinda’s book, and by extent, the beliefs she expresses within it.

In other words, both of these moments are opportunities for famous men to use their platforms to amplify a feminist cause.

Obama has already expressed his appreciation for The Moment of Lift. In one of his regular Facebook reading lists posted on May 6th, the former President asks his readers to consider adding Melinda’s book to their own lists. “When you lift up women,” he writes, “you lift up everybody—families, communities, entire countries… I’ve called Melinda an impatient optimist and that’s what she delivers here — the urgency to tackle these problems and the unwavering belief that solving them is indeed possible.”

He expresses a similar sentiment in the video he made with Bill. “Please tell Melinda I’m committed to the Lift,” Obama says at the end of the phone call. “We’re gonna do everything we can to keep pushing until every single girl has the rights and opportunities and the freedom to go as far as her dreams are going to take her.”

Warren Buffett has also given The Moment of Lift a glowing endorsement, calling the book “absolutely sensational.”

“I read it one sitting, it captivated me so much,” said Buffett. “It’s a story, but [you also] learn much about the world that you should know — and I would say most people don’t know.”

Buffett, Gates, and Obama are powerful figures in the United States who contribute substantially to feminist philanthropy through their charitable giving. Besides supporting the causes financially, affluent men in the public eye can also use their respective platforms to draw attention to feminist causes they support. The way in which Buffett, Gates, and Obama are supporting The Moment of Lift provide powerful examples of how men can raise the visibility of feminist messages.

The Obama Foundation actively contributes to feminist philanthropy through campaigns like its Girls Opportunity Alliance, an initiative started by Michelle Obama (and her husband, Barack) that works to improve the futures of adolescent girls around the world.

“The Girls Opportunity Alliance aims to lift up the work being done around the world to empower adolescent girls through education,” reads the program’s mission statement. The Obama Foundation pursues this goal by supporting grassroots leaders, raising financial support through their collaborative fund with GoFundMe, and providing resources that help young people around the world raise awareness about the need for girls’ education.

The Obama Foundation’s early foundational focus on women and girls shows that feminist philanthropy doesn’t always have to be led by women. Men who become great feminist philanthropists can contribute as much, or sometimes much more, to gender equality.

It may seem like a small gesture, but Bill Gates and Barack Obama teaming up to support Melinda is an important model for how men can express their support for feminist causes.

“Ages ago I came across a quote that I just loved,” said Melinda Gates, in an interview for Town and Country Magazine. “‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.‘ It was a quote by Margaret Mead. And that is ultimately what changes society, a group coming together and saying, ‘We want something different.'”

The group that changes the status of women and girls will not be comprised entirely of women and those who identify as women. No matter your gender, orientation, or status in life, you can contribute to feminist philanthropy, and start building the future you want to see.


The Moment of Lift is available now on Amazon and at major booksellers.

To learn more about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Obama Foundation, visit their websites to discover their current campaigns and see how you can contribute.

To learn more about the amplification of feminist philanthropy, read about the Obama Foundation’s commitment to global education for girls, the role mainstream media plays in boosting philanthropic campaigns, and an international commitment to gender equality as it approaches generational change.

#GenerationEquality: UN Women Revitalizes 25 Years of Empowerment

Generation Equality is the UN’s new rights campaign for women and girls. (Photo Credit: UN Women on Twitter)

On May 6, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, tweeted:

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 is the most visionary agenda. #Beijing25 must be both our present & our future for the empowerment of women and girls. That’s why we are all #GenerationEquality.

In 1995, thought leaders around the globe met to create the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, at the time considered one of the most forward-thinking women’s rights and gender equality initiative ever drafted. Developed during the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the Platform for Action was designed as “a visionary agenda for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere.” 189 governments committed to making strides in 12 areas of critical concern, but despite the slow progress we have seen over the last 25 years, not a single committed country can accurately claim it has achieved true gender equality.

UN Women seeks to change that.

On May 6, 2019, the organization announced its next major rights campaign: “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future.”

According to UN Women’s press release, “The Generation Equality campaign will bring together the next generations of women’s rights activists—many of whom may not have been born in 1995—with the gender equality advocates and visionaries who were instrumental in creating the Beijing Platform for Action more than two decades ago, to accelerate efforts to make gender equality and women’s rights a lived reality.”

The campaign is focused on drawing attention and action to five major issues that have not seen enough progress since the Beijing Declaration: equal pay, unpaid domestic work and care equality, sexual harassment and violence against women and girls, universal healthcare access for women, and equality and decision-making power in politics and daily life for women and girls.

“Today, nearly 25 years after the historic Beijing Conference, the reality is that not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women’s Executive Director. “Despite some progress, real change has been too slow for most women and girls in the world, and we see significant pushback in many places against their leadership and agency. As a result, women continue to be discriminated against and their contributions undervalued; they work more, earn less and have fewer choices about their bodies, livelihoods and futures than men; and they experience multiple forms of violence at home, at work and in public spaces. Generation Equality is a campaign for swift systemic change, with political will and bold, decisive actions taken on the laws, policies and outdated mindsets that must no longer curtail women’s voice, choice and safety.”

Generation Equality is designed to take effect during a pivotal time in feminist philanthropy’s history. Besides marking the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Conference, 2020 also holds the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (which promotes the safety, peace, and security of women and girls); the 10th anniversary of the founding of UN Women (marking the organization as an international champion for women and girls); and the 5th anniversary of the global Sustainable Development Goals (a collection of 17 goals adopted by world leaders in 2015 to achieve gender equality by the year 2030).

2020 is also a year of opportunity for progressive women donors. Government elections in many nations (including the United States’ next presidential election), organization and campaign anniversaries, and the growing importance of cultural and global activism are creating a sociopolitical climate that is charged with opportunity.

The point of Generation Equality is to connect longtime activists with the newest generation of equality-focused thought leaders, many of whom are just starting to find their voices as young adults and champions.

Connecting new voices with existing campaigns, donors, and sponsors will help boost feminist philanthropy efforts around the world. Generation Equality is designed as a rallying call – although UN Women has announced its program this month, it is only beginning of the official campaigns that will fall under the Generation Equality umbrella. Among them, the trending hashtag #GenerationEquality is already starting to build traction, almost a year in advance of the program’s official launch.

Generation Equality will officially kick off during the sixty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, scheduled to take place at the UN’s New York headquarters from March 9-20, 2020. Over the course of the year, UN Women will act as a focal point for feminist philanthropy efforts around the world, connecting campaigns with donor opportunities, giving women and girls a platform where their voices will be heard, and presenting existing and future generations with the opportunity to achieve gender equality once and for all.

“We are all #GenerationEquality,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka declared in her May 6 Twitter post.

And we start now. The path to gender equality has never been a clear one, but progressive women donors can use their support to make UN Women’s new initiative a reality – and by working together, we hopefully won’t have to wait 25 years this time.


To learn more about UN Women’s Generation Equality campaign, visit their website.

To learn more about ow feminist philanthropy is empowering underserved communities around the world, read about the ways philanthropy has encouraged LGBTQ representation in African and Asian media, or hear from two feminist foundation leaders as they share their stories, goals, and advice for new philanthropy representatives.

How Mainstream Media is Amplifying Feminist Philanthropy

A feature story by Julia Travers from Inside Philanthropy explores the funders using participatory grantmaking with girls. (Image Credit: Inside Philanthropy)

“In every decision you make, in every strategy you make, ask yourself a question: Where are girls?”

This is a statement from one of The With and For Girls Collective’s teenage activists, quoted in an article for Inside Philanthropy, and it rings true for philanthropic organizations around the world.

The growing influence of women on philanthropy is starting to draw attention, in the best possible ways. As more women work together to enact true social change, and as more female pioneers lead the way toward a more gender-equal future, mainstream media outlets are beginning to observe and comment on the trend.

One of the front-runners in capturing media attention is Melinda Gates, who, as one of the wealthiest people in the world alongside her husband Bill, has long been a pioneer for philanthropy.

Gates recently published her new book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, which reflects on her philanthropic mission over the last twenty years to call for women’s empowerment in the 21st century. As part of the press circuit for the new book, Gates has been interviewed in The Chronicle of Philanthropy and other giving-focused publications, but she has also been prominently featured in The New York Times, NPR, the LA Times, and TIME Magazine. It can be argued that Gates’s preexisting fame is helping her book gain traction, but the interviews themselves offer uplifting and exciting looks into the future of philanthropy.

“I have rage,” she said, in an interview for the New York Times Magazine. “It’s up to me to metabolize that and use it to fuel my work. …We do need to think about how we right some of these inequities. How do we open our networks of power for women and people of color? We have to think about our privilege. I have to think about my privilege every day.”

This attention to privilege is a common theme in many philanthropic efforts led by the ultra-wealthy, or by organizations that have previously used their funding with the best of intentions, but not to the best effect.

The solution Gates and many foundations have reached is participatory grantmaking: putting funding decisions in the hands of the very populations foundations are aiming to serve.

The With and For Girls Collective (WFG) has become a mainstream media darling for their approach to participatory grantmaking. According to a fact sheet prepared by UNFPA and UNICEF, girls and young women ages 10 to 24 make up 12.5% of the world’s population — around 900 million people total — but less than 2 cents of every international aid dollar goes to campaigns directed toward girls in this age group.

WFG’s mission is to fund more campaigns and organizations that directly support adolescent girls, focusing on empowerment efforts in five major geographical regions. What makes the organization such a popular subject for media isn’t just its mission, but its design — as a Collective of organizations that came together in 2014, WFG is a collaborative effort of foundations around the world to empower girls and women to succeed and enact real change in their lives.

In the last few months alone, WFG has been featured in Forbes, NewsDay, Inside Philanthropy, and The Guardian. Their mission strikes a chord with readers because of its simplicity and effectiveness: by educating and arming teenage girls to take on real campaigns in philanthropy, WFG ensures that its funding goes to organizations and campaigns that will make a real difference.

“Why is it so revolutionary to see girls as the experts on their own lives and issues, and that they should have a huge say in matters that affect them?” asks Cynthia Steele, Executive Vice President of EMPower (a member of the Collective), in an article for Forbes. “Because it rarely happens. From day one, the collective has adopted girls’ substantial contribution as a core principle and value.”

Every year, WFG turns its fundraising decisions over to local panels in each of its five global action regions — and the panels are entirely made up of adolescent girls from those regions, who can accurately speak to their countries’ needs and goals. The girl-led panels choose WFG’s 20 award-winning organizations and assist with other Collective activities, like developing organizational strategy and promoting global advocacy.

And it works!

“Having girls lead decisions on grants for girls is smart philanthropy – it harnesses their wisdom and bone-deep knowledge about what is important and what works for girls,” says Steele. “And importantly, girls gain self-confidence in their decision-making, and visibility and respect
– all empowering.”

Visibility, respect, and empowerment are all added benefits that come with prominent features in mainstream media outlets. As feminist philanthropy gains traction, whether from celebrity endorsements and the shared spotlight from prominent pioneers, or the shared interest many thought leaders and organizations have in promoting female advancement, mainstream media is beginning to notice, comment on, and contribute to the trend.

If more media outlets focused on amplifying feminist philanthropy, we would be another step closer to true gender equality and empowerment for all.


To read more about feminist philanthropy in mainstream media, check out the articles below:

To learn more about how feminist philanthropy is benefiting women and girls, discover how a text-based app is helping women receive support for work-related issues, how a nonprofit organization supports women dancers in professional choreography, and how feminist philanthropy can help address sexism in the video games industry.

What Can Feminist Philanthropy Do to Address Sexism In Video Games?

Student game makers participate in teams at a Girls Make Games event. (Photo Credit: Girls Make Games)

The video game industry has long been thought of as a “boys’ club.” Even before August of 2014, when the events of Gamergate painted a horrible picture of the worst case scenarios for women in the games arena, representation of women in games and a lack of female game developers left much to be desired.

According to the International Game Developers Association, women make up 47% of the people playing video games, but only 22% of the people creating them. Likewise, women have been historically under- or misrepresented in games. Too often, female characters in games were (and still are) over-sexualized, cast as tired tropes like the “damsel in distress,” or used as reward fodder for gamers who would normally be expected to play males.

In response to female-led movements like #MeToo and Gamergate, along with a rising interest in boosting girls’ interests in STEM skills from a young age, the industry has seen an inspiring uptick in female participation, but it’s still got a long way to go.

Take Sony for example. As an industry mogul and the owners/creators of PlayStation, the name “Sony” sticks out in video game news headlines, no matter the release season. Its main audience base is in its home country of Japan, but PlayStation has managed to maintain its status as a top console around the world by releasing popular titles as “PlayStation Exclusives” — such as The Last of Us, Red Dead Redemption, and other AAA titles. Sony has managed to keep its status as a games giant despite competition from Microsoft (Xbox), Nintendo (Nintendo Switch, Wii, etc.), and Valve (Steam, the largest game distribution platform for PC gamers).

In October of 2018, Sony announced that it was delaying the PlayStation 4 release of Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal, an anime-style fighting game featuring scantily-clad school-aged girls, until the US-based publisher (XSEED Games) could remove a sexually explicit “Intimacy Mode” from the game, which allowed players to undress and grope the underage female characters.

Sony received an impressive amount of backlash for this announcement, as fans of the game claimed Sony’s request was unfair censorship, but the company has held true to its decision. In April of 2019, Sony announced its intention to adopt new standards that restrict the amount of sexually explicit content — or content that otherwise demeans or exploits women — in games that are released for PlayStation.

Company representatives cited a worry that Sony “could become a target of legal and social action” as its reason for curbing certain types of content.

This is progress, but the quote isn’t exactly inspiring — Sony’s official statement makes it sound more like the company is protecting its own reputation, rather than taking a stand against the exploitation of women in video games.

Because video game companies like Sony have such a large say in the media that makes it to market — the media that we, the players, eventually consume — it’s critical for games giants to take a stance when it comes to sexually explicit and exploitative content. Until we have equal representation in video game development, simply restricting content in the interest of protecting the company’s reputation isn’t enough.

Feminist philanthropy has a huge opportunity to make an impact in this sphere. The number of female game developers continues to grow, and as more female, LGBTQA+, and minority thought leaders enter the video games industry, it stands to reason that video game content will continue to include more accurate, inspiring, and fair representation for its players.

Philanthropic organizations are also working to close the gap between girls and careers in coding and game development, although there are very few organizations specifically dedicated to encouraging female games developers. Girls Make Games is one: a program that inspires the next generation of female game designers, has reached over 5,500 girls in 51 cities around the world through its summer camp, workshop, and game jam series. Women in Games International (WIGI) is another, and is devoted to promoting inclusion and advancement of women in the global games industry.

Other organizations like Girls Who Code and Generation Giga Girls (G3), while they do not explicitly aim to improve representation in the games industry, work to improve the pipeline of female engineers in the U.S. by teaching girls coding skills and data analytics from as early as middle school.

The games industry has always been a hotbed of cultural and social discrepancies, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. An influx of female game developers, storytellers, and content creators have found voices for themselves in the competitive market, and the next generation of girls are setting their sights on careers in game development, media, and marketing.

How can you support female game developers?

  1. Buy their games. This may seem like a no-brainer, but game developers’ careers only thrive when their games do.
  2. Support an organization. Membership in WIGI, a donation to Girls Make Games, G3, or Girls Who Code, or buying a ticket to an organization event puts girls one step closer to success in the industry.
  3. Take a stand. Video games are, at heart, an entertainment media. If you’re not having fun playing a game because its content makes you uncomfortable, say something about it. Honest game reviews from players are the bread and butter of industry giants like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo — and unless gamers stand together against sexually explicit and exploitative content, these companies will have no reason to change their policies.

To learn more about organizations leading the charge to close the gender gap in STEM, read about Generation Giga Girls’ partnership program with the Elsevier Foundation and how feminist philanthropy is supporting the WE@UCLA program’s goal to tackle gender inequality in engineering.

Feminist Philanthropy Q and A with Donna Hall and Ruth Ann Harnisch

Ruth Ann Harnisch, Co-Founder and President of the Harnisch Foundation, shares insights on feminist philanthropy. (Image credit: The Harnisch Foundation)

Watching the news in 2019 can sometimes be an exercise in self-restraint. So often, we find ourselves gripped by unpleasant stories that have far-reaching implications, particularly for women.

At the same time, women’s voices are heard more widely in 2019 than in previous generations. Just look at the #MeToo movement, Nike’s “they call us crazy” advertisements, or the thousands of women who marched into DC’s Freedom Plaza on January 19th. These movements are a reminder that the world is not limited to what we see on the news — women around the world are banding together to make their voices heard, and when women unite to enact social change, incredible things happen.

Donna Hall of Women Donors Network (WDN) and Ruth Ann Harnisch of the Harnisch Foundation are two women who have been leading the way as pioneers of feminist philanthropy. Their work as donors and thought leaders in the sector has helped shape the way that feminists carry out change, with close attention to issues of relationships and awareness of the need for larger systems change.

Donna Hall, President and CEO, Women Donors Network, speaking at the WDN 2015 conference in New Orleans.

The 200+ women who make up the Women Donors Network are committed to advancing “a just, equal, and sustainable world by leveraging the wealth, power, and community of progressive women donors.” Collectively, the organization’s members contribute $175 million to progressive causes every year, focusing on WDN’s three main goals: participation and representation, opportunity and equality, and a safe and sustainable future for all.

The Harnisch Foundation works to advance equality and inclusivity, focusing on women and girls. In the 1970s, Ruth Ann Harnisch was a pioneer for women in the media world, and was the first woman to appear on the evening news in Nashville. In 1998, she and her husband Bill created their foundation, and began awarding grants to Tennessee nonprofits. The Harnisch Foundation has since expanded to work with other organizations, investing in opportunities for female leadership, storytelling, and collaborations in media.

We recently asked some questions of Donna Hall and Ruth Ann Harnisch, to learn more about their organizations and how they do their unique work in feminist philanthropy, particularly at this unique time, when freedom and opportunity for women are under attack.

Philanthropy Women: What “ignited the spark” in you to make philanthropy your career?

Ruth Ann Harnisch: Although I do have a philanthropic career, it is not my only career, and I would be a philanthropist even if it were not one of my professions. I have a philanthropic mindset. I see life through a philanthropic lens. This spark was ignited when I was a working journalist. Every day, I saw what philanthropy accomplished, or could. And I raised millions of dollars for charities when I was a public figure. That was pretty sparky!

Donna Hall: My first career was in public health and after I went to business school, I learned through a chance consulting job at The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation that the philanthropic space was a perfect mesh of my business skills and social science/public health interests. To me it became clear that philanthropy could be considered like venture capital work in the not-for-profit sector.

PW: As leaders of your organizations, how have you seen the philanthropic environment change recently? What events/themes have you seen making the greatest impact on philanthropy?

HALL: WDN has a long tradition of members who give regularly and generously to progressive causes. In recent years our numbers have grown exponentially because women realize that working together collaboratively and collectively is advantageous — not only for their individual giving, which becomes more strategic and coordinated, but also for the recipients of the funding. Less bureaucracy and reporting allows the grantees to really focus on their work.

HARNISCH: In my circles, I’ve noticed many donors and organizations making conscious choices to center Black women and girls and to invest in their leadership. Among the Harnisch Foundation grantees, the Ms. Foundation made this bold choice. The Women Donors Network is not only investing in projects headed by women of color, members are actively working to dismantle white supremacy and examine their own unconscious racist behaviors.

PW: What makes you optimistic or pessimistic about the current state of philanthropic efforts in the U.S. and worldwide? What would you like to see more companies/individuals do to contribute to worthy causes?

HALL: Women are coming into huge monetary assets in the next twenty or thirty years. That means that there is tremendous untapped potential and reach for helping them become focused, strategic and purposeful with their giving. Individual philanthropists will continue to band together, with the potential impact that many of our major foundations enjoy. I’m very optimistic that this will have a beneficial effect on the values and goals of an organization like WDN.

HARNISCH: I think there’s a difference between the business of professional philanthropy and the “state of philanthropic efforts,” which I see reflected in almost every person I meet. Most people are doing something philanthropic, whether or not they use that word to define their volunteer efforts, their donations to local charities, their pledge to the telethon. I think most people have a philanthropic heart, so I’m optimistic about the future of human generosity. This is being reflected in what we expect of companies and corporations, too. Corporate social responsibility is becoming the norm, as it should be.

PW: How do you change your fundraising strategy when you’re focusing on “stretch” donations (as in, large donations from first-time donors or increased donations from current donors)?

HARNISCH: It’s so important to know each donor as an individual! Most people are uncomfortable with money conversations, and I like to make sure it’s a comfortable conversation. It’s key to know why the donor is investing currently, and what they’re hoping for as an outcome of their giving. Asking them to increase their giving significantly makes sense if you can show that the outcomes they care about will be improved significantly too. As a donor, I define a stretch gift differently than you did. For me, a stretch is one that stretches me, stretches my capacity, stretches my actual ability to write the check. If you want that kind of stretch gift, that’s a different question.

HALL: My fundraising is very focused and limited, we only accept contributions from our members, no outside foundation or corporate monies are accepted into WDN. As we have gotten bolder and more strategic in our giving, our members have chosen to make “stretch” gifts so that WDN can continue to be on the cutting edge of important initiatives, such as our Reflective Democracy Campaign, now in its sixth year. In fact in 2019 our budget has doubled which will enable us to increase our grantmaking by 170%. Unlike most other organizations, we do not charge any administrative fees for grantmaking so when a member invests in a particular program or initiative, 100% of her contribution passes through to the grantee.

PW: What advice would you give to asset managers and philanthropy representatives who are asking for “stretch” donations for the first time?

HALL: I would urge them not to make a stretch ask until they have established a close and trusting relationship with the donor and then they need to have a well-framed and cogent story that explains the strategy behind the stretch gift and what difference it will make. When we share values and experiences with our donors, it changes the whole picture and makes a stretch ask an exciting adventure that donor and grantee can share alike.

HARNISCH: Any time you are building a new skill, practice, practice, practice! Money conversations are uncomfortable unless the people having them know how to make them comfortable. We get comfortable by having a message that we ourselves truly believe – you won’t be an effective fundraiser if you’re not a true believer. When you’re sure you have a message you can deliver with sincerity, practice with people who will put you through challenging situations, practice with people who’ve done it before and done it well, practice with volunteers who will give you honest feedback. And remember: donors are human beings, not wallets, not ATMs. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being “techniqued.” Think about fundraising as “friendraising” and make it safe for your donor to say “no” or “not now,” because how you make them feel is perhaps the most important part of the ask and the key to the future of the relationship.


Thank you to Ruth Ann Harnisch and Donna Hall for contributing to this article!

For more information about Ruth Ann Harnisch and The Harnisch Foundation, visit their website at thehf.org.

For more information about Donna Hall and Women Donors Network, visit their website at womendonors.org.

Women Moving Millions, Every Mother Counts Unite for Maternal Health

In 2008, over half a million women died from complications stemming from pregnancy and childbirth. After ten years of campaigning, maternal mortality rates have dropped, but as of 2018 there are still more than 300,000 deaths attributed to maternal mortality each year. By the numbers, a woman dies from maternal health issues every two minutes. Over the course of a one-hour seminar, that’s thirty childbirth-related deaths.

And the worst part? Most of these deaths are easily preventable with modern medicine.

Founded in 2010 by Christy Turlington Burns, Every Mother Counts is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for everyone around the world.

On Tuesday, April 16th, Burns and Nan Strauss (EMC’s Director of Policy & Advocacy) presented during the latest iteration of the WMM Speaker Series, a recurring discussion program where members of Women Moving Millions, a global network of more than 300 women who have each pledged to donate at least $1 million to charity, discuss current topical issues with external experts and thought leaders.

Hosted by WMM’s Executive Director Sarah Haacke Byrd, Tuesday’s webinar showcased the efforts of Every Mother Counts as the organization’s team works to combat maternal mortality rates worldwide.

“I like to say that I became a global maternal health advocate the day I became a mother,” said Burns, as she told her story of the complications that arose after the birth of her daughter. Burns suffered from a rare post-birth condition known as a retained placenta, but the experienced medical team at her New York hospital was able to handle the situation easily and efficiently, ensuring Burns’s health and the health of her baby.

After the experience, Burns realized that she was far from alone in experiencing childbirth complications. She took a humanitarian trip to Central America while pregnant with her second child, and made connections with other mothers who had limited access to clean water, electricity, and paved roads, with the nearest hospital a few hours away.

“Had I been in this community,” Burns realized, “I probably wouldn’t have survived.”

After her time in Central America, one question resonated — “What could I do?”

In 2008, she started with No Woman, No Cry, a documentary film that highlighted the maternal mortality crisis through first-person narratives and true storytelling. The documentary came out in 2010, and Burns founded Every Mother Counts in the same year, determined to break down the barriers between mothers and the quality care they need and deserve.

Today, Every Mother Counts is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supporting 11 grantee partners in 6 countries. By bringing everyday individuals into the conversation surrounding maternal mortality, Every Mother Counts helps supporters around the world understand the size of this problem, and identify ways that they can make a difference.

Since 2010, efforts to curb maternal mortality have made an impact — but nowhere near enough.

According to Nan Strauss, the Director of Policy & Advocacy, most of the complications that arise from pregnancy and childbirth are easily treatable with the medical care available today. However, there are three major barriers preventing women from seeking the care they need: lack of access, hesitation, and quality.

Strauss explained that women around the world, especially women of color and indigenous populations, face a lack of access to prenatal and postnatal care based on the distance they need to travel or the money they need to pay to receive care. On the other hand, women and families who do have access to maternal healthcare are often hesitant to go, based on the mistreatment, disrespect, and even outright abuse other women have faced at the hands of the doctors who are supposed to be delivering quality care.

And this isn’t just in developing countries.

In 2008, the United States ranked 41st in having the highest maternal mortality rates around the world. As of 2018, although the number of deaths had dropped by almost 40%, the United States’ ranking dropped to 46th.

When organizations around the world have made efforts to improve, why has the situation gotten worse in the United States?

Strauss identified the culprit as “too much, too soon and too little, too late.” Healthcare providers in some areas have developed an over-reliance on intervention techniques like Caesarian sections — which can lead to post-birth complications that can be fatal without proper care — while efforts in other areas have been lackluster.

“We need to change the approach of how we’re addressing these issues,” said Strauss. “Respectful treatment is really growing in terms of the impact that it has on outcomes. We have people telling us globally and in the U.S. that they receive insufficient information, their concerns are dismissed, ignored, or they’re threatened with retaliation or told their baby is going to die regardless of whether they’re actually putting their babies at risk. The right to participate in decisions and consent to care is not respected or recognized.”

So what can be done?

Burns noted that the simple measures are often the most effective — making sure that the attending doctor speaks the patient’s language, or has a translator available. Respecting cultural birth traditions while ensuring proper medical care is another method that has improved mortality rates around the world.

In the same way, new legislation can protect mothers and their rights by holding countries and healthcare providers accountable for their actions.

Over the past decade, Every Mother Counts has been instrumental in the promotion and advancement of two bills that protect mothers in the United States. The Preventing Maternal Deaths Act seeks to improve the funding streams for maternal mortality review boards (multicultural organizations that identify trends in maternal deaths in their areas and promote preventative strategies), while the Improving Access to Maternity Care Act helps address and fill gaps in areas suffering from a shortage of maternity care.

“After eight or nine years,” said Strauss, “it was really quite amazing and very satisfying to see that progress.”

Today, the organization promotes its mission through events and campaigns that highlight awareness around respectful care, like the Mom Congress, an education and advocacy conference held in May that will bring mothers together to speak to elected officials on Capitol Hill.

Every Mother Counts presenting during WMM’s Speaker Series marks just one way that platforms can work together to support their initiatives — both organizations leverage the supporter bases of the other, and reach new heights of philanthropic outreach that neither could achieve alone.

Maternal mortality affects people everywhere, not just the women who suffer serious complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, but their families, friends, and neighbors as well. Only by working together to raise awareness, spread education, and work toward achievable solutions can we find a path forward that eliminates so many easily preventable deaths.


For more information on Women Moving Millions or Every Mother Counts, visit their websites and see how you can get involved.

To discover the impact of feminist philanthropy on women’s healthcare and advocacy around the world, learn how one organization is working to eradicate female genital mutilation, or discover how feminist philanthropy can help address the backlog of untested rape kits.

Lyda Hill, Female STEM Philanthropy Pioneer, and Master of Surprise

Lyda Hill at the launch of IF/THEN.

If we support a woman in STEM, then she can change the world.

If we support the organizations that support women in STEM, then we can change the world together.

Through surprise, purpose, and meaningful relationships, Lyda Hill is transforming feminist philanthropy as we know it — and her foundation’s $25 million donation to the IF/THEN initiative is the next great chapter in an inspiring lifelong story.

Lyda Hill, the entrepreneur and donor behind Lyda Hill Philanthropies, is no stranger to donations that come with a twist. Her organization is committed to funding meaningful change through her personal philosophy and her personal estate — all of which she plans on donating to charity in full, most of it during her lifetime.

In December of 2018, Hill surprised twenty charities with a combined donation of $2.2 million dollars.

“We said, let’s invite 20 agencies that we think are doing wonderful work in the community to apply for an infrastructure grant for up to $100,000,” said Nicole Small, president of Lyda Hill Philanthropies, in an interview for the Dallas Morning News. Hill’s team invited representatives from each of the charities to an exclusive “pitch day” at a local social club, where the agencies were under the impression they’d be competing against each other and presenting their cases to Hill and her team. “We told them they would pitch in order, and the order number was under their chair,” said Small.

But instead of a pitch number, each representative found a check for $110,000.

The organizations were understandably excited. “What an amazing #PitchDaySurprise!” wrote The Family Place in a post on Facebook, using the trending hashtag from Hill’s big event. “We are so thankful for Lyda Hill’s continued support of The Family Place – this gift will help us serve victims of family violence now and for years to come. Thank you!”

Hill’s surprise announcement, along with her team’s excellent use of social media, represents a new foray into feminist philanthropy. The field has always been built on meaningful relationships — organizations seeking out like-minded individuals who want to use their wealth to encourage social change. Hill’s approach marks another creative remaking of the event of sharing resources: through shock and awe, a group celebration, and the increasing use of the Internet.

“2018 was a breakthrough year for women,” said Hill. “We want 2019 to be the year of female STEM pioneers!”

On March 5, 2019, Lyda Hill Philanthropies held true to its goal by announcing a $25 million donation to IF/THEN — bringing Hill’s total commitment to women in STEM past $60 million.

IF/THEN is a charity initiative that seeks to empower female innovators and inspire the next generation of women in STEM. Founded by Small, IF/THEN is based on the mantra, “If we inspire a woman in STEM, then she can change the world.”

Because STEM careers are traditionally so male-dominated, this leads to a lack of female role models for young girls. Similarly, women are not prominently featured as STEM experts in fields like entertainment, fashion, and media.

In partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the IF/THEN initiative seeks to create a massive cultural shift in the way young girls imagine STEM fields — and their own future careers — by establishing a network of female STEM role models known as AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors. Made up of 100 women from a wide range of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers, the Ambassador program will show young girls the realities of women in STEM through personal press kits, media outreach, original entertainment content, and in-person appearances.

“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it, right?” said Small in an interview for Frontburner. “We believe there is power in numbers. So we bring together the power of National Geographic, U.S. Soccer, Project Runway, MIT, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Girl Scouts, Teach for America. We’ve all linked arms and stood up and said, ‘This is really important and we need to affect change.’ We have not seen such a comprehensive approach, focusing on the traditional science channels as well as the nontraditional science channels. We have never seen that done before.”

Lyda Hill Philanthropies has always been about transformational change, and the use of surprise in the foundation’s approach elevates its donations, delivering newsworthy, uplifting stories that capture our attention again and again. By acting as these organizations’ “fairy godmothers,” the team at the Lyda Hill Philanthropies offer charities resources and media attention on a much larger scale than they would normally receive. This creates a unique grantee/grantmaker relationship — it’s not often that organizations get to gush on social media about a surprise $110,000 check, is it?

As feminist philanthropy continues to grow and change, our thought leaders and forward thinkers evolve alongside it. Efforts like Hill’s pledge to donate the entirety of her estate to charity add a surprise factor to her personal philosophy that makes her journey that much more meaningful — and so much fun to follow.

The introduction of social media and the Internet have made a huge impact on philanthropy. We now have the ability to handpick our charities and learn more about them in a five-minute web search than our sisters in earlier decades could learn from a personal interview. Social media and the trending hashtag offer us new ways to bring attention to worthy causes, and crowdfunding platforms give us new ways to donate and support our neighbors in easier, simpler ways than ever before.

Where feminist philanthropy succeeds is in personal relationships — a meaningful connection with a donor or an organization is built on values that we have in common, and causes that we want to support together. When more individuals and organizations pitched in to use their funds to create these spectacular relationships, we’ll be looking at a better tomorrow.


To learn more about the Lyda Hill Philanthropies and IF/THEN, visit their websites at lydahillphilanthropies.org and ifthenshecan.org.

Applications for the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador Program will be open from April 1st to July 21st, 2019. If you are interested in applying to be an Ambassador, or know a woman in STEM who would be a perfect fit, visit the Ambassador Program website to learn more about the application process.

To learn more about philanthropic efforts that support girls in STEM, see how Walmart and Girls Who Code are boosting the tech talent pipeline, or discover the impact of Stacey Nicholas’ $5 million grant to UCLA, supporting their program for women in engineering.

UCLA Receives $5 Million to Address Engineering Gender Gap

Stacey Nicholas has made a $5 million gift to support Women in Engineering at UCLA. (Photo credit: Josephine Sittenfeld)

On April 2, the University of California at Los Angeles announced a $5 million gift for the Samueli School of Engineering. Alumna Stacey Nicholas made the donation to support Women in Engineering at UCLA (WE@UCLA), a two-year-old program that works to close the gender gap in engineering majors at the university.

The engineering, science, and medicine fields have been traditionally male-dominated for decades. Nicholas’s gift is one of many recent efforts in feminist philanthropy working to close the gap between women and careers in the technologies — and to great effect.

“I was so inspired by the Samueli School and their commitment to take a leadership role with Women in Engineering at UCLA,” said Nicholas, who received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from UCLA. “It has never been more important to encourage women to become engineers and to empower them to succeed. It is truly an honor to support the program, and I look forward to seeing how these students will change the world for the better.”

Founder of the Opus Foundation, which supports STEM and arts education outreach, Nicholas earned her degrees in 1985 and 1987, at a time when only about 10% of engineering graduates were women.

When men make up 90% of an academic field, that’s not just a gender gap — that’s more of a gender Grand Canyon. So where did this disparity come from?

Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, a 2018 study sponsored by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, set out to answer this question by examining its historical significance. “Because many American colleges and universities were formed for the express purpose to educate men,” the study reads, “higher education environments are also often historically male dominated, and science, engineering, and medicine in higher education are still numerically and culturally male dominated.”

Because of this, engineering fields are often hotbeds for sexual harassment, which can contribute to women leaving academic institutions before they graduate — or avoid these fields in the first place.

The study identified four characteristics of academic engineering programs, along with those in science and medicine, which increase the risk of sexual harassment in these fields:

  1. Male-dominated environment, with men in positions of power and authority.
  2. Organizational tolerance for sexually harassing behavior (e.g., failing to take complaints seriously, failing to sanction perpetrators, or failing to protect complainants from retaliation).
  3. Hierarchical and dependent relationships between faculty and their trainees (e.g., students, postdoctoral fellows, residents).
  4. Isolating environments (e.g., labs, field sites, and hospitals) in which faculty and trainees spend considerable time.

Organizations like WE@UCLA actively work to dismantle the systems in place that lead to these characteristics — by shifting the balance to support more women.

WE@UCLA “is committed to enabling the full participation, success, and advancement of women in engineering and computer science,” reads the program’s mission statement. “The program is open to all students who support this mission. WE@UCLA promotes an environment that enhances the personal and professional development of women, provides opportunities and resources to develop self-efficacy and leadership skills, and facilitates a rewarding career path after graduation.”

As more women begin careers in engineering, as more female instructors join the faculty, and as more women act as mentors and guides for the new generations of female-identifying scholars joining the field, female engineers are working together to reduce the risk and impact of sexual harassment and gender bias that have historically blocked women from pursuing careers in technology.

It’s working.

According to the Society of Women Engineers, engineering programs have made up significant ground in female enrollment — boosting female freshman intentions to choose majors in engineering and STEM from 3.5% to 7.9%. The Samueli School of Engineering itself has seen impressive growth in the percentage of female engineering majors in their undergraduate enrollment, from 20% in 2008 to 33% in 2018.

Feminist philanthropy for to address these disparities has become more important than ever. Gifts like Stacey Nicholas’s can make a huge impact, especially when bestowed on organization that is uniquely workign to address the challenges faced by women in male-dominated fields.

We’ve made impressive progress, but we’ve still got a long way to go.


To learn more about Women in Engineering at UCLA (WE@UCLA), visit the program’s website and show your support.

To see how other organizations are closing the gap between women and careers in STEM, see how philanthropies are introducing underserved girls to data analytics and creating coding programs for middle-school girls in rural areas.

Girls Who Code Boosts Tech Talent Pipeline with Walmart’s $3 Million

Girls Who Code recently received a $3 million endowment from Walmart to fund their programs supporting girls and young women in the field of computer technology. (Photo credit: Girls Who Code)

On March 8th, Girls Who Code announced the biggest philanthropic commitment in their organization’s history — a $3 million endowment from Walmart. The funds will go toward Girls Who Code programs across the U.S., supporting girls and college-age women as they work to join the tech talent pipeline.

Founded in 2012, Girls Who Code is an organization dedicated to closing the gap between women and technology-focused careers. Through workshops, Summer Immersion Programs, clubs, and College Loops (networks for college-age women studying computer science), Girls Who Code connects girls in underserved areas with technology education.

These resources are designed to combat the comparative lack of technical interest that often occurs in girls between the ages of 13 and 17. According to Girls Who Code studies, girls make up 66% of enrollment in computer science programs designed for ages 6-12, but this percentage drops to 32% from ages 13-17, and a dismal 4% in first-year college courses.

Girls Who Code seeks to reduce this sharp drop-off by providing classes, intensive programs, and clubs for girls in areas where no such support network exists — and as of their 2018 annual report, the organization has officially reached more than a million people through their work, directly supporting more than 185,000 girls in their computer science studies.

Beyond teaching real computer science skills, boosting students’ confidence, and preparing them for college and careers, Girls Who Code also offers a one-of-a-kind community, described as “a supportive sisterhood of peers and role models who help our students and alumni persist and succeed.”

“One of the most powerful bonds a girl can have is the bond of Sisterhood, the bond of a community that rises together,” said Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. “In 2018, we reflected on how far sisterhood has brought us… and, more importantly, how far it will take us. And it will take us far.”

By offering the largest financial commitment in Girls Who Code’s philanthropic history, Walmart is making it possible for the organization to reach even more young women as they discover their passions for computer science.

“We’re thrilled that with Walmart’s support we can bring our programs to the girls of Northwest Arkansas, and throughout the rural U.S.,”
Saujani said of the partnership. “Closing the gender gap in tech will take reaching girls in all corners of the country. Walmart changed the face of retail, and now through this partnership with Girls Who Code—will help change the face of tech.”

The $3 million commitment will support the founding of Girls Who Code clubs and College Loops across the U.S., helping the organization reach its goal to have 10,000 clubs across the country. For the first time, Girls Who Code will offer Summer Immersion Programs in Northwest Arkansas and other rural areas, focusing on locales where girls are lacking the computer science education and support networks that are present in more metropolitan areas.

Becky Schmitt, Senior Vice Present of People at Sam’s Club (a division of Walmart Inc.) expressed her excitement for the program. “Creating opportunity in our communities and making a difference in the lives of our customers is part of our DNA,” said Schmitt. “We’re proud to support the expansion of the national tech talent pipeline to increase the opportunities in technology for women and girls and help close the gender gap in tech across the country.”

Walmart’s commitment is the next step in a battle that the Girls Who Code organization has been fighting since 2012. As the gender gap in technology-focused careers continues to make headlines, organizations like Girls Who Code are finding new and innovative ways to introduce girls to computer science careers — and ignite interest in fields of study they may never have been exposed to otherwise. As a feminist philanthropy approach, Walmart’s gift to Girls Who Code emphasizes early engagement, influencing identity development for young women that will pay dividends for many years to come.

“When I talk to the girls in our programs, the girls who have graduated from our programs,” said Saujani, “I am filled with hope for our future.”


For more information on Walmart’s partnership with Girls Who Code, read the official press release on the Girls Who Code website. To join in the effort, learn more about Girls Who Code’s fundraising efforts, or discover how you can start a Girls Who Code Club in your area.

To see how other organizations are bridging the gap between girls and male-dominated career paths, learn more about increasing women’s participation in portfolio management from a young age, or foundations that aim to introduce girls in low-income areas to data analytics.

Elsevier Foundation Teams with Girls Inc. for Generation Giga Girl

Elsevier Foundation is partnering with Girls Inc to bridge the gender gap for data analytics.

Two front-runners in the campaign to bring diversity to the sciences are teaming up to introduce girls to data analytics in high school. The Elsevier Foundation and Girls Inc. of New York City announced their new program on March 21st.

The new program — called Pre-G3: The Elsevier Foundation Data Analytics Preparatory Program for Girls — will introduce underserved and low-income girls to data analytics, boosting enrollment in Girls Inc.’s continuing high school courses “by improving [girls’] core skills and confidence in their ability to comprehend the lessons and succeed in the coursework.”

Pre-G3 is designed as a preparatory course for girls who have never experienced data analytics before. Girls Inc.’s flagship course — Generation Giga Girls, or G3 — offers girls the opportunity to explore skills in coding, sciences, math, and data analytics. After years in action, Girls Inc. discovered that confidence was a barrier to entry — many girls from underserved or low-income areas struggled with the basics of data analytics, making it difficult to embrace the G3 program.

Now, Pre-G3 seeks to bridge the gap between these girls and the field of data analytics. By introducing girls to these skills from a younger age, and on a wider scale, Girls Inc. is able to prepare them for the more intensive program when they reach high school. The goal is to boost enrollment in high school data analytics courses, igniting girls’ interests in science, mathematics, and coding from an early age.

Girls Inc. will be partnering with Elsevier Foundation to launch Generation Giga Girl (G3).

“Both the G3 and Pre-G3 programs teach data science through the lens of social justice issues, contemporary culture and developmentally appropriate topics,” says Dr. Pamela Maraldo, CEO of Girls Inc. of New York City. “Students learn to assess if Grade Point Average (GPA) is fair; if Black and Latino students have higher suspension rates than their white counterparts; and study trends in social media use among teens. Examples of women of color scientists and culturally relevant field trips are woven throughout.”

Like Girls Inc., this isn’t The Elsevier Foundation’s first foray into feminist philanthropy. Funded by Elsevier, a publisher and global information analytics company, the Foundation seeks to support libraries, nurses, and female scholars around the world, focusing on the early and mid-level parts of their careers.

The G3 and Pre-G3 programs are a way to support young women before they even start their careers — by introducing girls to coding, data analytics, and other STEM skills as early as the eighth grade, girls can discover a lifelong love for fields that they wouldn’t be exposed to through “normal” middle- and high-school curriculum.

As more foundations turn toward educating and inspiring girls from low-income or underserved areas, programs like these pave the way for bringing STEM education to women around the world.

“The mission of Girls Inc. is to build girls who are strong, smart and bold,” says Dr. Maraldo. “With support from the Elsevier Foundation, we will reach girls at an earlier age with the kind of academic enrichment that would be a game changer.  This is wonderful and very exciting!”


For more information about the Pre-G3 program, check out the official press release and the Elsevier Foundation and Girls Inc. websites.

To learn more about campaigns that support female education and empowerment, check out the ways foundations are looking to hire ore women asset managers or learn more about efforts to unite female-led fundraising for girls’ education around the world.