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

Check out the Op-Ed piece I wrote recently for Inside Philanthropy, which explores the ways that the #Metoo movement — the mass uprising of sexual abuse and assault survivors seeking justice — is driving a shift in power and gender dynamics in our culture never before seen. With news of sexual abuse occurring for decades in children’s sports like gymnastics and swimming, and agencies like Oxfam facing major repercussions from reports of sexual misconduct of development staff, #MeToo is helping to open up essential litigation and public discussion on sexual behaviors and norms.

From the Op-Ed:

The #MeToo movement is challenging power structures that long enforced the silence of women who endured sexual harassment, abuse and assault. But while the start of this movement is often traced to revelations last October about Harvey Weinstein, it’s important to recognize that there’s a much deeper backstory, here—one in which philanthropy has played an important role. 

In key respects, the #MeToo movement was made possible by decades of work by women’s funds and the women’s advocacy groups they patiently supported. These funds, which have come to operate worldwide, invested in community-based efforts to end sexual violence long before the #MeToo uprising. They listened to the experiences of survivors and responded by funding shelters, public awareness campaigns, and advocacy efforts aimed at shifting social policy. The central practice that women’s funds used to cultivate the ground for #MeToo is openness. In recent months, we’ve witnessed the visible impact of valuing women’s shared experiences, having frank conversations, and collaborating—all critical elements of the kind of movement building long supported by women’s funds. 

This history carries larger lessons for philanthropy writ large. Across the sector, funders are growing more aware of the value of openness—of listening to and engaging with the people they seek to serve. The Fund for Shared Insight (FSI), a funder collaborative dedicated to increased openness in philanthropy, is feeding this trend, and added five new foundations this past year, including the Gates Foundation, bringing the number of its funding partners to 39.

These new commitments to FSI come at a time of growing interest in participatory grantmaking—the practice of not just listening to grantees, but engaging them in the grantmaking process to optimize impact. While participatory grantmaking has been gaining momentum lately, many women’s funds have long embraced this approach. 

Read the full text at Inside Philanthropy. 


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Difficult, Disturbing Times at Oxfam, but Gender Equality Mission Endures

Oxfam has announced a new multi-faceted effort to prevent abuse and misconduct by its employees, in the wake of reports of misconduct of employees in Haiti and Chad.

If you follow the news on philanthropy, you have probably heard about Oxfam’s troubles. One of the oldest and largest global relief and development organizations, Oxfam is now facing heavy scrutiny due to sexual misconduct by some of its staff in Haiti in 2011. The Haitian government has suspended some of Oxfam’s operations in its country for two months while it investigates how the nonprofit handled the allegations of sexual misconduct during their humanitarian response in 2011. An estimated 7,000 individual supporters have since abandoned the organization since the allegations were reported in February this year, although the nonprofit asserts that their corporate partners have not withdrawn support. (A helpful timeline of events about the Oxfam crisis is available at Third Sector.)

Crisis = Opportunity

As you might imagine, Oxfam is working hard to address the problems internally by strengthening systems that identify and respond to abuse and misconduct. Since 2011, a Safeguarding Team was created, equipped with a confidential “whistleblowing” phone line as part of that effort. On February 16, Oxfam released a statement outlining several other ways that safeguarding will now be enhanced: 

  1. New High Level Commission: Oxfam established a “new independent High-Level Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change.” This commission is comprised of women’s rights experts and other leaders who will have open access to Oxfam’s records, staff, partners, and communities where people have received Oxfam relief services,  who will work independently to investigate and develop new ways to hold abusers accountable and change the culture of the organization.
  2. Ensuring that References for Employees are not Forged: Oxfam has committed to creating “a new global database of accredited referees – designed to end the use of forged, dishonest or unreliable references by past or current Oxfam staff.” This was one of the issues that led to former Oxfam staff who were perpetrating sexual misconduct being hired by other agencies.
  3. More Financial Resources to Bolster Safeguarding Systems: Oxfam has pledged to more than triple the annual funding for safeguarding to £720,000 and double the number of staff dedicated to this work within the agency.
  4. Improve Agency Culture Throughout: Oxfam already has a Code of Conduct which all employees must sign. It will now work on improving its internal culture, ensuring that everyone, especially women, feel safe and able to speak up about problems and know that they will be listened to and the issue dealt with.
  5. Publishing Its Internal Investigation from 2011: Oxfam wants to clear its name in the question of whether it covered up any of the abuse. It has published the 2011 internal investigation into staff involved in sexual and other misconduct in Haiti and provided authorities in Haiti with the names of the alleged perpetrators that were part of its staff.

All of these measures provide reassurance that the agency is seeking to rebuild public trust and ensure that things improve going forward. Alongside these new efforts, it’s important to remember that Oxfam has been a long-standing ally for gender equality in development. As we’ve reported here at Philanthropy Women, Oxfam has invested decades into programming, research and advocacy to break down gender barriers and create a more just world for women. 

To learn more about this history and how it is co-mingling with the current crisis, we recently talked with Nikki van der Gaag, Director of Women’s Rights and Gender Justice at Oxfam GB.  We wanted to get van der Gaag’s take on how the organization is faring in its efforts to hold its ground as a leader in gender justice and women’s rights.

“The lessons of feminist movement-building are also the lessons of Oxfam internally. The strategies are not so different,” said van Der Gaag. “What women run up against again and again is the power dominance of men across all sectors.” In a blog post published by Oxfam on International Women’s Day, van der Gaag acknowledged that she was not feeling as celebratory about the day this year as she would normally, in the wake of “appalling” behavior of Oxfam employees in Haiti, and the widespread sexual abuse and harassment scandals emerging throughout the development and relief sector. “Instead, for many of us, it is a time for self-reflection, for listening and speaking out, and for recognizing what many feminists already knew – that in big institutions such as the UN and INGOs and other charities, men still hold the power as much as in the media or Hollywood, the Church or the judiciary.”

Indeed. This is one of the reasons the #MeToo movement has been so powerful — because it holds individual perpetrators of abuse accountable, and the court of public opinion is demanding action. #MeToo suddenly provides transparency, where, throughout time, acts of abuse have largely been shrouded in secrecy. One could argue that it is no coincidence that #MeToo preceded the emergence of sexual abuse and harassment scandals in the development sector, and that its power will have lasting implications for how the sector operates going forward.

Van der Gaag comes at the problem not from a policing approach, but from an approach that inspires the staff at Oxfam to see gender as integral to all that they do. The organization’s 2016/2017 Annual Report embeds its work for women within its overall strategy thusly: “Throughout all our efforts, we focused on water, women, work and inequality, because saving lives in disasters, advancing women’s rights and building fair livelihoods are the most effective ways to end poverty for good.”

So what does this look like on the ground? Oxfam’s work on gender takes many forms. “We have long been working with rural women in Colombia to earn a better living, understand their rights and influence the government,” said van der Gaag. ” We’re mobilising men in Zambia to condemn violence against women through a public campaign. In  the disaster-prone Philippines, we are working to increase women’s confidence and status by supporting them to lead their communities and  improve their income. In Iraq, we’re helping survivors of gender-based violence recover and create small businesses and earn income.” More details about each of these initiatives are available in the latest annual report.

“For me, interestingly, one of the unexpected outcomes of what has happened in the past weeks is much more staff engagement. I think this really gives us an opportunity to strengthen inspiration at all levels,” said van der Gaag. She sees “getting the systems right first” as an essential way to address the problems of sexual abuse and harassment in organizations. “You need people in every department to raise the issue of gender as a matter of course, and for everyone to understand their role in this.”

Van der Gaag also feels strongly that we need to use this crisis in the development sector positively. “It provides an opportunity to redouble our efforts,” she said. She sees Oxfam’s troubles as part of the global movement to challenge gender norms in myriad ways, both in our personal relationships and our community institutions. “We need to challenge the individuals and institutions that perpetuate privilege, in order to ensure that those who exploit their power, whoever and wherever they are, do not get away with it.”

Much agreed. Perhaps all development and relief nonprofits should take a cue from Oxfam right now and double or triple their internal investment in employee training and supervision to prevent abuse and misconduct. Such action could accelerate gains for nonprofit organizational culture, which could have ripple effects that add to the gains being made for gender equality movements across the globe.


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

Funny Girls, the signature leadership development program of The Harnisch Foundation,  will be featured tonight on NBC Nightly.

One of my favorite programs, Funny Girls, is going to be getting some major attention this evening, as NBC Nightly featured the program, along with Harnisch Foundation Executive Director Jenny Raymond and program officer Carla Blumenthal.

One reasons I enjoy talking about Funny Girls is because of my own experience, watching my daughters participate Improv programs locally at The Artists’ Exchange in Cranston. I am a strong believer in the power of Improv to help people explore identity and develop key aspects of relationship-building. I also think there is great potential for using Improv to help all people, not just women and girls, enhance their social and emotional lives. Want to know more about Funny Girls? Check out this page. 

Editor’s Note: Ruth Ann Harnisch, President and Co-Founder of Harnisch Foundation, is a lead sponsor of Philanthropy Women. 


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#IWD2018 Recap: Women Rock for International Women’s Day

While Michelle Obama was First Lady, she launched Let Girls Learn, a global campaign to improve education for girls. Now the Obama Foundation has a new program targeting education for adolescent girls worldwide.

Yesterday, International Women’s Day, was packed with events  acknowledging the value of women in the world and calling for more women’s leadership across all sectors. It was also a great day to celebrate the role that gender equality movements are increasingly playing in social change that advances peace and justice for humanity. Here are just 5 of the philanthropy-related happenings that made #IWD2018 a significant day of partying for women’s equality:

  1. Jacki Zehner published an updated research collection. Jacki Zehner, C0-Founder of Women Moving Millions and Co-President of the Jacqueline and Gregory Zehner Foundation, has been aggregating the best quality data on women and girls for over ten years. Her newly updated 500 reports spans a diverse range of topic areas including sports, real estate, peace and security, and STEM, with extensive report-gathering in areas like violence against women and economic development. It’s an essential and handy resource for anyone in the community looking for recent data from the growing body of gender equality research.
  2. Michelle Obama highlighted the life experience of a young Nepali woman. To demonstrate how the Obama Foundation seeks to reach adolescent girls globally, Michelle Obama partnered with Refinery29 to help the world see and hear Nirupa Katuwal, a 21 year old girl from Nepal, who talked about the value of education for her future.  Quote from Michelle: “I see myself in these girls. I see my daughters in these girls. I knew that I couldn’t just sit back and accept the barriers that keep them from realizing their promise. I had to do something.” Wow. That’s what real post-presidential leadership looks like. Hopefully, Melania is taking notes.
  3. Women Gathered to Talk Strategy and Take Action. At the UN, top leadership reaffirmed their commitment to SDG5 and enhancing gender equality worldwide. UN Chief Guterres put it succinctly by saying,”Gender inequality, discrimination and violence against women harm us all.” In Washington DC, a collaborative of organizations dedicated to women got together to celebrate how, as Sarah Bruno of  Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN) put it, “ordinary women, who work hard each day to take care of their families, are also bringing change and innovation within their communities.” Other organizations collaborating in the event included WeWork, Vicente Ferrer Foundation USA (VFF USA) and Malala Fund.
  4. Women Convened to Discuss Gender Lens Investing. Ruth Ann Harnisch says it best when she says, “The final frontier of feminism is finance.” When women move into the driver’s seat of financial markets, there will be more opportunities to accelerate social change by holding corporate culture accountable for respecting the human rights of all people, including women. This was all discussed at length and in detail on a webinar convened yesterday by Veris Wealth Partners. The event was recorded on a webinar called Gender Lens Investing, Observations & Insights 2018, so we will keep you posted about when it is available for others to watch.
  5. Women Rallied to Embolden #MeToo Activism. High-level philanthropy publications like The Chronicle of Philanthropy  discussed the value of #MeToo, especially when combined with women’s growing wealth, influence, and leadership cache. Organizations like Femme Fatale celebrated the advances that women are making in creating films, while magazines like Alliance celebrated the range in diversity of women’s blogs, particularly those from marginalized communities. At the same time, mainstream publications like The New York Times featured obituaries of women previously overlooked by the newspaper for special attention upon their passing.

There was so much more that was said and done yesterday, which is why I’ve created a Storify of tweets about International Women’s Day that particularly relate to philanthropy. Enjoy!


Big Doings in Feminist Philanthropy For Women’s History Month

It’s hard for me to keep up with all the news these days on feminist philanthropy, which is a good thing. That means there are more stories every day (and especially during women’s history month) that are reaching people’s inboxes and getting the world thinking about turning further in the direction of a feminist vision of peace and justice.  The constancy of this news is why I publish a daily aggregate of news called Giving For Good, which I encourage you to subscribe to if you are a feminist philanthropy news junkie like me.

Sometimes the news is so big that it deserves extra attention, which is one of the reasons I created Philanthropy Women: to highlight the feminist philanthropy news that is truly game-changing and groundbreaking. Here are a few extra important stories that I wanted to pick out and share:

  1. Gates Foundation Commits $170 Million to Global Gender Equality Movements: This Quartz piece gives it to us straight from the horse’s mouth (the horse being Melinda Gates, no offense!) on how the Gates Foundation will  plow $170 million over four years into gender equality movements. To put that in perspective, 32 women’s funds made a commitment in 2016 to invest $100 million in U.S.-based gender equality movements over five years. This one commitment from Bill and Melinda Gates nearly doubles that. We are talking big moving and shaking going on. Here’s the golden nugget from Melinda in that post: “We’ll never reach our goals if we don’t also address the systematic way that women and girls are undervalued.” Amen, Melinda. But it’s not just about “linking women to markets” and money getting into individual women’s hands. It’s about changing the systems, including the corporations that exploit women as laborers. When we put that together with building government services that are truly women-centered, then we will see the ways that systems can change.
  2. Big Meetings for Gender Equality Movements Happening Soon: Those who have the resources to get themselves to meetings about gender equality this year will not lack for events to attend. Recently many of my Twitter followers have been rallying about the upcoming United State of Women Summit that will happen in Los Angeles from May 5-6, which will feature an amazing line-up of leaders including many friends connected with Women’s Funding Network, Women Donors Network and BRAVA Investments, as well as such luminaries as Michelle Obama and Tarana Burke. In addition, Women’s Funding Network will be holding its New York Summit on Tuesday, May 22. More information on that event is here.
  3. Important Gender Lens Investing Call Thursday: While there are lots of events happening on Thursday for International Women’s Day, this conference call with  Alison Pyott, Partner and Senior Wealth Manager, Veris Wealth Partners, Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile, Senior Wealth Manager, Veris Wealth Partners, Cynthia Nimmo, President and CEO, Women’s Funding Network,  and Suzanne Biegel, Founder, Catalyst at Large, is one I am not going to miss. The potential for advancing impact on gender justice with gender lens investing is great, and the growing range of services and products in this market indicate that women are getting closer to being in the driver’s seat in financial markets. I look forward to hearing these experts flesh out the terrain.


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Women’s Funds Deploy $58.4 Million in Funding in Two Years

Leaders of Dallas Women’s Foundation, California Women’s Foundation, The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, New York Women’s Foundation, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and Ms. Foundation on stage at the United State of Women Summit on June 14, 2016 in Washington, D.C.

Despite an increasingly hostile climate for women and girls in the United States, with access to reproductive services being cut and campus sexual assault policies being rolled back, a partnership of women’s funds that started during the Obama administration is continuing to grow and deploy needed funds to grassroots organizations.

Now, the Partnership for Prosperity, a network of 32 women’s funds and foundations located in 26 states, has announced that they have already invested $58.4 million in their first two years. The Partnership’s commitment is to invest $100 million in 5 years, so they are already ahead of schedule with their funding of community organizations around the country.

According to a press release about the Partnership, in Year One (2016), Prosperity Together partners invested a collective $29,170,427. In Year Two (2017), partners invested $29,251,072. This means that 1,022 nonprofits received funding and 137,153 women and girls were impacted across 26 states and the District of Columbia.  You can visit Prosperity Together’s website to see the report.

The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island is one of the partners in Prosperity Together, and as it happens, my husband and I attended a very thought-provoking event they held last evening in our neighborhood, at a local nonprofit cafe and theater called Theater 82. 

“Local research indicates that many features of our economy could be improved for Rhode Island women. Workplace policy, government regulations, collective action and educational attainment are all areas that can grow access and opportunity for low income women and their families,” said Kelly Nevins, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. “We are pleased to be part of this national effort to further raise awareness of those approaches.”

It’s great to have Kelly Nevins leading the way in helping Rhode Island move the needle on gender equality. (We are a state that is sadly dominated by male leadership. I cringe every time I look at my local city council and the all-male lineup, and I especially cringe when they pass ridiculous legislation about putting armed guards in all our schools.)

Prosperity Together employs a unique style of grantmaking also sometimes called participatory grantmaking, which emphasizes inclusiveness and engaging grant-recipients in the process. More on how the partnership distributes its funding:

To achieve economic security for all women, Prosperity Together partners employ a broad, inclusive approach to grantmaking. In 2017, 90% of partners supported workforce development; 81% leadership development and community mobilization; 74% financial literacy and asset building; 74% research; and 74% education.

In 2017, Prosperity Together partners targeted their grantmaking to support programs in many areas:

Job Training: Programs that are customized to address the cultural and educational needs of low-income women to secure a higher-wage job in a stable work environment.

Two-Generation Programs: Programs that assist parents seeking education, job training, or employment while concurrently placing their children in high-quality education.

Asset Building & Financial Literacy: Programs that help women develop and keep wealth.

Childcare Access & Quality: Programs that create access for low-income women to culturally appropriate, affordable, high-quality childcare so they can be successful in the workplace and their children can have a strong academic start in life.

Research: State and national research to inform best practices and policies that increase economic security for low-income women, build awareness of community-specific issues, and mobilize support for policy change.

Policy Change: Support policy change efforts that most affect low-income women, including pay equity, paid family and medical leave, minimum wage increase, improved access to childcare, reducing predatory lending, improving access to childcare subsidies for community college students, and fair scheduling and work-week bills.

Here in Rhode Island, the Women’s Fund of RI (WFRI) is doing some amazing grantmaking and collaborating with the community. Their work has a huge impact both for women and girls and for society in general, such as their collaboration with legislators and advocates to pass the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act, which enables 45,000 low income workers to earn up to three paid sick days per year.  WFRI grants about $50,000 a year, which is not nearly enough grantmaking (in my humble opinion)  for such an impactful approach. That’s why they need more funding!  Funders take note: Because Rhode Island is the smallest state, is a great state for lab testing new interventions for gender equality. If more funders took an interest in funding gender equality in Rhode Island, we could likely test out important policy initiatives that could then be scaled up to create social change in other states.

Visit the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island’s website to learn more about how you can get involved.


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How Lady Gaga Responded to the Community While on Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

  • What are the challenges for you in philanthropy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • How can women make their contributions count?

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

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

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

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

  • What are the passions driving women in philanthropy?

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

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

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

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

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

  • Opportunities and challenges women face in philanthropy?

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

  • Advice for women looking to break into this world?

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Take the Lead here. 


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

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

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

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

Eve Ensler, Author and Activist.

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

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

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

For more about V-Day, go here. 

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

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

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

Date: Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Live Run time: 6:30 – 7:30 pm ET

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

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

Questions to be discussed:

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

Register for this event via the Eventbrite link!


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