Thought Leaders Discuss Origins of American Feminism, Parallels to Third Wave

Rebecca Walker, Author, Activist, and one of the founders of Third Wave Feminism.

A rare and significant conversation took place recently at Union Theological Seminary, as two thought leaders in feminism — Helen LaKelly Hunt and Rebecca Walker — came together to talk about ways that feminism can heal internally and forge healthier relationships, in order to achieve the shared goal of a more just and tolerant world.

The program began with introductions from Serene Jones, President of Union Seminary, and Ana Oliveira, President and CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation.

Then came Rebecca Walker. “I am honored to share this stage with the visionary philanthropist, scholar and activist Helen LaKelly Hunt, in the shadows and on the shoulders of all those who have passed through these halls,” began Walker in her opening comments.

As I sat in the church-like hall listening, I found the cadence of Walker’s voice almost hypnotic, and distinctly descendant of the poetry of her mother, Alice Walker.

Walker offered gratitude to the many liberation theologies developed by scholars at Union Theological Seminary, which have “at their core, a connection to that energy that is larger than ourselves, that transcends race, class, and even religion — the energy that resides in spirit.”

“There is safety to be found here at Union, and I am grateful for it. If we are to come together — black, brown and white, rich and poor, cis and transgender, parent and child, believers and non, Americans and all of our siblings from other nations, we will need safe spaces in which to do it. Not just sanctuary cities, but sanctuary buildings, sanctuary meadows, sanctuary schools, sanctuary markets, and sanctuary workplaces. We must start here and work outward, we must make a sanctuary planet, one building, one street, one home at a time.”

Walker went on to talk about the importance of meeting at Union, “this space of mystery and the divine,” in order to “feel wounds that stymie our efforts.”

Helen LaKelly Hunt spoke next, taking the audience back in time to the 1830’s, a time when a “courageous band of women” came together and fought for abolition of slavery.  “They rose up at a time when women had no legal, social, political rights,” Hunt began. “They stepped out and moved into their political power,” said Hunt, as they challenged the institution of slavery.

Who were these abolitionist feminists, these women who stepped up to own their power as human rights defenders? They were both black and white, from different strata of social class, and from different areas of the growing American geography, and they even had some members from England.

As Hunt tells the history, in 1833, William Lloyd Garrison founded an abolitionist society. It was mainly composed of couples who came together to find ways to convince the new American government to dismantle slavery. The women were part of the group from the beginning. They coordinated meetings and attended them, prepared food, took the minutes, and helped write the mission statement. Then came the meeting when mission statement was to be signed asa formal document, and all members of the society were invited to sign. “But when the women got to the desk, they wouldn’t let them sign,” said Hunt.

So the women formed their own group, and not long after, sister groups started to emerge all over the country. In 1833, there were 7 groups. The next year, there were 17. In 1836 there were 42 groups of women meeting to bring an end to slavery, and in 1837, there were 140 of these groups.

It was a popular, but, as the woman would find out, dangerous cause. It was also a cause that women took on who were particularly religious. Their faith in God was the major catalyst for their urge to speak out against slavery.

Hunt described the way in which these anti-slavery women activists were rebuffed by the culture. “The government said, ‘Sorry, you can’t speak in public.’ So they went to their church and their church said, ‘Sorry. Women shouldn’t be speaking in public.’ These women said, ‘The government? Church? God’s telling me to speak out. I’ve got to speak out!'”

Many of these women felt compelled by their religious devotion to become public agitators. They violated the law to get their point across.

The Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women was held May 9 to 12. Women representing 140 different groups across the country came together in New York at a little church on Houston Street. Some came by stage coach, some by steam boat. “Some of them came unescorted. That was huge,” said Hunt, as women were generally not allowed to travel without the accompaniment of a man.

“Such a convention the world has never saw,” wrote one of the attendees in her diary. It was the first national convention of U.S. women. It was the first interracial meeting of any size at that time in American history. Seneca Falls, eleven years later, would be all white women.

But these women were ahead of their time. They spoke of the need to change both social custom and religious ideas in order for women to gain stature in the public sphere. Angelina Grimké prepared one of the key resolutions for the 1837 convention. “The time has come for women to move into that sphere which providence has assigned her, and no longer remain satisfied in the circumscribed limits with which corrupt custom and perverted application of Scripture have encircled her.”

Pennsylvania Hall burning on the night of May 17, 1838. (Image source: Wikipedia public domain)

Yes, it was time to rise up and demand equality, but events following the 1838 convention sent a chilling message to these women: be silent, or risk your lives with continued activism. An angry mob encircled Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia, the newly-erected building  where the women were meeting, and harassed the convention-goers. On the third evening of the convention, after the women had exited the building, the mob set fire to Pennsylvania Hall, and although police and firefighters responded to the scene, they were not able to keep the mob from engulfing the building in flames. The message seemed clear: anyone involved with such work would be risking their lives.

Thankfully, many women were willing to risk their lives to continue this work. Grimké wrote about her conviction to the cause on the day after the mob set fire to the building where the women had met in Pennsylvania Hall.  “If persecution is the means which God has ordained for the emancipation of the slave, then I can say: let it come. For it is my conviction that this is a cause worth dying for.”

In our next installment, Rebecca Walker rejoins the conversation to talk about similarities between the early abolitionist feminists and Third Wave feminism of the 1990’s. The conversation closes with both leaders discussing how the next wave of feminism needs to build on a relational culture that values inclusiveness and diversity.


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Helen LaKelly Hunt: Feminism and Philanthropy Are Converging to Create a New Relationship Culture

Chandra Alexandre: How Global Fund for Women is Growing its Reach

Big Prize Focused on Educating Girls, Women’s Rights, and Climate

The Roddenberry Prize is looking for applications that will work at the intersection of girls’ education, women’s rights, and climate issues related to creating a plant-rich diet and reducing food waste.

Good news for gender equality philanthropy:  another large prize is taking on gender issues this year. The 2018 Roddenberry Prize will go to four organizations ($250,000 each) that have realizable plans to address problems at the intersection of girls’ education, women’s rights, and climate change.

Not familiar with the Roddenberry Prize? It was launched in the fall of 2016 at the Smithsonian, in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, and in 2017, the first prizes were awarded. The Roddenberry Prize is sponsored by The Roddenberry Foundation, which was founded in 2010 with a mission to support “remarkable people and organizations who can disrupt existing dynamics, challenge old patterns of thought, and discover new ways to help us move towards a better future.” You can learn more about the Roddenberry Foundation here.

What’s particularly appealing about the Roddenberry Prize from a feminist philanthropy perspective is its focus on relationships — on the interconnectedness of problems. This year’s awards will focus on the interconnectedness of food waste, plant-rich diets, girls’ education, and women’s rights. These are four of the top ranked issues identified by Project Drawdown’s in its solutions research on global warming.

Another interesting aspect of the Roddenberry Prize from a feminist perspective is its use of Peer-to-Peer Review. This process is aimed at helping you and your organization get quality personalized feedback, so that you can become stronger as a nonprofit.  How it works:  after all first-round applications are submitted and validated, “each organization will receive instructions to score approximately five other applications within their chosen category: (1) Food preparation, consumption, and waste; or (2) Education and rights of women and girls.”

Results from Peer-to-Peer Review will be used to score applications “using an algorithm that ensures a level playing field for everyone,” according to the Prize’s website.  From this process, up to 50 applicants will be invited to submit a Round Two application. Round two will then be whittled down to 30 applications that will be scored by Evaluation Panel judges.

Judges for this year’s Roddenberry Prize include Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women (Musimbi Kanyoro recently wrote a tribute to the legacy of Deborah Holmes, which we published here), Yasmeen Hassan, Global ED for Equality Now, Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and Alice Albright, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education.

Interested applicants can register here.

Who Won Last Year’s Roddenberry Prize?

Last year’s inaugural Roddenberry Prize winners were focused on the environment, health, finance, energy, and communication. The contest received over 600 applications, and gave out a $400,000 Grand Prize and four $150,000 Innovation Award prizes.  The Grand Prize winner last year was Opus12, developers of a method to convert industrial CO2 emissions into valuable chemicals and fuels. The Innovation Award winners were:

  • FarmDrive – a finance start-up working in Africa to help small farmers access credit.
  • FastOx – a “waste gasification system” that benefits marginalized communities in the developing world by converting trash into clean energy.
  • SmartStones – a “body language-based sensory tool” that helps non-verbal people, many with autism, to communicate.
  • Cancer Cell Map Initiative – an effort to find new therapies and diagnostic tools for cancer by mapping molecular networks.

Girls’ Education and Women’s Rights: What Exactly Does that Mean in Terms of the Roddenberry Prize’s Vision?

The Roddenberry Prize is aimed at enhancing the impact of more girls receiving a primary education around the world. Their website talks about  several key strategies to improve girls’ education including helping to make school affordable, helping girls address health barriers, ending child marriage, and helping girls learn life skills necessary for adulthood.   You can learn more about strategies that help girls access education on the Prize’s website.

In terms of women’s rights, the Roddenberry Prize is looking for projects that recognize that gender equality and climate change are intricately linked, both large and small ways. With women as the central link to community engagement, parenting, and the domestic realm, they are uniquely positioned to be the leaders of better environmental practices.

The Roddenberry Prize also emphasizes that women need to have reproductive care and access to family planning, education, and financial capital in order to navigate the global economy.  Learn more about key strategies that increase women’s rights on the Prize’s website.


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We Lost A Warrior: Deborah Holmes, Journalist and Social Justice Leader

Deborah Holmes, journalist, activist, and social justice leader.

It is with sad heart that I write about the loss of Deborah Holmes. I had the privilege of working with Deborah in March of this year as I prepared to write about the history of women’s funding for progressive change. Deborah was tremendously devoted to her work, and was a fantastic collaborator in creating the ideas for my recent posts published on Inside Philanthropy and The Chronicle of Social Change.


Deborah Holmes will be honored at a memorial on June 14th at 2 pm at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Several people have written about Deborah’s legacy since her loss on April 27, 2018. I thought of trying to provide excerpts, but each of the statements about Deborah seems to have its own integrity, so I am providing them in full below.

Cynthia Nimmo, President and CEO of Women’s Funding Network, wrote:

This evening I am writing to you, our many sisters throughout the network, to share the devastating news that Deborah Holmes passed away this morning, April 27.

Deborah learned two weeks ago that she had cancer.  She was prepared to fight it with the tenacity she brought to everything.  Despite her and her doctors’ best efforts, this final battle was lost.  I know this comes as a shock and our team joins you in our grief and disbelief.  Deborah was a very private person and had not wanted to share her news while she was on her healing journey.  Just a week ago we talked about her wishes to get back to work as soon as possible, however, things turned very quickly and now she is gone. 

I spent much of the past 3 days in the ICU with Deborah.  It is important to me that you know that Deborah was at peace and she made sure to write that down so we knew.  She liked her doctors and knew they were making every attempt to heal her.  She was a long-time member of Grace Cathedral and they sent a Reverend over within minutes of her arrival at the ICU to pray with her.  This morning we prayed with her to send her on her way home.

In true Deborah fashion, she wanted nothing to do with flowers or cards or people crying over her.  When we asked her what her wishes were for her service, she said a service wasn’t important to her but we could all have one if we wanted.  Deborah’s brother, Greg Holmes, will plan a service with Grace Cathedral to be held in May. Women’s Funding Network will be honoring her in every way we can think of to reflect the force for good that she was.

Deborah’s focus has always been on helping others, and to right the injustices women face – in particular women of color. We at Women’s Funding Network, will continue this work.  For us, Deborah was far more than a Chief Communications Officer.  She was my confidante, our big picture thinker, and a voice that ensured the intersection of race and gender was at the forefront at all times.  She brought such vibrancy to our office, always playing music, bringing in home-made treats, and yelling out loud at the bad news of the day.  As a CEO, it is a gift to work with such a leader.  I speak for our team when I say we learned so much from Deborah.  I respected her deeply and will miss her always.

Deborah Holmes was a member of the Global Press Board of Directors, which also issued a statement:

It is with great sadness that we share the news that Deborah Holmes, a member of the Global Press Board of Directors, passed away on Friday.

She was diagnosed with cancer just two weeks ago. This has been a shock to all of us who knew and loved Deborah.  As we mourn her passing, we are also gratefully acknowledging Deborah’s legacy — her powerful commitment to justice and equality.

A former investigative journalist, Deborah spent the last decade at the Global Fund for Women and Women’s Funding Network where she worked to advance justice and equality for women around the world.

I first met Deborah in 2012 and she instantly became an advocate for the women of Global Press and their journalism. Deborah was always sharing Global Press Journal stories with friends and colleagues, passionately insisting that our journalism could change the world. And as a member of the Global Press board she co-created a strategic communication sub-committee and worked to advance our work in countless ways.

To honor her legacy, Global Press Journal will debut an award for exceptional coverage of racial justice in Deborah’s name. We’ll share more details about the award in the coming months. In the meantime, we extend our deepest condolences to Deborah’s family, friends and colleagues.

Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO, Global Fund for Women, also issued this statement:

It is with extreme sadness that I write to inform you that our courageous sister and friend Deborah Holmes died this morning peacefully. Deborah had breast cancer some years ago and it came back with force. Despite medical effort and Deborah’s own bold and good fight, the battle was lost to cancer this morning April 27, 2018. I write knowing that this news will come as a shock to many of you – it was Deborah’s wish that she fight this battle privately until the end, with the fortitude and resilience that all of us knew her for.

I was with Deborah for many hours of her last journey in the past few days. She knew everything  about her illness and the medical interventions offered to her. She collaborated to make things better, but once she knew that the course of nature could not be reversed, she was at peace. She motioned me to give her the writing pad we used to communicate with each other and she wrote on it, “ I am at peace”.  She died in the presence of her only brother, Gregory Holmes, and his wife Maria Holmes.

At the time of her death, Deborah was Chief Communication and Engagement Officer at the Women’s Funding Network (WFN)  and the CEO of WFN gave her every possible support to the last minute.

Deborah worked for the Global Fund for Women from 2008 – 2017, just over eight years. In her time at the Global Fund for Women, she served as the VP of Communications (2008-2014) and as Chief of Staff (2014 -2017).

Deborah was extremely loved and respected by Board, staff, and partners of Global Fund for Women. As VP of Communications, Deborah played a key role in developing and institutionalizing Global Fund for Women’s communications strategy. She positioned Global Fund for Women as a thought leader on women’s rights issues in major media, and she led creative and successful efforts for the 20th and 25th anniversary gala years. She acted as a liaison to the board during the CEO transition in 2009, was an integral part of the leadership team and in the founding of the Staff Council, as well as taking on responsibilities for Human Resources. During her tenure as Chief of Staff and also head of HR, Deborah led the revision of policies to ensure equity and justice in our internal systems.

As a co-leader, Deborah was invaluable: she was our biggest cheerleader and our toughest critic. Her strength was contagious. Nothing could stop Deborah on a mission. She pushed organizations and people to embrace change and think differently. She challenged and supported staff to do better and to see a better future. She cared deeply about justice issues between people and she was not diplomatic about calling out racial injustice in this country and elsewhere. She could not tolerate injustice.

Behind Deborah’s strength also lay deep compassion, thoughtfulness, and kindness. She always welcomed new employees, she baked bread and cakes for the whole staff, she was an ear of wisdom and advice whenever she was called upon. She was a tireless champion of those she managed, and deeply loved by the team she supervised.

As Kavita Ramdas, my predecessor as CEO who hired Deborah, has so movingly and aptly noted, Deborah was: “a small package exploding with warmth, generosity, intelligence, style, and a passionate commitment to fusing beauty with justice…she understood the power of story. The power of women’s voice. The power of lived experience. The power of rising from the ashes and telling others it was possible. And, still we rise.”

Deborah’s savvy and commitment to justice was coupled with flair and incredible personal style. The fun part of Deborah were her shoes. We all wanted Deborah’s chic style, including shoes that matched her attire!  She knew how to dress smart and travel light. Deborah never checked in luggage because she made good choices in what she selected and matched for travel.

Before coming to Global Fund for Women, Deborah was Senior Vice President of Fleishman Hillard and the Director of Public Relations & Marketing for the Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Missouri. An accomplished television news reporter and analyst for more than 30 years, Deborah worked for local and international news organizations and received numerous awards for investigative reporting and documentaries.

Throughout her life, Deborah was a passionate advocate for causes she cared about including racial and social justice and equity, political empowerment, and freedom of the press. She acted as Board President for Bridging the Gap and the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, and was the Chair of the Board of Wellesley Centers for Women. She also served on the boards of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Foundation, Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy, Association of Black Fundraising Executives, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of HIV/AIDS, Wesport Ministry in Housing, Global Press Institute, and many others.

To celebrate Deborah’s life, at her family’s request, please make a donation to a cancer organization of your choice in Deborah’s memory.

We have lost a sister and her life illuminates values that unite and inspire us all. As we all come together to mourn Deborah’s passing, let us remember and celebrate her remarkable, bold, and passionate life.

On May 3, The Women’s Funding Network announced a Women of Color Internship Fund which will honor the legacy of Deborah Holmes. You may contribute to the Deborah Holmes Internship for young women of color fund here.

I invite members of the community to share your remembrances of Deborah Holmes in the comments below.

NY Women’s Foundation Launches #MeToo Fund with $1 Million Start

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

As the global conversation on gender-based violence continues to gain momentum, the New York Women’s Foundation is stepping up to fund more of this unprecedented social change in the U.S. On May 10 at a breakfast celebrating women leaders, Foundation President and CEO announced the   launching of a fund in collaboration with Tarana Burke, Founder and Leader of the #MeToo Movement, which will continue the work of ending sexual violence.

With New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s resignation being the latest example of how the #MeToo movement is impacting society, the New York Women’s Foundation will help pick up the pace of this work’s impact with $1 million in seed funding, as well as ongoing efforts to build further philanthropic investment in the new fund.

“The #MeToo movement has given women hope that, finally change is within reach,” said Ana Oliveira, President and CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation. “Now we must support the movement in reaching its goals of justice and healing so that no woman is overlooked—especially cis and trans women of color and women living in poverty.” Oliveira described Tarana Burke as an “indomitable leader” who will assure the #MeToo movement’s continued impact.

Gender-based violence has been on the radar of the New York Women’s Foundation since its inception 31 years ago. The new #MeToo Fund will  be based in New York City and co-chaired by Tarana Burke and the Foundation.  The fund will dedicate its strategy to addressing sexual violence, particularly in underserved communities, with a particular emphasis on “the healing and leadership of survivors and promoting gender and racial justice.”

“We are thrilled to be partnering with The New York Women’s Foundation to create this Fund,” said Tarana Burke. “Our work started out as a grassroot community-based effort and grew into a global network of survivors and advocates working to interrupt sexual violence and ensure that survivors have access to the tools they need to sustain a healing process. This Fund will go a long way to not only support our ongoing work.”

The first grants are expected to be distributed in the fall of 2018.

The announcement of the new #MeToo Fund came at the Foundation’s  2018 Celebrating Women Breakfast, where Ms. Burke, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, Founder of The African American Policy Forum, and The New York Community Trust and its president, Lorie A. Slutsky, were honored.


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April 11 at Union Seminary: Helen LaKelly Hunt and Rebecca Walker

With so much going on in women’s philanthropy, we love it when gender equality thought leaders come together to talk about where the movement for women’s rights has been, and where it’s going in the future.

Riffing on the 1970’s anthology edited by Robin Morgan entitled Sisterhood is Powerful, Union Theological Seminary, in partnership with The New York Women’s Foundation and the Feminist Press, are presenting a conversation on April 11th featuring longtime women’s philanthropy pioneer Helen LaKelly Hunt, and one of Third Wave feminism’s leading thinkers, Rebecca Walker. Hunt and Walker will be focusing the discussion on healing some of the divisions within feminism, particularly related to race and class. The goal of this event is to “offer tools to build an affirmative culture that can contain difference and meaningfully address white supremacy.”

Biographical notes on both of the speakers from the event page at Union Seminary:

Rebecca Walker

Rebecca Walker is an American writer, feminist, and activist. Walker has been regarded as a prominent feminist voice since she published an article in 1992 in Ms. magazine in which she proclaimed, “I am the Third Wave.” Walker’s writing, teaching, and speeches focus on race, gender, politics, power, and culture. In her activist work, she co-founded the Third Wave Fund that morphed into the Third Wave Foundation, an organization that supports young women of color, queer, intersex, and trans individuals to find the tools and resources they need to be leaders in their communities through activism and philanthropy.

Helen LaKelly Hunt

Helen LaKelly Hunt is one of a small army of women who helped to seed the women’s funding movement. She co-founded The Dallas Women’s Foundation, The New York Women’s Foundation, The Women’s Funding Network and Women Moving Millions. She is the author of Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance and her latest release, And the Spirit Moved Them, shares the radical history of the abolitionist feminists. Her private foundation, The Sister Fund, focuses on faith, feminism and relationship, all three intrinsic to women’s wholeness. Helen was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2001. In addition, she has co-authored several books with her partner, Harville Hendrix, on Imago Relationship Therapy. They are now working to disseminate Safe Conversations, a new relational technology, that can help manifest the feminist vision to create a more relational culture.

Philanthropy Women will be there. We hope you will be there, too!  To learn more about the event and register to attend, go here. 


Funding Feminism: Unearthing the History of Women’s Philanthropy


Kathy LeMay Shares About the Fine Art of Radical Listening to Donors

Philanthropy Women’s Top 10 Posts for 2017


Welcome to Premium Access: PW’s Exclusive Feminist Philanthropy Content

Philanthropy Women will offer Premium Access for a limited time at $9.95 a month. Starting in May, our rates will go up to $12.95 a month.

I’m thrilled to announce that Philanthropy Women will now offer Premium Access content. We have been building our database for over a year, and are now confident that opening up this new revenue stream will be a benefit to everyone. By providing Premium Access content, we will be able to raise funds to expand our work, hiring more reporters and researchers, and finding new ways to serve the community of gender equality philanthropists and activists.

Not all of our content will be behind the paywall. We take seriously the role of publishers to provide access to educational content, and will continue to offer free access to content that serves a pressing public need.

While some of our content will now be exclusive to Premium Access subscribers, we’ll also continue to be  very public-facing by remaining active on social media, keeping readers updated on events, research, and trends in gender equality giving. To get our daily news on gender equality philanthropy, please subscribe to our Twitter feed and our daily aggregation of news published via Giving for Good.

With more exclusive content on women’s philanthropy and gender equality giving, we will continue building our unique knowledge base for both advocates and donors — helping donors see strategies in the field, and helping those in the field be aware of where money is flowing for new work. This will foster more cohesion, collaboration, and networking in the dynamic world of feminist philanthropy.

Please visit our subscription page to become a Premium Access subscriber. 

Good News: Philanthropy Women is in the Top 40 Philanthropy Blogs!

It’s always nice to be recognized. This morning I  learned that Philanthropy Women made the Feedspot Top 40 list for philanthropy blogs. 

The criteria for being chosen for this list are as follows:

The Best Philanthropy Blogs are chosen from thousands of Philanthropy blogs in our index using search and social metrics. We’ve carefully selected these websites because they are actively working to educate, inspire, and empower their readers with frequent updates and high-quality information.

These blogs are ranked based on following criteria:

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

Many of my favorite resources for philanthropy are on this list, including CEP Blog, Philanthropy News Digest, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and HistPhil. Also featured are some international, family, and community blogs that I will definitely need to check out.



Announcing the 2018 Philanthropy Women Leadership Awards

Kathy LeMay Shares About the Fine Art of Radical Listening to Donors

From Resistance to Renaissance: Women Must Embrace their Power for Funding Social Change

Women’s Funds Show Philanthropy the Way to Transparency, Diversity

Happy Women’s History Month. There are only a few days left to this month of focusing on the value of gender equality and the arc of its progression throughout time. I spent a lot of time this month researching and thinking about how women’s funds feed social change. Most of what I learned reinforced the theory that women’s funds represent a unique approach to philanthropy that the rest of the sector would do well to replicate.

My last piece for Women’s history month on this topic is published at Daily Kos, a site dedicated to the larger sphere of progressive political change.

As Philanthropy Opens Up, Women’s Funds Show the Way

Something unusual happened recently in philanthropy: Bill and Melinda Gates opened their annual letter by answering 10 “tough” questions from the public about their philanthropy. The Gates’ Q&A is just one example of philanthropists becoming more responsive to the public. Funders are growing more aware of the value of engaging with the communities they seek to serve. The Fund for Shared Insight (FSI) which is dedicated to bringing more openness to philanthropy, is cultivating this trend; it added five new foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this past year: Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, James Irvine Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Omidyar Network, bringing the number of funding partners in the collaborative to 39.

These new commitments to FSI represent a trend toward participatory grantmaking — a method of listening to and engaging with grantees and community members in the funding process, making the interventions being supported more impactful. It’s a powerful strategy that is gaining momentum, with grantmakers like Wikimedia Foundation increasing the amount of participatory grantmaking into the millions in recent years.

With help from FSI, Women’s Funding Network recently conducted research on the standard openness practices of its members, yielding  significant findings about the power of participation.

How Do Women’s Funds Practice Openness?

  1. Women’s funds recruit community members for several parts of the grantmaking process. Of the women’s funds studied for this research, 79% practiced participatory grantmaking in the form of bringing on grant readers from the communities being served. 74% of women’s funds also had community members participating in funding recommendations and site visits, and 61% engaged community members in evaluating grants.
  2. Women’s funds use listening tours and other engagement strategies. Listening to the voices of community members is a key strategy that women’s funds practice. 68% of women’s funds in the study engage in listening tours and 88% engage in candid conversation with community members.
  3. Because women’s funds listen, they do some of the most effective advocacy. 88% of women’s funds engage in advocacy, with 75% engaging at the state level. That advocacy is magnified by 96% of women’s funds engaging in coalition-building — getting other organizations on board when advocating for systems changes.
  4. Women’s funds prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. Engagement and listening tours in the community help women’s funds fully appreciate and elevate the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Of the participating women’s funds, 58% have explicit definitions and commitments to diversity, equity, and/or inclusion.

The Results

The Women’s Foundation of California, recently introduced three important pieces of legislation through its policy institute that were signed into State law, all of which benefit underserved communities and enhance inclusion and economic equality. In Kansas City, Missouri, the Women’s Foundation was on the forefront of advocating for and enacting new paid family leave policies. And in Chicago, the Chicago Foundation for Women teamed up with other advocacy groups this past year to raise the minimum wage in Cook County to $11.

Bottom Line: Consistently employing participatory grantmaking practices can result in increased resources, knowledge, and self-determination for grassroots movements.

Women’s funds’ standard operating procedure of listening and understanding a community from its perspective, empowers grantmakers and community members to be more effective change agents. Grantees get more opportunities to collaborate with others in the community and participate in advocacy that creates structural change. Grantmakers feel more effective and confident about their connection to the community.

Now more than ever, foundations should fully embrace the participatory grantmaking model that women’s funds have been practicing for decades. By doing so, they will increase their capacity to accelerate the social change they seek.

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is a clinical social worker and founder of Philanthropy Women. Full disclosure:  Women’s Funding Network is the fiscal sponsor for Philanthropy Women.


Scaling the Mount Everest of Gender Equality in Minnesota

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

LEAD Awards Go to Women’s Funds Supporting Young Women and Girls of Color

#ProsperityTogether Twitter Chat Tomorrow!

Tomorrow brings us another cool event for women’s history month.  From 3 pm to 4 pm EST tomorrow, Prosperity Together will hold a Twitter chat to celebrate the collective impact of their funding.

Prosperity Together is the coalition of 32 women’s funds across 26 states and Washington D.C., which has invested $58 million since 2016 for grassroots organizations growing gender equality and economic security for women.

Philanthropy Women will be there tomorrow, to hear about how these women’s funds are pushing for social change, particularly by using participatory grantmaking strategies and paying extra attention to diversity and inclusion. Women’s funds are also doing some of the most groundbreaking work with supporting youth-led grantmaking and youth-led social movements, so it will be great to hear more about that, too, since we are living in the midst of the largest child-led social movement in America, the movement for gun safety.

This twitter chat will be a unique opportunity to hear from women’s funds about exactly how they are investing with their grants, and how these investments are paying off in gains for women and girls.

The hashtag for the event, #ProsperityTogether, will help readers follow the conversation. Be sure to use the hashtag in tweets that you post, in order to add your voice to the conversation.


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Thanks to Daniel Heimpel and The Chronicle of Social Change for publishing my op-ed on the student-led gun safety movement happening all around us today in the world. I am immensely proud of all the young people who are showing us the way today.

From the op-ed:

Ahead of the Curve: Women’s Funds and Youth-Led Social Movements

Are we finally listening to the children? An estimated 185,000 youth walked out of school and onto the streets on March 14 to protest the lack of adequate gun control in America. Thousands more will descend on Washington, D.C., today to raise their voices and most importantly lay out a responsible path forward. Youth-led social movements are demonstrating that they are the force to be reckoned with.

In key respects, many women’s funds have already done groundbreaking work for youth-led movements in recent years. Scaling these movements up could be an effective way to fight back against a government currently held hostage by the powerful moneyed interests of the gun lobby.

Funders ready to acknowledge and bolster youth-led movements are in the right place at the right time to help chart a new path for public safety. Among the funders who are well-positioned for this niche are women’s funds and foundations.

 The growth of youth-led advocacy supported by women’s funds started because they recognized the essential value of young women’s voices and experiences. This work was cultivated further in 2016 with the launch of Prosperity Together, a collaboration of 32 women’s funds across the country who have committed to investing $100 million over five years in improving economic security for low-income women, particularly young women.

Read the full text at The Chronicle for Social Change. 


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