Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.
Some big trends are happening in America for women, and these trends will likely be snowballing in the near future. The first trend: the growing financial muscle of women. The second: women’s growing leadership. Add to this mix the upward trajectory of women’s role in philanthropy, and you may have the makings of a paradigm shift.
In conversing with Debra Mesch, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, and Andrea Pactor, its associate director, I came away with a sense of how forces are aligning, now more than ever, for women to take the lead in philanthropy and beyond, and shape public policy for the common good.
How great to see The Rhode Island Foundation embracing giving circles and offering to provide matching funds to six giving circles that meet their criteria. From the Foundation’s website:
The Rhode Island Foundation seeks up to six informed and engaged community leaders who are interested in forming, leading, and facilitating small groups of peer networks organized around charitable giving. Giving circles are groups of people who pool their donations and decide together how to distribute them. Groups typically have a shared interest or connection, but it’s not required. Individual giving circles will have the ability to set their own member requirements and giving levels.
Each circle will identify its own needs and design the appropriate goals and structure. This initiative is meant to inspire philanthropy throughout the community and to provide an opportunity for groups of people that might not otherwise come together around a fundraising effort – to do just that. It is not about giving to the Rhode Island Foundation. Likewise, the Rhode Island Foundation will not solicit gifts for your giving circle.
Today, Brooklyn Community Foundation announced $1.9 million in new grants through its Invest in Youth initiative, bringing the Foundation’s total funding for youth-serving nonprofits in Brooklyn to $2.3 million in 2016.
BCF launched its Invest in Youth initiative in 2015 as a 10-year, $25 million commitment to improve Brooklyn’s social and economic opportunities and outcomes for 16- to 24-year-olds, particularly young people of color.“We believe that a stronger and more equitable future for Brooklyn depends upon the success of its young people today—especially those who are growing up in our poorest communities.” said Brooklyn Community Foundation President and CEO Cecilia Clarke.
Many experts have argued that nothing is more important for global development than empowering women to play an equal role in all societies. Lately, that view has growing sway at the world’s biggest foundation.
Signs have been emerging for a while now that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving more attention to women’s empowerment, with Melinda leading this shift—while also becoming more independent in her philanthropy. This could be a very big deal over the long term.
Here are some of the tea leaves we’ve been reading.
First, Melinda Gates has recently raised her profile as a leader on women’s issues. In the past 18 months, she’s given interviews to several national media outlets, including Fortune and Elle, about her increasing focus on women’s empowerment, and authored an opinion piece for CNN about the need for more data on women. She even recently said she would like to see a woman become president. No clear endorsement here, but that’s a pretty big hint about how this powerful female leader sees the world. She is making more videos in which we hear her voice and see her face. She’s making it crystal clear that one of the richest women in the world is also a huge believer in women’s empowerment.
Wow, impressive lineup for this event on January 12 in Southport, CT. Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children, will be speaking, among other luminaries. Miles also spoke at the last Clinton Global Initiative winter meeting in February of 2016, which I attended to report on the No Ceilings project of The Clinton Foundation.
Many of these presenters will doubtlessly have interesting things to say about how women are influencing philanthropy — making it more collaborative, inclusive, and organically integrated into the economy, to name just a few of the changes that women bring to the field.
Public events and discussions like this will help women in philanthropy shift the conversation and shed light on this fast-growing movement. From the Fairfield Hamlet Hub:
We live in a world where the first thought about a piece of news needs to be: what is the source? With so much fake news and misinformation out there, the Knight Foundation is amping up its support of high quality community-driven media with new funding.
Jennifer Preston, Vice President of Journalism at the Knight Foundation spoke to Philanthropy Women this morning, the day of the launching of this new funding initiative.
She said most of those organizations receiving matching funds from this new initiative are Knight Foundation grantees from over the past three years. “Amid all of the concerns about fake news, supporting nonprofit journalism is a great way to address those concerns. Battle Fake news with smart news,” said Preston.
Jacki Zehner, chief engagement officer of Women Moving Millions, wants to see corporations—particularly financial services firms—put their money where the research is when it comes to gender equity, and more specifically, women’s empowerment, inclusion, and leadership. Why? It is not only in their best interest, but key to economic stability and growth.
Zehner is one of a new breed of philanthropic leaders who transitioned from a successful career in business, bringing that knowledge and experience with her. She knows the gap between talk and action on gender equity in corporations well. Though Zehner’s career was made in fixed-income trading, rising at Goldman Sachs to make partner in 1996, her passion was women’s issues, and that passion led her to a position in the firm’s executive office where her role was, in part, to champion diversity and inclusion.
Here’s the story of how Emily Nielsen Jones and her husband, Ross Jones, discovered their niche of integrating a gender focus into their faith-inspired philanthropy. The Boston-based couple once funded Christian Union, an Ivy League campus ministry, to launch a new branch at their alma mater, Dartmouth College. They were impressed with the organization at first because of its interest in mobilizing students to engage in combating human trafficking.
But as Jones got closer to the organization and started asking gender-related questions, she uncovered that within its own organization, the Christian Union promotes what it calls a “complementarian” leadership structure, which excludes women from top leadership positions. Once the couple gained more awareness about this policy, which creates gender ceilings for both staff and students, they engaged in a dialogue to encourage Christian Union to reconsider its practices of limiting women in the organization.
You can’t get much closer to the epicenter of creativity, social justice, and women’s empowerment than the Harnisch Foundation (theHF). Through its focus on empowering women and girls of all backgrounds, its innovative grantmaking toward women and media, and its latest Funny Girls grant initiative that teaches resilience and leadership through improv, theHF’s work spans some of the most relevant and important missions in philanthropy today.
How did Ruth Ann Harnisch rise to her current position, with an amazing career in journalism and media under her belt, as well as 17 years at the helm of a foundation carrying out many unique and creative initiatives for women and girls?
The field of gender lens investing has been on the runway and waiting for take-off for a while now, yet barriers, like the lack of corporations carrying out women-friendly policies and practices, continue to be a problem.
Meanwhile, some funders are right on top of the issue, pushing hard to understand and grow the field of investing with a gender lens. One prime example is the Wallace Global Fund, which provided a grant to the Criterion Institute in the fall of 2014 to create a report that surveyed gender-focused investing. Wallace is a longtime supporter in the arena of women’s empowerment, and also a lead player in the philanthropy divestment movement.
As part of its research on and development of gender lens investing, Criterion held “convergences” — four of them, once a year, in Simsbury, Connecticut. These meetings served as incubators for defining and consolidating the field of gender lens investing. The convergences also helped develop new language for the work, such as seeing gender lens investing as an “opportunity” rather than a “screen,” and shifting from “counting women” to “valuing gender in finance.” And while these changes may sound semantic, they represent much larger shifts to investment theory and approach, which produce significant results.