Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.
Two new reports from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute point to the increasing influence and diversity of giving circle (GC) members, and the challenges present when established foundations serve as “hosts” for GCs.
The reports are authored by the Collective Giving Research Group (CGRG) which was formed in 2015 as a collaborative “to explore and understand the dynamics of giving circles and other forms of collective giving.” Its members include scholars and consultants in the areas of philanthropy, public affairs and public administration, and it has institutional support from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI), which is part of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Funding for the reports came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation via the WPI, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
Giving circles typically comprise groups of individuals who donate collectively to an organization, cause or project of common interest. The difference between a GC and a typical philanthropic organization or non-profit is that donors themselves choose what to fund. Larger giving circles can have hundreds of voting members and a yearly membership fee (or required annual donation) of $1,000 or more. The Greater Indianapolis 100 is one such charitable women’s giving circle group; it makes gifts of $100,000 and membership costs $1,000 annually. Of course, a GC can also be quite modest and informal – a half-dozen people meeting in a member’s living room and deciding to pool their money for a charitable purpose, whether that be sending a needy local child to summer camp, protecting a slice of wetland, or supporting micro-loans for African women.
According to the CGRG, there are triple the number of US GCs now than a decade ago, and GCs are estimated to have given roughly $1.3 billion to charitable causes since their inception.
Women are Key to GC Growth
An earlier (2017) report from the CGRG on U.S. GCs noted “Women dominate giving circle membership, making up 70 percent of all members. …. While men have a presence in 66 percent of giving circles, they are only the majority of members in 7.5 percent of groups.” A separate 2017 CGRG report stated that women’s GCs represented nearly half the groups in their database.
Giving circles have increasingly become the point of entry for women, and particularly women of color, in charitable giving. Giving circles are places where groups underrepresented in traditional philanthropy can organize as women, or as a subset of women (LGBT, Asian, Latinx, African American) and find ways to support their own communities. GCs often give to local initiatives, are less traditional in their giving than typical funders, and more likely to support women and ethnic and minority groups.
The new CGRG report on GC membership indicates that compared to non-members, GC donors “give more money and time, give more strategically, and are more engaged in civic and political activities.” Moreover, GC members take greater advantage of their social networks in obtaining advice about philanthropy, bring in a broader range of information, and consult a wider array of people for advice than do non-members. The GC movement is relatively new, but already there are differences between GC veterans and members who have joined within the last year. Newer members tend to be younger, more ethnically diverse, and have lower incomes. Longitudinal studies, the report suggests, will reveal to what extent participating in a GC changes donor attitudes and preferences over time, and whether the diversity among new GC members is sustained.
The “Dynamics of Hosting” report focuses on GC hosting, and notes that community foundations and similar organizations are promoting and adopting giving circles to cultivate a more diverse donor pool, strengthen and expand community engagement, and foster a philanthropic culture. The CGRG findings on hosting were obtained in the summer of 2017 from survey data that included responses from 86 community and public foundations in 33 states. Of the 86, two-thirds host one or more GC groups. Over 90 percent of hosts indicated that they wished to affiliate with a GC in order to promote a culture of philanthropy.
The most common reason for the host-GC relationship is for the host to act as a fiscal sponsor in which it provides 501(c)(3) status, and receives donations and disburses grants for the GC. Hosts may also help a GC reach a specific group of donors, and work with a group of donors in establishing a GC to address a shared priority. Hosts may also play a role in communications and outreach, event planning, and regulation oversight. Hosting a GC is labor intensive, and some hosts charge a flat fee, while others take a percentage of annual CG assets. Some foundations do the work gratis, often as part of a mission to reach underserved communities and promote philanthropy. Regardless, the report indicates that most hosts did not feel that fees met their expenses.
No doubt, community foundations and other such entities have taken notice of the steady growth of giving circles and realize that partnering with such groups is the wave of the future. As the CGRG hosting report concludes, “Giving circles and collective giving groups hold enormous potential for broad outreach, flexible and authentic engagement of donors, and a more democratic approach to building a culture of philanthropy.” As GCs evolve, some of the questions surrounding host vs GC costs and benefits will likely be better answered.
The “Global Financing Facility” (GFF) might not be a familiar name for some in the U.S. philanthropy world, but it ranks among the most important organizations in the ongoing fight for global gender equality. Recently, GFF made a big pledge that is particularly noteworthy for its public/private collaboration, and for its attention to women. GFF is an international organization supported by the World Bank Group, and dedicated to improving the health of the planet’s most impoverished women and children.
In early November, the GFF held a conference, or “Replenishment Event,” in Oslo, Norway. The meeting was hosted by the governments of Norway and Burkina Faso in conjunction with the World Bank Group and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Fourteen donors, including national governments of various sizes, foundations, and multilateral institutions pledged over one billion dollars to improve the health of mothers and children in the world’s poorest countries. The Government of Norway ($360 million) and the Gates Foundation ($200 million) were the two largest donors. The United States did not contribute to the Replenishment Event, nor has it provided any support to the GFF to date.
The Global Financing Facility was founded in 2015 as a mechanism to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths by 2030. It currently operates in 27 countries, 19 of which are in Africa. The GFF’s mandate is to address the greatest health and nutrition issues affecting women, children and adolescents in the world’s poorest nations. It emphasizes partnerships with countries, civil society organizations, financiers, multilateral bodies and the private sector in funding healthcare systems.
The GFF aims to improve outcomes long-term, as opposed to spending on stop-gap emergency measures which are often not sustained. To this end, not only were there pledges from wealthy countries and foundations at the Oslo conference, the African nations of Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire committed to increasing their health spending by 15% annually, while Nigeria recommitted to its $150 million yearly investment in health and nutrition targeting women, children and adolescents.
The billion dollars pledged is expected to link to an additional $7.5 billion in funds from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). GFF calculates that the billion-dollar commitment represents roughly half of what it needs to expand its efforts to finance healthcare in 50 of the world’s lowest income nations, and make progress in meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal on maternal, newborn and child deaths.
The GFF’s boost to health financing in poor countries is three pronged: (i) develop a plan that prioritizes a strong primary health care system and reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition; (ii) strengthen a country-led platform that unites key stakeholders around a health and nutrition plan; (iii) work with countries to direct resources at the most vulnerable populations in the hardest-to-reach regions.
The need is great, as over two billion people live in countries that spend less than $25 per capita on health yearly. This lack of healthcare funds has serious consequences: 450,000 children under five die unnecessarily every month, and 830 women die every day from pregnancy and child-birth related complications. The GFF notes that in 50 countries around the world, over five million mothers and children die from preventable conditions due to a lack of resources. The GFF is promoting increased spending on health, but also ensuring that the spending is targeted, and that outcomes are measurable.
The GFF quotes Melinda Gates, who notes the ripple effect generated by increased health care spending on women and children in the Global South: “Healthy women, children and adolescents contribute to a virtuous cycle. With health comes the ability to go to school and learn, which helps people prosper as adults, who are then able to raise empowered children who continue the cycle. That’s why the GFF is such a great investment.”
A great deal of emphasis in feminist philanthropy is placed on women, and changing the role of women in society. But what about men? What role can men play in challenging gender norms, and what initiatives are gender equality organizations taking to reach men?
To further explore these questions, I spoke to Giovanna Lauro, Vice President of Programs and Research at Promundo, by telephone from her D.C. office. Promundo was founded in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in 1997, working with young men in Rio’s poorest communities on transforming gender norms and concepts of masculinity. It has since taken that approach far beyond Brazil, and its website notes, “Promundo works to promote gender equality and create a world free from violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls.”
The organization’s expansion from the global South to global North makes it an anomaly, as many NGOs start in wealthy countries and then move into less developed nations. Regardless, Lauro says that there is a commonality to the organization’s work, wherever it takes place, namely, “a frustration with the limits of putting the burden of change on women and girls only.” One can work to empower women and girls all one wants, but it’s a tough mandate without change occurring among the other half of the population.
Promundo’s Washington, D.C. office opened in 2011, allowing the organization to expand its reach globally to more than 40 nations. To date, Promundo’s projects and technical assistance have reached roughly 10 million individuals, including over 4,500 health professionals, 22,000 educators, 1,400 members of the police and military, and 300 government officials.
The emphasis on masculinities—what it means to be a man—separates Promundo from many NGOs in the gender-equity field. Lauro argues that continued female empowerment requires men and boys to see themselves as allies and partners, not adversaries. Moreover, change is not a zero-sum game; men and boys also gain in many ways when rigid attitudes toward gender are challenged.
Promundo’s “Manhood 2.0” project, developed in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh, aims to prevent teen dating violence by engaging young males aged 15-24 in understanding the effects of harmful gender norms. Manhood 2.0 is modelled on Promundo’s Program H (named after homens and hombres, the Portuguese and Spanish words for men) which launched in 2002. Employed by Promundo and its partners in 34 countries worldwide, Program H is based on research with young Brazilian men who exhibited more gender-equitable attitudes than others in their demographic cohort. Men expressing less rigid attitudes around gender roles typically have peer group support in this area, positive personal experiences around gender equality, and male role models who express support for gender equality.
Stereotypical and rigidly enforced conceptions of gender are toxic to all. Statistics indicate the high rate of male violence against women, but it’s not as if men are untouched by violence. They are twice as likely as women to die of suicide, and comprise over three-quarters of homicide victims in the U.S. The large number of male lives lost in wars and other armed conflicts goes without saying. Research by Promundo and other organizations indicates that many of these negative outcomes have their basis in overly rigid conceptions of masculinity. Promundo’s report “Masculine Norms and Violence: Making the Connections” explores this relationship.
Engaging Men Through Pre-Natal Programs and Soccer
Engaging with young men in the U.S. and abroad around harmful gender norms is a noble goal, but how does one lead the male horse to the trough of gender equity? Firstly, Promundo identifies local partners who can make a difference. “Find a facilitator who believes in what they preach,” says Lauro, “someone who has shown a commitment or potential for working for gender equality.” Next, she says, it’s vital to “incorporate contextual intervention” in recruiting and retaining participants. In other words, don’t place an announcement for a gender-equity workshop in the local paper and expect men to rush the doors. Lauro notes two specific angles that Promundo has tried: fatherhood and soccer.
In Chile (and other locales) sessions on gender norms have been rolled into pre-natal programs for first-time dads. Fatherhood, family, child-rearing and gender norms are intertwined, and Lauro notes that a group for expectant fathers can function as “a place where men can have meaningful discussion around gender and express themselves in a safe space.” Promundo is a sponsor of the State of the World’s Fathers report series examining men’s contributions to parenting and caregiving globally. These are published as part of the Men Care (“a global fatherhood campaign”) which Promundo co-founded and coordinates.
Sports is another approach used by Promundo to recruit young men to explore gender-equity and masculinity. The study “Engaging men to prevent gender-based violence” sponsored by Promundo and the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women documents a Brazilian program that used soccer to engage men around the issue of gender-based violence. According to the report, “Sports, particularly weekly football (soccer) matches were used as a venue for dialogue and an opportunity to convey the themes of the workshops.” The same report also details programs aimed at understanding and combating gender-based violence that were organized around the workplace (Rwanda), the health sector (Chile), and the community (India). Regardless of the setting, scale or target of the intervention, “We focus on building local partnerships with local organizations,” says Lauro.
The only places where Promundo implements projects directly using its own staff is on its home turf of Brazil, the United States, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where in 2014 Promundo co-founded the NGO Living Peace with local partners. In Eastern DRC, Promundo has worked to promote gender equity in the wake of a brutal conflict which resulted in millions of people being injured, killed, and displaced. The DRC is notable for a very high level of sexual violence, not just as part of the armed conflict, but also in the home and elsewhere. Promundo’s outreach has sought to combat the prevalence of attitudes and practices, including ones about masculinity, which had embedded gender violence so deeply in that society. “We take into account trauma and how this affects behavior,” says Lauro.
Measuring Concrete Change
Promoting gender equity is not easy, and approaches must vary. She notes that sometimes norms change, and then drive a change in behavior. Other times a behavior—which might be encouraged by a public policy like parental leave for both women and men—can produce a change in attitudes, which subsequently influences behavior, and so on. It is not always easy to separate cause and effect. Regardless, the Italian-born Lauro, who has a Ph.D. in political science from Oxford, and previously served as Associate Director of the Women and Population Programme on behalf of the United Nations Foundation, believes in the power of research. “Our goal is to ensure that we can measure concrete change around attitudes, behaviors and norms,” she says.
To this end, Promundo and the International Center for Research on Women have created the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES). This household survey probes men’s and women’s practices and attitudes around gender norms, gender-equality policies, care-work distribution, intimate partner violence, health, economic stress and other issues facing women, men, and families. As of 2017, notes Lauro, IMAGES and IMAGES-inspired studies have been administered to more than 40,000 men and 20,000 women in nearly 40 countries. Moreover, Lauro describes the IMAGES survey as an “open source” tool which “can be used by local organizations to inform their own work.”
Promundo uses research not just to take the temperature of a given community regarding gender-equity, sexual violence and other topics, but also to evaluate whether the programs that it and its partners sponsor are having an impact. Do they really produce a change in attitudes and practices? How, I wondered, can one know if a program simply teaches its participants to talk a good game about gender equity to researchers, but leave the reality unchanged?
Lauro notes that a rigorous attempt to gauge the impact of programs and interventions requires more than asking participants easily-answered questions. “From our research, we know that when we word questions in the positive, everyone answers the politically correct ‘yes.’” In other words, asking, “Do you support equality between men and women?” is likely to elicit positive answers, but more authentic responses come from creative questions. “For example,” says Lauro, “we don’t ask ‘have you ever beaten your partner?’ Instead, we ask, ‘how often have you beaten your partner?’” The idea is to remove the cues that would push respondents toward the “correct” response. Furthermore, says Lauro, to corroborate the trends highlighted in men’s responses, women are surveyed as well to find out if they have noticed a reduction in violence. Finally, notes Lauro, “At times we employ a control group which helps isolate the impact of the intervention.” This commitment to research has helped Promundo weed out or modify interventions which have been ineffective in promoting change.
Lauro has a long history of work in this area, including her Ph.D. thesis, which addressed the double standard of European governments toward the global South on harmful gender norms. The Europeans would advocate for women’s rights in Africa or Asia, but at home would use contentious gender issues as a wedge to demonize or punish immigrant communities rather than protect women. Lauro recommends that issues such as child or forced marriage, wherever it occurs, be “framed first and foremost as a human rights issue rather than a cultural practice.”
Promundo works with NGOs and multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization. These stakeholders have partnered with Promundo, or adopted their programs and implemented them in communities around the world. Promundo receives funding from bilateral and multilateral donors, foundations, international NGOs, and individuals. A range of feminist-friendly foundations also support Promundo, “There is a large pool of funders committed to combating gender-based violence,” says Lauro. Other foundations, she notes, are more interested in thematic work on fatherhood and caregiving, gender and youth, or the ramifications for women of large-scale conflict resulting from local gangs, or from ethnic, tribal, national or other differences. Regardless, funding and advocacy around male conceptions of masculinity and gender represents an important part of the fight for gender equality.
Long before she was a meme and pop culture icon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a sober-minded jurist, a workaholic and a trail-blazing advocate for gender equality. None of that has changed, but in the last decade Ginsburg has become a celebrity whose image is plastered on t-shirts, mugs and all over the Internet. She’s celebrated as both a gritty feminist badass, and cute old lady.
It’s great that someone of Ginsburg’s intellectual heft and societal importance is famous; still, you worry that the image of the bespectacled RBG is overtaking the person. Part of RBG—which is directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen—explores the hagiography surrounding the diminutive justice: college students express awe at just glimpsing her, and we see Ginsburg sporting a “Super Diva” shirt while working out with her trainer (who, incidentally, has written a book titled The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong … and You Can Too!). The workout stuff is cute, and a testament to Ginsburg’s determination and discipline, but far more important, and interesting, is her work over nearly six decades as a lawyer, professor and judge.
Nominated by Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg was not the first woman named to the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor served from 1981-2006) but she has been the most passionate defender of women’s rights, including abortion rights. And while she is considered a liberal icon, it wasn’t always the case. When Ginsburg was appointed, she was in the middle of the pack ideologically, but the changing composition of the court has moved her relative position to the left. Moreover, RBG has proven more than willing to dissent from her conservative colleagues, particularly on gender issues. She is able to do this while maintaining a reputation for collegiality, which included a long-running friendship with the boisterous conservative justice Antonin Scalia, a fellow opera lover who died in 2016.
There are plenty of well-known figures who weigh-in on Ginsburg in the film, including Gloria Steinem, Bill Clinton, NPR’s Nina Totenberg and long-time Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, an arch conservative who nevertheless recommended Ginsburg to President Clinton in 1993 to fill the open Supreme Court seat. “It was the interview that did it,” says Clinton about his choice of Ginsburg from a long list of potential nominees for the position.
Ginsburg’s daughter and son, and a granddaughter, attest to the judge’s sharp mind, prodigious work ethic and serious demeanor. So do two of her childhood friends who confirm, as does nearly everyone interviewed, that Ginsburg is no fan of idle chit-chat or time wasting.
Gender was an obstacle throughout Ginsburg’s rise in the legal ranks. “Being a woman was an impediment,” she notes dryly about her time at Harvard Law School. Ginsburg was one of only nine women in a Harvard class of over 500, and the scrutiny was intense, although professors would not engage the women in the Socratic interrogation that men received because it was felt that females were too delicate for such treatment. Ginsburg also recounts that a dean called the female students together to ask them how they thought they could justify occupying seats that would otherwise have gone to men.
RBG faced other challenges as well, including the death of her mother after a lengthy illness when Ruth was 17. RBG did her undergraduate studies at Cornell, which is where she met her husband Marty. They both went to Harvard for law school, and when Ruth started (she was a year behind Marty) she was caring for their 14-month-old daughter. Ginsburg neatly compartmentalized law time and baby time, she says, but then Marty was diagnosed with cancer, and RBG helped him keep up with his studies while he received treatment. All the while, she was rearing their child, attending classes and serving on the law review.
Ginsburg’s husband survived the bout with cancer, and he proved key to her later success. “Meeting Marty was by far the most fortunate thing that happened to me,” says RBG. Martin Ginsburg, a tax lawyer who died in 2010, was gregarious and social, an ideal counterpart to his more reserved wife. Moreover, not only did he actively campaign for Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court in the early 1990s, he gave up a high-flying career in New York when his wife was named to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Carter in 1980. The family moved to D.C., and Marty took on much of the childrearing and cooking duties (there are several mentions of RBG’s culinary deficiencies throughout the film).
When RBG graduated from Columbia Law in 1959 (she’d transferred there after her husband took a job in New York when he graduated from Harvard), she had a hard time getting a job in a law firm, even though she’d been at the top of her class. The discrimination against women in the legal profession was not exactly subtle. She became a professor at Rutgers University, and soon learned that she was being paid less than her male colleagues, a situation she quickly moved to remedy.
RBG became a gender equality crusader in the 1970s, and in several cases that she took on, men were as much the victims of gender discrimination and stereotyping as were women. In 1973, she argued a case before the Supreme Court in which a female Air Force lieutenant was not given a housing allowance for her and her husband, even though male service members with wives were automatically granted such benefits. The policy was overturned. In a 1975 case, she represented a man whose wife had died shortly after childbirth. The widower was denied a survivor’s Social Security benefit, which he needed to be able to care for his son, even though in parallel cases women receive such a benefit when their spouse dies.
Once RBG got on the court, she continued to champion women and gender equity. She wrote the majority opinion in a 1996 case in which the Virginia Military Institute was ordered to end its males-only admissions policy.
Ginsburg says her mother gave her two pieces of advice: “Be a lady, and be independent.” By lady, Ginsburg says her mother meant that “One should not be consumed by useless emotions,” like anger. RBG seems to have taken this to heart. She’s certainly passionate about her work, but her career indicates that she is always thinking two or three steps ahead, not getting embroiled in controversies of the day, or recriminations against present or past antagonists. (The lone understandable exception was her misstep as a sitting justice in making disparaging comments about President Trump).
Ginsburg has more energy than most people one-third her age. Still, she is 85 and has survived two bouts of cancer. She dodges the question about whether she should have retired during Obama’s tenure so that a liberal, or at least centrist, judge could have replaced her, as opposed to a Trump nominee should she leave the bench before 2020. It’s hard to argue that someone as vigorous as Ginsburg should step aside before she’s ready, particularly after the outrageous stunt in which the Republicans refused to vote on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in 2016 in the wake of Scalia’s death. It’s a tough one; let’s hope the judge keeps working out, eats right and tries to get a proper night’s rest so that she can outlast the current administration.
RBG was made by a team of women, including director-producers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, and executive producers Amy Entelis (Executive VP for Talent and Content Development at CNN Worldwide, which financed the film) and Courtney Sexton (CNN Films VP). Women also occupy the archival, associate and coordinating producer roles on RBG, as well as the composer, cinematographer, and editor slots.
In November, an unrelated feature film titled On the Basis of Sex will be released. Directed by veteran producer-director Mimi Leder, it will star Felicity Jones as Ginsburg.
It’s not always pretty how the sausage, salad and salmon get made. Low-pay and difficult working conditions are commonplace in the restaurant industry. Many workers are part-timers, and few have benefits. Moreover, workers’ tips are sometimes stolen by management, and wages can go unpaid. These problems are particularly acute for immigrants, who are over-represented in the restaurant industry, and often have little recourse. Women, who comprise over half of industry workers, must further contend with sexual harassment, which is rampant in food-service businesses.
The Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United has been active since 2001 in addressing the challenges facing restaurant industry workers. Recently, it highlighted the long-term costs of sexual harassment in a study it conducted in collaboration with UC Berkeley. On May 8, it held a national press call with actor Sarah Jessica Parker, ROC United co-founder Saru Jayaraman, Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, and current and former restaurant workers, to publicize the study’s initial findings.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) was founded in New York in the wake of the 9-11 attacks to help restaurant workers displaced from their jobs. In 2008, it became a national organization advocating for restaurant workers wages and rights. ROC United now has nearly 30,000 worker-members, more than 500 restaurant employer members, and several thousand consumer members nationwide. It has won 15 worker-led campaigns, and recovered $10 million in stolen tips and wages. Co-founder Jayaram is the author of the 2016 book Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, which rates restaurants not on the quality of their beef, but on the wages, working conditions and opportunities they provide workers.
That sexual harassment is prevalent in the restaurant industry is no surprise, but the ROC United/UC Berkeley study goes beyond this fact to address how the experience of being harassed affects young women’s lifelong tolerance for harassment, even in other industries. The study combines qualitative data and quantitative analysis of surveys of several hundred women who worked in the restaurant industry when they were young. Current food-service workers, as well as women in different sectors—including Hollywood, media, politics, and philanthropy—were interviewed for this initial portion of a longer study.
According to ROC United, one in two Americans will work in the restaurant industry in their lifetime. The organization’s research reveals that almost 90 percent of women in the industry experience harassment from customers, managers, and coworkers. ROC United states, “For many women who work in restaurants as their first job, these experiences of sexual harassment shape the rest of their working lives. They learn early that sexual harassment is an unfortunate condition of work that must be tolerated, and even encouraged, in order to earn enough wages through tips.”
The ROC United effort against sexual harassment is linked to the “One Fair Wage” campaign, which would eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers. One Fair Wage represents a concrete policy solution to blunt the prevalence of restaurant-industry harassment. According to ROC United, “Women workers who rely on tips to make ends meet are forced to tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to ensure they take home enough income to feed their families. One Fair Wage ensures that women workers no longer have to solely rely on customer tips to make a living wage.”
In addition to the sexual harassment study and its accompanying press call, in February, ROC United held #NotOntheMenu rallies in Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, the Bay Area, Detroit and New Orleans to demand an end to sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.
ROC United has received support from a number of granting bodies, including the San Francisco-based, James Irvine Foundation. As part of its Fair Work initiative designed to boost the fortunes of California’s lowest income workers (those making less than $12.50 hourly), in 2016 Irvine provided ROC United a three-year $1.4 million grant. The funds are being used, “… to support low-wage restaurant workers in California by enhancing the occupational skills, leadership development, and civic participation opportunities of workers while engaging employers, policymakers, and consumers to raise industry standards.”
Other funders have included Foundation for a Just Society, which provided $100,000 to ROC of New Orleans, “to support ROC-NOLA’s work to build power and voice for women and LGBTQI restaurant workers in New Orleans’ restaurant industry.” Other prominent supporters of ROC United include the Ford Foundation, which hosted a 2016 event in support of ROC United founder Saru Jayaraman’s book Forked. The event featured a slew of famous chefs and restauranteurs, many of whom have come around to the idea that treating restaurant workers fairly is not just the right thing to do, but it can be good for business as well.
Research has now identified a significant health care gender gap, showing how much less we know about the health of women compared to men. Even more underfunded than women, however, are the specific health concerns of women of color. While Black and Latina women together represent less than a quarter of all U.S. women, they make up the large majority of those currently living with HIV. To fight this disparity, the California Wellness Foundation (Cal Wellness) recently announced $13 million in new grantmaking specifically aimed at helping address the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on women of color, as well as the health needs of recently incarcerated women reentering society.
Cal Wellness is a Los Angeles-based private, independent foundation dedicated to protecting and improving Californians’ health and wellness by increasing access to health care, quality education, good jobs, healthy environments and safe neighborhoods. Since its founding in 1992, it has awarded over 9,000 grants totaling more than one billion dollars.
Millions of uninsured Californians obtained health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but with the ACA under strain, those gains are being eroded. Moreover, social services and reproductive rights are also being undermined. “Communities of color are bearing the brunt of these attacks,” says Judy Belk, President and CEO of Cal Wellness. “But there is hope. Philanthropy can play a critical role in advancing wellness for all by fighting the injustices affecting the most vulnerable among us.” Crystal Crawford, Program Director of Cal Wellness, adds that the AIDS/HIV/STIs and prisoner health reentry initiatives represent the “next phase of the Foundation’s long history of boldly confronting injustices based on race and gender.”
According to the National Institutes of Health’s report, Women of Color Health Information Collection: HIV Infection and AIDS, “Compared with females of other races/ethnicities, African Americans and Latinas are disproportionately affected at all stages of infection with HIV and by all reported measures: new cases of HIV infection, annual diagnoses of HIV infection, annual diagnoses of AIDS, and prevalence of HIV infection and AIDS.” In addition, women of color have high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and are at high risk of acquiring HIV and STIs due to social and economic conditions such as high rates of poverty, ongoing trauma, income inequality and unemployment that make it difficult for them to protect their sexual health.
A key part of the HIV/AIDS/STIs initiative is “Upspoken,” a public awareness campaign, coordinated by the issue-driven communications firm RALLY. “Upspoken,” will engage multi-generational Black women and contribute to new ways of thinking about HIV, AIDS and STIs among direct service providers, advocacy organizations, individual and institutional funders, and policymakers. The campaign also seeks to increase understanding and raise awareness about the disproportionate impact of HIV, AIDS and STIs on women of color, and encourage increased funding and improved public policies in this area.
The initiative is funding two demonstration projects—one in Los Angeles County and one in Alameda County (whose county seat is Oakland) to document and disseminate best practices in prevention and early intervention for women of color at risk for HIV, AIDS and STIs, and to develop innovations in this area. The L.A. County project is being led by Gail Wyatt, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. In Alameda County, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases (WORLD) is partnering with the East Bay Community Foundation on the project.
Cal Wellness is not the only organization supporting the health of women of color. The Oakland, California-based Catalyst Fund/Groundswell Fund is a major funder of initiatives and research surrounding reproductive justice and health, including birth justice with an emphasis on women of color. Catalyst Fund/Groundswell Fund has supported projects in 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, including initiatives of Black Women for Wellness (Los Angeles), and COLOR, a Denver-based Latina-led and Latina-serving grassroots nonprofit, among many. Catalyst/Groundswell also partners with other foundations including the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Chicago Foundation for Women, the New York Women’s Foundation, and Third Wave Fund that provide grants to organizations addressing the health needs of women of color.
The health of former prisoners, particularly women of color, is precarious. As is the case with men, women of color are overrepresented among the incarcerated. When they return to their communities, formerly incarcerated women face significant barriers to building stable and healthy lives including unemployment and lack of access to education, permanent housing, health care and support in being reunited with their families. For women of color, these barriers are exacerbated by racial discrimination.
Cal Wellness’ Re-entry and Employment Initiative will enable formerly incarcerated women of color, especially African American and Latina women, to improve their health through financial well-being by increasing their participation in the workforce and building financial assets. The Foundation awarded grants to four organizations (A New Way of Life, Justice Now, Time for Change Foundation and The Praxis Project) to promote local and statewide policies with a gender lens that impact the specific challenges facing re-entry women. One such policy is effective implementation of Proposition 47, which was passed by California voters in 2014 and reclassified sentences for a number of drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The four grantees have established the Women Organizing Re-entry Communities of Color for Prop 47 (WORCC) Collaborative to target Prop 47 resources to benefit women of color as they seek employment and financial well-being upon re-entry.
As part of the initiative, Cal Wellness also approved grants to support three demonstration projects (Root & Rebound in Fresno County, A New Way of Life in Los Angeles County and Time for Change Foundation in San Bernardino County). The grantees will engage formerly incarcerated women of color, especially Black and Latina women, in comprehensive workforce development services including job training, career advancement and asset-building. The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which has offices in six states and focuses exclusively on employment for those with criminal records, also received funding and will provide technical assistance.
There’s the philanthropy that happens when people invest money to promote social change, and then there’s the philanthropy that happens when people take their money and their talent, and employ them in a way that addresses a social problem. Celebrities, particularly multi-talented and highly educated ones, have a unique capacity to combine their financial capital, talent, and public stature in order to push for needed social change.
That appears to be part of what happened when Israeli-American filmmaker Sigal Avin teamed up with several feature actors including David Schwimmer, Cynthia Nixon and Bobby Cannavale, to film a series of six short films called, “That’s Harassment.” In each of these three to six minute cinéma verité shorts, the viewer is positioned as a cringing voyeur while scenes of sexual harassment unfold. Since debuting in the spring of 2017, these films have been adapted into 30 second public service announcements that are getting wide visibility.
Schwimmer, along with Milk Studios co-founder Mazdack Rassi, produced the series, and the former “Friends” star has been instrumental in promoting the films and getting them widely seen. The shorts are on Facebook, YouTube, Amazon and other platforms, and excerpts are being showing in New York City cabs, and as public service announcements with links to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). The films are designed to help employers combat harassment, and encourage victims and bystanders to recognize it and speak out. RAINN and the NWLC have partnered with “That’s Harassment” to compile resource and discussion guides, and the list, “10 Ways Your Company Can Help Prevent Harassment in the Workplace.”
In one film, Schwimmer plays a lawyer who forces himself on a recent hire played by Zazie Beetz. It’s clear that he is abusing their power differential and harassing her, and yet he is not a menacing caricature. He is not violent and doesn’t make any threats. Once rebuffed, he is highly invested in maintaining a nice guy persona, asking “Are we good?” and wanting a final hug to demonstrate that everything is okay between him and his victim. The Schwimmer character tries to pressure an employee into sexual favors, but wants to be reassured that his behavior is acceptable, and that he won’t suffer any consequences for it.
The other films detail various forms of male-female harassment: a brusque doctor fondles his patient, a bartender verbally and physically harasses a new waitress under the guise of letting her know what pigs men can be, a photographer degrades a young model by asking her to touch herself suggestively as he shoots stills of her, a famous actor exposes himself to a star-struck wardrobe person, and a veteran politician comes onto a younger journalist interviewing him.
“All of the stories are based on real incidents,” says Avin in an interview she and Schwimmer gave to Build Series NYC about the project. When she was a young playwright, Avin says an established actor exposed himself to her backstage during a rehearsal. Schwimmer shares that once the “That’s Harassment” project was underway, his mother revealed that she’d been harassed by a doctor. Schwimmer notes that the majority of the crew working on the shorts were female, “Unsolicited, every single woman came forward and said this reminds me of what happened to me. Everyone had an experience.”
Avin based “That’s Harassment” on a similar series that she’d made in Israel, and called on Schwimmer to help get the U.S. versions made and distributed. She says that her motivation in making the films was that while there was a lot of talk about sexual harassment, “You never got to see it.” Her approach was single-take scenes of several minutes where the viewer is “like a bug on the wall.”
The U.S. versions rolled out in the spring of 2017, but in the wake of the high-profile sexual harassment and abuse scandals that roiled the entertainment and other industries in the fall of 2017, Schwimmer and Avin sought a wider audience for them, and got RAINN and NWLC involved. “That’s Harassment” has also been covered by various mainstream media outlets including Cosmopolitan, Good Morning America and USA Today.
What makes the films so effective is that the perpetrators’ behavior is abusive, yet familiar. The victims don’t dissolve in a puddle of tears, nor do they angrily confront their harassers, all of whom are in positions of power over them. The women appear confused, embarrassed and uncomfortable, deflecting the unwelcome advances and comments, and sometimes laughing or shrugging off the harassing behavior or remarks.
The bartender, actor, and lawyer characters want to be “good guys” who compliment women and do them favors, but what the films show is that the nicest thing they could do would be to respect their female colleagues and let them do their jobs. The doctor, politician and photographer characters don’t play the helpful nice guy card; instead, they emphasize their experience and authority. You can almost see the gears turning in the victims’ heads: what is going on here? Is this normal? How do I get this to end without a scene or future reprisals?
The films are useful in provoking discussion about sexual harassment, and as tools for employers to use. This can be tricky — employers have a legal and moral imperative to combat sexual harassment, yet didactic and heavy-handed training sessions and amateurish videos tend to provoke more eye-rolling than actual change. For this reason, having a professional like Avin script and direct the films, and use working Hollywood actors, goes a long way in making the scenarios believable, and something that should be taken seriously.
In the current climate surrounding harassment, many men wonder what their role should be. Most would prefer not to talk about it all. It’s easier not to get involved, rationalizing that if one is not a perpetrator, then it’s best to keep one’s head down. There are costs—including threats to one’s livelihood and social ostracization—for speaking up when harassment takes place. Moreover, some men fear that their involvement might be unwanted, or seen as patronizing by women. Finally, many men, and women, are still grappling with what constitutes sexual harassment. The films do not solve these thorny questions, but they certainly start the conversation, and can lead to some concrete and specific ways to stop harassment in the workplace, as indicated by RAINN and NWLC.
Schwimmer and co-producer Mazdack Rassi’s contribution to the project, supporting Avin in getting the films made (and seen), is a good model for other men to follow in terms of being allies to women in the fight for gender equality.
“We focus on women at the grassroots, aligning our grant-making strategies and priorities to fit their needs,” says Chandra Alexandre, Global Fund for Women’s Vice-President of Development. The goal is to leverage local knowledge and expertise with donor funds to create system-level change for women in the Global South.
Global Fund for Women is headquartered in San Francisco, but five members of its 41-person staff are in New York, and four more work remotely from various locales. The organization was founded in 1987, and since then has invested in roughly 5,000 grassroots organizations in 175 countries. Its approach encompasses both advocacy and grant-making, with an emphasis on supporting, funding and partnering with women-led groups and movements. According to their website: “Our vision is that every woman and girl is strong, safe, powerful, and heard. No exceptions.”
Chandra Alexandre has been Development VP for over three years, and spoke to me by phone from her office in San Francisco. Alexandre, who is also an Adjunct Professor in the University of San Francisco’s Master of Nonprofit Administration program, has a wide-ranging background. Prior to assuming her position at Global Fund for Women, she was the lead fundraiser at Partners in School Innovation, and has worked in the banking sector and in the U.S. diplomatic corps. Alexandre earned an MBA at San Francisco’s Presidio Graduate School, which focuses on justice and sustainability, and a Ph.D. in Asian & Comparative Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Alexandre’s doctoral research took her to India, and she says that experience is paying dividends in her current work. “My knowledge gained from living, working, and being with women in India has definitely informed my world view and current position,” she says. “It helped me understand women’s issues globally, and women’s lived reality in the Global South.”
Much of Alexandre’s time is spent talking to people, and not just donors. “Sometimes it’s in-house experts, such as our grants-operation team who are in constant contact with our grantees, and sometimes it’s touching base with an activist board member,” she says. Alexandre also reads grantee reports, and on occasion will go right to the source. “After Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in 2016, it was me picking up the phone and speaking with one of our grantee partners,” says Alexandre. “It was a statement of solidarity, but also checking on how they were doing. I was trying to see what was happening, and what was most needed.”
Alexandre’s communications with key Global Fund for Women players in the U.S. and overseas enables her to be a conduit of information and perspective about women’s lives in the Global South. “It’s about letting donors know how they can shift the tide in terms of making positive change in women’s lives,” she says.
Global Fund for Women invests in projects of various scales and durations, depending on local needs and conditions on the ground. A major recent initiative was a 2017 partnership focusing on garment workers, undertaken with the NoVo Foundation, C&A Foundation and Gender at Work. The effort is combating gender-based violence and improving working condition for women in major garment-producing countries including India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.
The aim is to activate local women to become agents of change, with garment workers learning about their rights, acting on those rights, and creating systemic change. The initial round of grants to local organizations were awarded last summer.
Not surprisingly, as Development VP, Alexandre spends an important part of her time cultivating donors. She champions Global Fund for Women’s mission, but also listens to donors, seeing where their interests lie and how these match-up with Global Fund for Women’s programs. She says that some donors are interested in a specific region or country, but many are passionate about an issue like gender-based violence or reproductive health and rights. They want to contribute to change, and trust Global Fund for Women’s expertise and ability to forge relationships with partners and advisors abroad working in these areas.
Alexandre handles donations in the six and seven figures coming from individuals, institutions, and private and corporate foundations. She says that 84 percent of funds go directly to fund programs. Global Fund for Women has over 10,000 donors, so in addition to the major sums, there are many smaller one-time and recurring donations. Global Fund for Women also responds to emergencies, such as the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Nepal in 2015. “We know that when humanitarian organizations respond to crises, the needs of women and girls are often last in line,” she says.
Global Fund for Women’s staff are always in motion, whether on the programming or donor side. “As a public foundation we’re constantly fund-raising. Unlike a private foundation, we don’t have a regular draw against an endowment to rely on to support the whole of our grant-making and advocacy efforts,” says Alexandre. Global Fund for Women’s operating budget is projected to hit $25 million annually by 2020, and in the 2017 fiscal year it awarded ten million dollars in grants, the most ever in the organization’s thirty-plus year history. Global Fund for Women funds new initiatives, but is also aware that past gains can disappear. “We are placing a real emphasis on resistance,” says Alexandre. “We don’t want to see a rollback on women’s gains in areas such as education or reproductive rights.”
Alexandre notes that Donald Trump’s election has spurred activism in the U.S. around women’s issues. While this is laudable, the downside is that mobilizing against the Trump agenda domestically may cause one to forget about the status of women outside the U.S. “Increasing awareness is key,” say Alexandre, suggesting that not just Global Fund for Women, but the women’s human rights sector overall needs more exposure and funding. “We need to support communities in the U.S.,” says Alexandre, “but we also need to look at global issues and stand in solidarity with our sisters in the Global South.”
“Major societal change happens through major institutions,” says Martha A. Taylor, women’s philanthropy pioneer and Vice President of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. Taylor doesn’t discount the energy that comes from the streets, and in January she attended the Women’s March with her then 94-year-old mother, who carried a sign invoking both FDR and Obama. Still, Taylor says that for women to effect change, they need to occupy leadership positions in major institutions.
That maxim applies to the corporate, political and non-profit spheres. “When you sit in a board room where hundreds of millions of dollars are raised, that gives you real power and ability to impact society,” says Taylor, who notes that prior to the women’s movement, women’s leverage was applied from outside the power structure. “Now women can exert our leadership from within as well,” she says, “Where real change takes place.”
Taylor started working at the University of Wisconsin Foundation (UWF) in 1975, after completing a BA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree focusing on philanthropy and higher education at West Virginia University. In 1988, she co-founded the UWF’s Women’s Philanthropy Council (WPC), the first co-ed university major gifts organization of women philanthropists. The impetus for its founding was simple. Traditionally, monied male graduates had comprised 95 percent of the prospects for fund-raising, and women were an afterthought. Taylor realized that half the team was sitting on the sidelines, and with the WPC she made a concerted effort to attract female donors of means.
One of Taylor’s pre-internet strategies for getting the word out on women’s philanthropy was to pick up the phone. “We would just call reporters at various papers and let them know what we were doing,” says Taylor. One of those calls resulted in a 1991 New York Times Magazine article by Anne Mathews entitled “Alma Maters Court Their Daughters.” The piece quoted Taylor extensively, and focused on the wellspring of untapped money and expertise residing in college alumnae.
The NYT Magazine article noted that women didn’t give as much as men because fundraisers didn’t think they had much potential and so didn’t cultivate them; predictably, this lack of attention yielded a low level of female support. Beyond that, other reasons women didn’t give at the same levels as men included fear for their own financial security should they give too much money away, and the age-old practice of deferring to a husband or other family member regarding financial matters, including charitable giving. Some successful women were also suspicious and resentful of their alma maters, perceiving the upper reaches of higher education to be old boys’ clubs that excluded women and didn’t deserve their support.
Higher education has changed dramatically since the early 90s, and women are starting to attain more positions in leadership. Taylor celebrates that the top three administrators at UW-Madison are women, and that the leadership of the University’s current capital campaign is half female. Women also currently occupy the top administrative post at the flagships of the Universities of Wisconsin, Illinois and North Carolina; the multi-campus University of California and State University of New York systems; and the universities of Virginia, Connecticut, Kansas and Washington, as well as Harvard, Penn, Emory, Case-Western, and Brown.
Women approach giving differently than men says Taylor, noting that today women often give to higher education because of its potential for personal and social transformation. They engage differently than men, and desire small group participation versus one-on-one visits by development officers. They are not nostalgic for the good old days; rather, they want to foster opportunities for the next generation.
Not all women donors focus on female-centered causes, and Taylor says that in the focus groups she organized decades ago, women resented being pigeon-holed as interested in “women’s issues.” However, when asked what they were most passionate about, women often cited education, health care, and opportunities for women and underserved communities. For this reason, Taylor is less concerned than some about a schism between the women’s fund movement (donating to causes that benefit women and girls) and women’s philanthropy (women as donors to all causes). Taylor is not one to leave money on the table for the sake of movement purity.
In the wake of that early 1990s NYT Magazine article, Taylor received a slew of calls from non-profits, prospective donors, and boards from around the country. The problem was what to do with all of the information, and interest. Months passed, and Taylor says, “I had 100 people who I’d told I’d get back to, but never did.” It was out of this energy and pent-up demand around the issue of women’s giving that the National Network of Women as Philanthropists (NNWP) was born. It started with a newsletter written in collaboration with Sondra Shaw-Hardy, Taylor’s long-time friend and collaborator on all things philanthropic. That first publication was mailed to 225 people. The nascent organization was loaned an office by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology, and had six founding members, each of whom developed a focus. Taylor’s primary interests were higher-ed and donor education, and Shaw-Hardy’s giving circles.
The NNWP became the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, and incorporated as a non-profit in 1997. In 2004, it joined the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. That alliance has given the WPI more resources, and a greater focus on research and education. Taylor is delighted with the evolution of the WPI, but says, “When Sondra and I founded it in 1991 we had to be more advocacy driven.” She notes that with its focus on media and advocacy Philanthropy Women is occupying a similar space as did WPI in its early years.
There had been women philanthropists for generations, but as far as conceptualizing the field, and seeing female donors as an entity distinct from men worthy of study and cultivation, Taylor and Shaw-Hardy were on the ground floor. To date, they have collaborated on several books on the topic, including the 1995 title Reinventing Fundraising: Realizing the Potential of Women’s Philanthropy, which defined the field. Taylor gladly shares the credit with her friend Shaw-Hardy, “I don’t think either one of us would have accomplished what we have if we had been working alone,” she says, adding, “It was so fun.”
Taylor has seen many changes over the last 40 years in women’s philanthropy. For starters, women are giving much more than previously. This is because they have physical and psychological control of more money than was the case years ago, and are increasingly the primary decision makers concerning philanthropy in the family. Moreover, today’s donors want to be partners in giving says Taylor, not simply check writers whose money is spent by others. Philanthropy is seen as a way for people to act on their values and pursue their passions. Rather than presenting donors with a laundry list of institutional needs, “We ask, what issues do you care about?” says Taylor. She has found that in the higher-ed arena, female donors are particularly interested in “programs and people,” with funding scholarships and professorships high on the agenda.
Taylor says that this less paternalistic approach to philanthropy has made women more generous, and powerful, than past generations. Taylor does sound a warning note, however, suggesting that while it is essential to see donors as collaborators rather than warm-blooded cash machines, one shouldn’t forget philanthropy’s reason for being: improving lives. She notes that donors can be lured into “feel-good giving” instead of “giving with an impact,” that can change lives. In order for the latter to happen, savvy donors need to financially support nonprofit and higher education organizational infrastructures and capacities. That’s why Taylor believes donor education is so important. Ultimately, all donors want their gifts to be used effectively.
A little ego is not a bad thing when you’re getting things done, and Taylor encourages women to use their names in their giving, rather than remaining anonymous. While every woman doesn’t need her name on the side of building, having women identified as major donors (whether alone or as part of a couple) provides a powerful example, and encourages others to realize their philanthropic potential. This is particularly important when courting very high net-worth individuals who are often surrounded by people of similar means. Visibility helps women donors understand and value their philanthropy and take full ownership of it. “You have to create the interest and passion around philanthropy,” says Taylor. “It needs to be just as exciting as buying a new house.”
Taylor, who lives in Madison with her husband, has two grown sons and three grandchildren. This year will be one of change, as she will be retiring from her position at the University of Wisconsin Foundation in July and moving over to the University itself where, not surprisingly, she will be teaching, researching and working in the women’s philanthropy field. Freed from actively soliciting funds herself, “I am going to drill down on donor education,” she says. Taylor says that her new role will included “teaching the culture of generosity,” as well as “leveraging women’s voices.” While Taylor has been focused on women’s philanthropy in higher education over the last several decades, ultimately she says she is asking “What is women’s role in our democracy? And how do we realize that through philanthropy?”
“I remember standing up at a conference 16 or 17 years ago and saying that my dream is that there will be a women’s giving circle in every city in America,” says Sondra Shaw Hardy. “I feel that my goal now is to take giving circles worldwide.” To that end, Shaw Hardy is starting a new organization called Women’s Giving Circles International, which will make expanding the giving circle model globally its primary goal.
Shaw Hardy has been called the “mother of giving circles,” and she will talk about the concept at the North American Community Foundations summit in Mexico City in early February. Shaw Hardy’s panel talk, “Meaningfully Engaging a New Realm of Donors for Local Action,” dovetails perfectly with the summit’s focus on locally generated, sustainable, equitable development.
This is not Shaw Hardy’s first professional visit to Mexico; in September 2017 she and long-time colleague Martha Taylor were invited to Monterrey to discuss female-centered charitable giving. While many of the women Shaw Hardy spoke to had considerable means, few had previously considered the concept of philanthropy by women, for women. They quickly embraced the idea, forming the Damos Juntas Giving Circle, and are taking “Círculos de Ayuda” beyond Monterrey (the country’s third largest metro area) to Mexico as a whole.
Shaw Hardy’s experience in Mexico confirms her previous impression that pooled direct-giving by donors is a compelling concept the world over. In June 2017, Shaw Hardy was invited by the German ambassador to the UK to speak at Germany’s embassy in London. The topic was women and politics in the United States, but Shaw Hardy also mentioned women and philanthropy, and found that her remarks on giving circles galvanized a cosmopolitan audience mostly composed of diplomats’ wives.
Shaw Hardy has been working in the women’s philanthropy field for 30 years, with a focus on giving circles for the last two decades. Her interest in giving circles was sparked when she picked up a People magazine (on a plane, she is quick to point out) and chanced on an article about Colleen Willoughby, the Seattle philanthropist. Willoughby was a founder of the Washington Women’s Foundation, and a pioneer in the field of “collective giving grantmaking,” a close cousin to giving circles. Willoughby had started a circle with two other women, and Shaw Hardy realized the power of women working together to fund change in their community.
Originally from Flint, Michigan, Shaw Hardy has lived in Traverse City—three hours northwest of Lansing on Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay—for decades. When we spoke by phone, she was in South Carolina, unsuccessfully trying to fend off the cold as the South had been recently blanketed by snow and ice. She lives most of the year in Traverse City with her husband, and has three children and eight grandchildren.
In the late 90s, Shaw Hardy was president of the Women’s Resource Center in Traverse City, and organized a giving circle, which grew to 65 members in four years. That circle’s goals were aligned with those of the Resource Center, and Shaw Hardy notes that giving circles typically fund applicants that focus on life’s essentials, including alleviating poverty, increasing women’s economic capabilities, and providing greater access to healthcare. “There is hardly any women’s giving circle that doesn’t have something to do with human services,” she says.
Shaw Hardy notes that she has helped set up over 30 circles, and while groups across the country are diverse, there are certain commonalities and guideposts in their founding: Circles need to be composed of people who enjoy each other’s company, members should have similar interests and goals, and five to seven people is a good number for launching a circle. Finally, members need to participate in the grant-making process so that all are active decision-makers. Established giving circles typically average 150 members, and some have as many as several hundred.
The movement was formalized and given a boost in 2001 when Wendy Steele established Impact 100 in Cincinnati. The model of a pass-through foundation that relies on its members to make grants to local organizations in culture, education, environment, family and health soon spread to other cities throughout the country. According to Impact 100, its affiliated organizations had given away more than $45 million by the close of 2016.
The advantage of giving circles is that they leverage modest individual donations into a critical mass. “By pooling their monies,” says Shaw Hardy, “women are seeing the impact they can have versus giving small amounts.” Shaw Hardy suggests that this collective giving is literally empowering women, giving them an input and influence far greater than if members had donated the same amount as individuals.
Circles are also essential in putting women into decision-making positions. “Giving circles have emboldened women to become members of nonprofit boards,” says Shaw Hardy. Previously, women were often reluctant to serve on boards, says Shaw Hardy, but now they have greater knowledge and confidence. The result is more women heading organizations, and women becoming increasingly comfortable leading campaigns to raise money for causes important to them.
This larger grant-making influence has an important consequence: “Women have become more political as a result of their involvement,” says Shaw Hardy. “In addition to belonging to a giving circle and contributing money, they are also giving money to political candidates who favor their issues, and even running for office themselves.” Shaw Hardy says that along with promoting self-esteem in girls and increasing opportunities for low-income women and girls, “getting more women to run for office” is a personal priority for her. She has her own experience to draw on, and says, “I didn’t know I was a feminist until I found myself serving on a County Board of Commissioners with 14 men.”
Shaw Hardy says the significant growth in women’s philanthropy is partly due to women’s more prominent role in the work place. “Women have careers, they have more than just jobs. They earn more money than before.” Shaw Hardy believes that by increasing their giving and being involved in grant-making, women have achieved greater financial agency and power.
“Women are now talking about money, a subject that was once considered inappropriate for them to discuss,” says Shaw Hardy. “And that, combined with control of their money, whether earned, inherited or married, has resulted in women’s participation on organization finance committees.” The result, she says, is that women no longer fear balance sheets or financial plans, and their greater financial acumen has “changed the face of philanthropy, and the way couples give.”
Shaw Hardy has been on the ground floor of many organizations, and says she is happy to get something going, and then move on. Most recently, Shaw Hardy helped launch Woman2Woman TC (the TC is for Traverse City). It formed in 2016 in support of Hillary Clinton—and drew a crowd of 400 at its first meeting—and has since continued to support progressive female candidates, including Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow. The group, which counts over 2,500 members on Facebook, also encourages local women to run for office.
Shaw Hardy’s position as the doyenne of giving circles, and supporter of progressive female-centered causes, has an unusual origin: initially, she started out at as a Republican Party fundraiser. She obtained the position after graduating from Michigan State University in Lansing. Shaw Hardy subsequently earned a law degree, and then went to D.C. to become a Republican lobbyist, a position at which she says she did not distinguish herself. Part of the problem was motivation. “Let’s just say that I did not share the philosophy of the Reagan administration on abortion rights, or on U.S. involvement in Latin America.”
Shaw Hardy broke with the GOP and moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where she started fundraising for non-profits and working with Martha Taylor of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. In 1991, Taylor and Shaw Hardy founded the forerunner to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, which became part of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University (IU) in 2004. Shaw Hardy has served as an adjunct professor in philanthropy at IU, and in the 1990s was head of development at her alma mater, Western Michigan University. Regardless of her position, she has maintained a focus on women donors, and has written six books on the topic, many of them collaborations with Taylor, including the 2010 volume Women and Philanthropy: Boldly Shaping a Better World.
Now Shaw Hardy is embarking on another journey in shaping a better world by launching Women’s Giving Circles International. The organization’s website is under construction, and plans are afoot to make more ripple effects in the giving circle movement, this time worldwide.