Activist women donors are the wave of the future for social change. Activism is an essential part of feminist philanthropy. Women donors are often hyper-conscious of their inner-outer integrity as feminists, and work hard to align their activism with their giving. See how women donors take action with feminist activist giving for social change.
Editor’s Note: The following opinion piece by Xiomara Corpeño is part of a series being provided by Philanthropy Women to help identify and address growing threats to global human rights, particularly for vulnerable groups.
Several weeks ago, I woke up to the sound of my mother’s TV broadcasting the local morning news. “Breaking News! President Trump has reinstated a ban on Transgender troops this morning.” The White House later issued policy guidelines titled, A Guidance Policy for Open Transgender Service Phase Out, which would impact 15,000 trans service members.
Timing couldn’t be better. Today, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it will give $20 million over the next three years to empower women’s organizations globally.
The news comes on the same day that Equal Measures 2030 released a Gender Report along with the Gates Foundation and ONE Campaign Coalition at the United Nations General Assembly, taking place this week in New York.
Some of the new funding from the Gates Foundation will go toward better research and training, as well as multiplying support for grassroots activism in the gender equality sector of development.
One big step forward for the Republican party, one big step backward for women leaders in politics. The graph here kind of says it all — we’re back to a Republican president and low, low numbers of women in cabinet leadership positions.
Another thing you’ll notice on the graph: the percentage of women in cabinet positions under President Bill Clinton was higher both terms (31.8% for his first term and 40.9% for his second term) than the percentage of women in cabinet positions for Obama’s two terms (30.4% for his first term and 34.8% for his second term). Sigh. Returning to the Clinton dynasty is starting to look better all the time, particularly for women’s leadership.
Editor’s Note: This is an editorial by Ashindi Maxton, who is a Senior Advisor for the Women Donors Network (WDN), one of our Spotlight Organizations. The editorial tells the story of how WDN and its allies have been able to effectively bring in more partners to fund the resistance. As Ms. Maxton points out, the Threshold Fund and the Democracy Alliance joined WDN and Solidaire to expand the Emergent Fund, amplifying the ability of that fund to protect and empower marginalized communities.
From Ashindi Maxton:
Philanthropy in the U.S. has never faced a moment quite like this one. New threats loom larger over one community after another in steady sequence and core norms of equity and democracy feel suddenly unstable.
Muslim-Americans face hate crimes and travel bans. Immigrant communities face criminalization and deportations. Women face attacks on reproductive rights. Black and Latino communities face attacks on civil liberties, including voting rights and police violence. LGBTQ communities face a loss of the most basic protections in employment and public safety.
As the level of threats we are facing increases, philanthropy must also elevate our level of response. The philanthropic community cannot meet this rapid barrage of unpredictable threats using our traditional models. Instead, we must question some of our own core assumptions.
A few best practices we could begin to question include funding driven by rigid long-term planning, extensive organization vetting, and decisions made entirely by donors or foundation staff who are removed from the crises at hand. We have to ask ourselves if our funding models seize the tremendous opportunity of the historical and political moment.
The Women Donors Network (WDN) and Solidaire, two networks of individual donors committed to funding movements for racial and social justice, shared a key question, “How can our work rise to the level of these crises?”
Two driving principles for our response: responding at the speed of the threats and placing radical trust in the threatened communities to develop their own solutions.
With these principles as the foundation, we built a funding partnership for rapid response called “The Emergent Fund.” The name refers to “emergent strategy,” solutions that fluidly adapt to rapidly changing conditions. Our shared vision was for the Emergent Fund to support the work of threatened communities to build their own new reality — one that emerges on the other side of crisis and supports organizing that uses the energy of the moment to build powerful new thinking as envisioned by community leaders.
Foundation staff and wealthy donors often do not reflect the communities most at risk in this moment. Mainstream philanthropy is anchored in a conviction that people with advanced degrees and sophisticated titles are best positioned to solve social problems although they are the furthest removed from impacted communities. Knowledge of those communities is too often considered irrelevant in hiring or decisionmaking.
The Emergent Fund, on the contrary, was based on the premise that expertise lives in the communities we want to support.
The process we used to ensure that the expertise of community members drives and informs our funding decisions was steeped in networking with community leaders.
We started by calling the organizers and community leaders, most affected by today’s political moment, that we knew and asked about needs and approaches to this work and criteria we could use to allocate funding.
Next, we formed a brilliant decision-making advisory council of eleven well-respected and networked community leaders and funder representatives with community organizing backgrounds. This group of mostly women included Latinx, Black, Asian, Arab-American, Muslim, Native, White, and LGBTQ members.
We designed an easy application form, available on our website for anyone to apply, based on our mutually agreed on criteria.
Finally, we asked a second set of diverse activist leaders from across many communities to serve as a Nominations Network, to let others know about the Emergent Fund, to vet strong proposals, and to provide feedback to inform funding decisions.
This model, adapted from other models like the North Star fund and Marguerite Casey Foundation, which have been doing activist advised funding for many years, was based on curating thoughtful decision-makers with expertise in the communities we wanted to support. In every conversation, we learned about critical dynamics previously overlooked or ignored by other philanthropy colleagues.
Two additional networks of progressive donors, the Threshold Fund and the Democracy Alliance, joined our effort. In the first few months of 2017, their individual donors helped to raise over one million dollars allocated directly to communities most in need.
As we reflect on the lessons learned from the initial launch of the Emergent Fund, one thing is clear: any funder concerned with social change should be grappling to answer this question, “Who is best equipped to solve the challenges facing the most threatened communities?”
Philanthropy cannot presume expertise over the people whose lives are most directly impacted in this moment. Rising to historical moments should mean letting go of practices that have not served us or these communities well. Now is the time to experiment with and adopt new funding and leadership models led by people forming responses and vision from their own lived experience.
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Ashindi Maxton is a senior advisor and funding strategist for the Women Donors Network (WDN) with extensive work in democratic reform, racial justice, and education. The Women Donors Network, a community of more than 200 progressive women donors who invest their energy, strategic savvy, and philanthropic dollars to build a just and fair world.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about becoming a Philanthropy Women Spotlight Organization, please contact us.Read More
“Receiving the Smashing Silos award means the tides are turning,” said Groundswell Executive Director Vanessa Daniel. “The leaders and organizations we support are on the front lines of every major issue we face right now. They bring the lived experience, the knowledge, the strategy and the vision our movements need.”
The “Smashing Silos” Award is validation of Groundswell’s fast-growing approach, which prioritizes women of color, low-income women and transgender people. Groundswell Fund is one of four recipients of the prestigious NCRP award. The other awardees are the Foundation for Louisiana which will receive the “Mover and Shaker” award for bold peer organizing, Meyer Memorial Trust will receive the “Changing Course” Award for incorporating feedback, and Solutions Project will receive the “Get Up, Stand Up” Award for rapid-response grantmaking.
This is the 5th Anniversary of NCRP’s Impact Awards. NCRP’s mission is to promote philanthropic responsiveness to the needs of underserved communities, as well as to enhance philanthropic accountability and effectiveness. The Impact Awards honor top grantmakers committed to diversity and inclusion that strengthens marginalized communities. NCRP has given out 19 Impact Awards since 2013. A full list of past NCRP Impact Awardees is available here.
Based in Oakland, California, Groundswell Fund has made major advances for funding the resistance, particularly around the needs of women of color and LGBTQ people of color. Its Liberation Fund, which we wrote about here, has now secured $500,000 in funding for its first set of grants, and has recruited “15 prominent advisors from across environmental, racial and economic justice, to immigrant, Native and transgender rights,” according to the press release about the award. Groundswell plans to announce its first set of grantees this Fall 2017.
We know that childcare needs to be valued and supported for society to thrive. Yet, time and again, we leave parents, particularly low-income and young parents, out of the picture for access to childcare.
Today, a new study released by the Ms. Foundation for Women validated that state and local officials need to take the reigns and steer their community toward economic growth by funding access to childcare.
“Our approach has not only helped the local organizations achieve policy gains, but also provided necessary resources to develop intersectional leadership in grassroots organizations,” said Aleyamma Mathew, Director of Economic Justice at the Ms. Foundation for Women. “To achieve economic security in the Trump era, we have to win on the state and local level,” she added.
While awareness about gender and racial bias has been growing in nonprofits and foundations, particularly over the past 30 years, the leadership of those organizations has primarily remained white, straight and male. One foundation has been steadily fighting to change that, though, and now, its fight is more important than ever.
Third Wave Fund has been around for over 25 years, and is celebrating its 20-year anniversary as a foundation. The fund was founded by Rebecca Walker, daughter of renowned writer Alice Walker, and Dawn Lundy Martin, Catherine Gund, and Amy Richards, who recognized the extreme underfunding of grassroots feminist activism, and set out to remedy this funding gap.
Last night I watched I am Jane Doe on Netflix. Narrated by actress and social justice advocate Jessica Chastain, the documentary reveals the money and power behind sex trafficking of children, primarily girls, in America.
It’s a horrifying story, but one that is important to know if you are a gender justice advocate, since it gets at the reasons why child sex trafficking, aided by internet hubs like Backpage, is a large and growing business in America.
The inability to end the practice of websites like Backpage.com advertising child prostitutes revolves around the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230, which protects internet providers who publish information provided by another source. Backpage.com has been able to effectively use Section 230 to shield itself from legal challenges brought by the mothers of children who have been sex trafficked.
The biggest defenders of Section 230 are the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, both of which have filed Amicus Briefs in support of Backpage, helping that corporation continue to make millions in profits off child prostitution.
The documentary tracks the progress that advocates for ending child sex trafficking have made in the past decade, but this fight is far from over. Particularly in light of today’s political landscape, where conservatives are gaining power, it is an uphill battle for gender justice advocates who want to find a way to protect free speech while also protecting children, primarily girls, from being irreparably harmed by exploitation and sex trafficking.
The film contains interviews with both the mothers who have filed lawsuits against Backpage.com, and the middle-school daughters who suffered exploitation, partially due to Backpage.com allowing sex traffickers to use code words in order to advertise the girls. Although Backpage.com claimed they were trying to prevent child sex trafficking by “moderating” the advertisements, lawyers for the child victims argue that the moderators were coached in how to let through code words and phone numbers that would allow the practice of selling children for sex to continue.
The film is directed by Mary Mazzio, Babson College Filmmaker In Residence, and Founder and CEO of the film’s Producer, 50 Eggs Production. Many important nonprofits working to end child sex trafficking are featured in the film, including Polaris Project and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Supporters of the film include the Jeb Charitable Fund, the Lovelight Foundation, the Angel Foundation, John H. Carlson, and Babson College.
As I continue to survey the landscape of gender equality giving, I am occasionally struck by a particularly effective corporate model for supporting this work. One of the most stunning examples of how corporations can turn their dollars around for the cause of women’s rights is CREDO Mobile, which has been funding gender equality movements for the past three decades.
CREDO Mobile grew out of Working Assets, one of the early corporations to grasp the idea of the potential for funding nonprofits via business. The company started as a long distance provider, and then went into credit cards. One of the company’s first credit card products was a card that generated donations to progressive nonprofits with every use.
Today, CREDO Mobile is led by Ray Morris, who spoke to me from his San Francisco office. Morris has only been CEO of CREDO for a year and a half, but his voice swells with pride and awe at the work CREDO has done, and will continue to do, to fund progressive movements with their business model.
In fact, gender equality accounts for about 11.7% of CREDO’s funding for progressive causes, since the company estimates making a total of $84 million in contributions since its founding, with an estimated $9.9 million of that going to women’s issues. This means CREDO is beating out philanthropy as a whole in its funding of gender equality, since estimates of the percentage of foundation funding going for women and girls range from 5-7%.
How does CREDO do it? “Every month we give $150,000 to 3 groups that are chosen by an internal committee that represents every working department of our company,” said Morris, in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women. These funds go for a wide range of progressive causes, including gender equality nonprofits like Women for Afghan Women, NARAL, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
In this way, employees of CREDO are actively engaged in decision-making around the company’s giving, and the company’s gender equality giving goes to support a wide range of gender equality nonprofits. CREDO is the largest corporate funder of Planned Parenthood and a significant funder for the Ms. Foundation, the Global Fund for Women, and the Feminist Majority, but it also funds groups doing grassroots work like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, which takes a multi-dimensional approach to helping women get empowered, from health to education to political involvement. When the National Latina Institute recently presented at CREDO Mobile, Morris said it was a profound experience for him, realizing the power of their work. “It made such an impact on me that I was crying in the background,” he said.
“So from very large to very small, we’re doing everything we can to push into these areas and support women’s empowerment,” he said, which goes beyond reproductive rights and into addressing issues like the wage gap and women in political leadership.
Morris emphasized the value of CREDO’s funding of voter registration and other grassroots activism that impacts political representation, coming back to the point that until we have more women in political leadership, it will be an uphill battle to fund gender equality efforts.
But Morris sees hope for more growth in gender equality funding. “What I find is that everyone is starting to piece it together. Everyone is starting to connect the dots that gender equality in healthcare, pay equality, involvement in the legislative process, is all part of the same story of women’s empowerment.”
“The only way it changes is with more women in the legislative process,” said Morris. “If there were more women involved, would there be having an all-out war on women’s reproductive rights? Probably not.”
So how is CREDO working to get more women into government? By funding nonprofits that take a multidimensional approach.
Morris said that due diligence on that funding is key to the process of closing the political leadership gap. “We ask nonprofits, ‘What are you doing with this money?’ and ‘How have our past grants helped you?” We analyze the data, so that when you see the nonprofits we fund year after year, it’s groups that are highly effective, and groups that are highly effective are generally working in a multidimensional way.”
I thought I’d try picking Morris’s executive brain, so I asked him what he would do if he was the CEO of a foundation that was worth $50 million and made $5 million a year in grants for gender equality. How would he portion out the grants, and would he give more weight to getting women into office?
“I would never pretend to be a high level executive woman. My IQ would likely go up by about 100 points,” he quipped. “But we know for a fact that there are national groups that are good at getting headlines, but are not able to point to real social accomplishments. At the same time, we can point to certain groups and say ‘these people move the ball.’ We’re going to look at organizations that are measurably effective at pushing their agenda.”
Morris gave the question a bit more thought and then added, “My guess is, if I were a high level executive woman at a foundation, I would know that my approach needed to be multidimensional, and so that would include opening clinics in underserved areas, it would include people on the ground knocking on doors to get women voting and running for office. And it would also include finding like-minded people, both men and women in the House and Senate, and helping those people campaign effectively so that we can make those changes in the long term.”
In the age of Trump, let’s hope more corporations take a page from CREDO’s playbook and figure out how to be part of the solution, particularly for gender equality. “We know that no one in the world has enough money to solve these problems,” said Morris. “So we know we’re going to need to influence the larger players of business and government.”
Check out this list of CREDO Mobile’s funding for gender equality to get a full picture of how CREDO is working this terrain.
At CREDO, where I serve as CEO, we are executing an aggressive response to Trump that focuses on protecting vulnerable communities at risk, delegitimizing an unqualified candidate who was opposed by a majority of voters, obstructing Trump’s hateful and aggressive agenda and going on the counterattack wherever possible. Our community of more than 4.7 million CREDO activists is mobilized and already fighting Trump. We know firsthand that individual actions can avalanche into large-scale transformation.
We also contribute more than $150,000 every month to progressive nonprofits from revenue generated by CREDO Mobile, our progressive phone company. That adds up to more than $1.6 million this year and over $81 million over our 30+ years in business.
My top priority is to protect America’s least-privileged and most-vulnerable people. In many ways, I feel like I’ve lived the American dream. I grew up poor with a single mother of four kids. She fought every day to put food on the table and build a better life for us. Thanks to her, I was able to achieve success in engineering and the telecom industry.
That path allowed me to see my own privilege and understand how doors that I walked through in the past were less open for those of different races and ethnicities. I am afraid that even those small openings are slamming shut.
Women in philanthropy: Check out Hala Ayala in Virginia, as part of an inspiring wave of women running for office in the state, which is having its elections this year. Hala Ayala is doing the very important work of standing up for what is right in an environment increasingly hostile to women and immigrants.
In Prince William County, Hala Ayala is hoping to bring her values of empowerment for women and equality for all to Richmond, and at the same time, send home one of Virginia’s leading anti-choice, anti-immigrant delegates.