For a foundation started in 1972 by four white women (Gloria Steinem, Patricia Carbine, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Marlo Thomas), the Ms. Foundation has been one of the frontrunner funders pushing to increase strategic focus on women and girls of color. Currently, this oldest and first foundation for women is on year one of a five-year strategic plan to invest in women and girls of color, for the purpose of advancing democracy and creating a more gender equal country and world.
Among other goals, the five-year plan allocates $25 million toward organizations led by and for women of color. “Women of color have been on the frontlines of nearly every movement in this country — from reproductive rights, immigrant rights, and civil rights, to economic justice, and criminal justice reform,” notes Teresa C. Younger, Ms. Foundation for Women President and CEO.
On October 17th, 2019, the Women’s Foundation of California (WFoC) celebrated its fortieth anniversary with a major announcement: the organization pledged $40 million to gender justice, and began its groundbreaking campaign to raise the funds to facilitate another forty years of gender justice grantmaking.
Less than a month later, the WFoC is more than halfway to its goal of $40 million. This stunning fundraising effort is the result of a steadfast community of donors, supporters, and activists, which the Foundation has built over forty years of campaigning for social change.
Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Suzanne Lerner, activist, philanthropist, and co-founder and president of fashion brand Michael Stars. She serves on the board of the Ms. Foundation, ERA Coalition, and A Call to Men, as well as being a member of Women Moving Millions and Women Donors Network. To learn more about Suzanne, go to www.suzannelerner.com.
What is the most important message people need to understand about why gender equality is so important?
“Join other people who are passionate about what you’re passionate about, and things will just happen.”
This is how my interview ended with Leah Margulies, a longstanding figure in the world of activism and corporate
accountability. A civil rights lawyer, a policy maker, an attorney, an author –
Leah’s resume stretches across almost five decades of powerful work. Her career
represents the best possible outcome when philanthropy and activism intersect –
years of positive action, progress, and the ability to look back and see how
far we’ve come.
The second interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Caryl Stern, the CEO of UNICEF USA who recently announced she will be leaving the organization after 13 years.
What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
I wish I had known that I would succeed. I don’t think in my wildest dreams I thought I would end up as CEO, and it would have been great to know that from the very beginning! And, I wish I had known from the very beginning to just be yourself at work. I grew into that and it’s something that I learned from experience in my role – it definitely served me well.
What is your current greatest professional challenge?
Great news for theatre buffs in Rhode Island: a new collaborative, formed a year ago, is now taking off to produce more dramatic works by women. Named WomensWork Theatre Collaborative and headed by Creative Director Lynne Collinson, they will present a trio of plays about madness in 2019 and 2020.
WomensWorkRI Theatre Collaborative describes itself as “a creative collective designed to promote theatrical opportunities for women of all ages. A major mission focus is to provide leadership roles – on and off stage — for women over the age of 40.”
“WomensWork has chosen three plays – all written by women — that examine the ways madness manifests itself in women’s lives, whether from the strain of caring for a parent with a deteriorating mind, the seismic change brought about by midlife crisis, or the daily dread faced by women duty-bound to risk their lives for a tyrant,” said Collison, in an announcement rolling out the slate of plays to be produced over the next year.
Do major league sports leaders have a responsibility to model respect for women in everything they do? This question is fresh on the minds of many due to Robert Kraft, philanthropist and owner of the New England Patriots, being charged with two counts of soliciting a prostitute in Florida, where he was allegedly engaging in sex acts with women at Orchids of Asia Salon.
Through his philanthropy, Robert Kraft has funded initiatives specifically aimed at ending sexual exploitation of women and girls. USA Today reports that Kraft gave $100,000 in 2015 to My Life, My Choice, a Boston-based organization that works on ending child sex trafficking. Some might ask how the same man can be both perpetrating sexual exploitation and funding initiatives to end it.
When we last checked in at the newly formed Obama Foundation, the former First Lady Michelle Obama and her husband, President Barack Obama were laying the groundwork for cultivating a new coalition of organizations focused on girls globally.
Through a collaboration with GoFundMe, the Obama Foundation has established the Global Girls Alliance Fund, helping to raise funds for grassroots organizations to make more headway with educating girls. The initiative accepts applications from eligible nonprofits already working to increase educational opportunities for girls.
Now Global Girls Alliance is highlighting a Chicago-based nonprofit named The Women’s Global Education Project and is recognizing the work they are doing both in the field and with a compelling new documentary about female genital mutilation (FGM).
If there’s one thing Linda Davis Taylor thinks there’s too much of, it’s women taking concessions in salary negotiations. As the CEO and Chairman of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors, Taylor is calling on all women to create a culture where women ask for what they deserve at their jobs.
“I still hear so many women say they don’t know how to negotiate their salary, even women in top leadership positions,” said Taylor, in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women. She wants to see women get much more comfortable with having those difficult conversations that ensure equal pay and benefits for work at all levels and in all industries. She also wants to find more ways to ensure that “we start early enough in encouraging women to understand their role in salary negotiation.”
To that end, Taylor recently created a new tool for young women, to help them plan early for a healthy financial life. It’s called How to Build You Financial Power and Take Your Seat at the Table and it offers young women actionable, realistic advice on becoming aware of their money challenges and getting a plan early in life to grow their assets and invest in ways that align with both their long-term financial stability and their core personal values. Taylor sees tremendous potential for young women today to “harness the power of their money in order to shape the world around them.”
Taylor comes from a robust background in women’s education. For part of her career in financial management, she served as Chief Advancement Officer and later Chair of the Board of Trustees for Scripps College, a four-year private women’s college in Claremont, California. “Scripps introduced me to thousands of amazing women,” said Taylor. “My work centered on philanthropy and financial support of the women’s college, but it opened my eyes to so many issues and barriers that women face.”
Taylor saw many women in philanthropic families who “didn’t have an understanding of the financial system as they might, and didn’t feel entitled all the time to make aspirational gifts to their school even if the family had the wealth.” Women’s tendencies to put their own needs last, or at least several notches down on the list, resulted in women not making the same kinds of pledges to their alma maters as men.
But for women today, that is changing. Referencing the research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute on the growing influence of women in philanthropy, Taylor is seizing the opportunity and providing more services that catalyze women’s impact. “Women are more often being given the responsibilities, whether we are ready or not, to take on financial roles in our families. Taylor sees her approach as two-pronged, growing both the “competence and the confidence” that women need to become stronger agents of change with their money.
Taylor’s online guide for young women emphasizes embracing student loans as a reality that must be addressed in the financial plan, and uses language like “financial boundaries” to help young women figure out where to put their money, and how to begin saving early and often.
Taylor’s background for creating the guide includes her work establishing a program at Scripps College in financial literacy, helping young women figure out how to get off to a strong financial start after finishing their degree. “This message needs to be expanded throughout women’s lives, but we need to make sure that we start as early as we can to build in those tools. It’s more challenging for women today because they have student debt and may be working in a job that doesn’t make much money at first,” said Taylor.
As women advance in their careers, Taylor sees many who want to get into gender lens investing with their assets. “It’s all connected right now, there’s this global change with more women being active and involved and vocal, and then they’re recognizing there are so many things they want to directly impact, whether it’s with their job or with their giving.”
But for Taylor, it all starts with a woman developing good financial skills early in life. “To be effective as a donor to any organization you want to support, you first have to develop your own financial habits.” With her work with families, Taylor sees an integral part of that work as raising awareness around the issue of women’s financial empowerment. “We try to take a holistic view when we work with a family. We try to help a family be really clear about their value system and their purpose. Women in particular seem to resonate with that.”
Taylor sees multiple benefits to this approach, helping to connect the family and build trust. She often meets with family members as a group and asks them what it means to be part of their family. “That simple question is a tremendous ice-breaker. Everybody has an answer.” From there, Taylor says the conversation often naturally moves toward discussing values and charitable goals. “Those can be tremendous financial education opportunities with families.”
By focusing on financial empowerment of women, Taylor sees more movement for women to influence social change. “Chances are, they are going to be working longer, living longer, inheriting more wealth, so the power will be moving in that direction.”
Linda Davis Taylor is the CEO and chairman of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors in Pasadena, California, and a champion for women’s economic independence and strength. She is a frequent speaker on wealth transition, family governance, and philanthropy, and author ofThe Business of Family.
All opinions expressed by Linda Davis Taylor are solely her opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors. You should not treat any opinion expressed by Ms. Taylor as a specific recommendation to make a particular investment. Ms. Taylor’s opinions are based upon information she considers reliable.
Eileen R. Heisman, CEO of National Philanthropic Trust (NPT), has a 30 year record of professional achievements in philanthropy, but it all started with being a social worker. I wanted to learn more about Heisman’s early social work origins, and also about how she led NPT from a small nonprofit in 1996 to the $6 billion dollar grantmaking organization it is today, making an indelible imprint on the landscape of modern philanthropy.
When we began our conversation, I asked Heisman to comment on what it felt like to run the country’s largest host organization for Donor Advised Funds. “When I read my own bio, sometimes it feels kind of like an out of body experience,” said Heisman with a chuckle. “But it’s nice to be able to say all those things are true.”
For all the time and energy Heisman has put into growing NPT over the past 22 years, she says the things that have kept her up at night were more parenting-related than work-related. Her children are now young adults and Heisman, now age 64 (“I feel like I’m about 39!”), is still steering NPT toward bigger and better things, with NPT now managing over 7,400 Donor Advised Funds and continuing to grow. NPT has raised over $13 billion in charitable contributions and currently manages $7.4 billion in charitable assets, making it one of top 25 largest grantmaking institutions in the US.
Vision + Decision-Making = Success
With her breadth of experience, I asked Heisman to talk about what attributes she sees as critical to success for philanthropists today.
“Two things are key to success: having a vision and being able to make decisions in a timely way,” said Heisman. “Even if you make a wrong decision from time to time, people want to see leaders who are decisive.”
Heisman emphasized that being able to envision growing the organization is critical, even if plans take a change of direction. “I like planning and I would do a lot of incremental planning about how it was going to work.”
In terms of how to make decisions, Heisman advised, “knowing your conscience and being a great data gatherer,” as a key combination.
While seemingly obvious, Heisman says paying attention to these two key elements — vision and decision-making — will put you leagues ahead as an organizational leader. Next, Heisman credits her ability to hire well and form successful professional relationships with her staff. “Hiring smart people, making sure they have enough resources to do their job, that they’re well trained, and relying on them when you’re not the best person to make a decision,” said Heisman. “I loved the idea of hiring people who were better at something than I was, and giving them the chance to do it.”
Leadership: It’s About the Relationships
I commented on how Heisman depended on relationships to build the strength of NPT as an organization. “I think relationships are almost more important than knowledge sometimes — learning who you can trust, who is a big picture thinker, who is a detail person, who do you go to when you’re upset and angry, who can go to who to process information and they aren’t threatened by it or upset by it.”
For Heisman, this kind of relationship-building is a big key to NPT’s growth over the past two decades. She talked about keeping a close eye on the roster of people around her, choosing carefully who to be in contact with, and what the intent is of the relationship. “I love having those thought partners around me.”
Heisman also described how leaders need to be fluent in dealing with disagreement, and create an environment where people can be different but also stay connected. “So if you have divergent points of view, how do you have civil discourse about it?”
Women’s Leadership and Political Giving
On the role of women in leadership, Heisman expressed frustration at the slow pace of change. “I think that women are really effective leaders, and I’m astounded at how few women are on corporate boards or running publicly traded companies. I find it really sad and unfortunate.”
While criticizing the lack of leadership opportunities for women, Heisman suggested that the most effective way for many high net worth women to influence this problem is through political support for candidates and PACs.
“The way women come to the forefront on topics like gender equality is through PAC’s and supporting campaigns of the leaders taking us there,” said Heisman. She sees tremendous potential for philanthropic women to direct some of their resources toward gender equality political action. “Philanthropy does effect the fringes of how some ideas get started, but the real substantial things happen when the government gets involved.”
Heisman cautioned, though, that NPT’s intent is not to direct donors in giving in any way. “Donors come to us from all different arenas and political points of view,” she said. “I’m in a different position [at NPT] where my personal points of view are really not important. I really have to stay out of that public discourse, and it’s hard sometimes.”
The Potential Chilling Effect of the New Tax Law on Small Nonprofits
I offered Heisman a chance to comment on the effects of the Trump tax laws on charitable giving, particularly the laws which took away the charitable giving deduction for a certain segment of the middle class. “I think small gifts to charities are going to decrease,” said Heisman. “The question is how much. You need two or three or four years of data points to see a trend. Maybe by that time, the tax laws will change back to being more reasonable relative to giving.”
“Another trend is even scarier,” added Heisman. “Twenty million fewer households are giving in the US, but giving is going up. So the wealthier are giving the lion’s share of the gifts in the US and regular everyday households are already giving less. Then we add the tax law change,” said Heisman, and suggested that the new tax law will likely even further exacerbate the trend of reduced giving from small donors and increased giving from the ultra-rich.
“Do we want giving in the US to be only the domain of the ultra wealthy? I think no,” said Heisman. She sees philanthropy’s definition as tied to the definition of a democracy in which people can use charitable giving to organize at the grassroots to improve their communities. “I think the idea that fewer people are giving is concerning,” she said, “And if I were running a small human services charity in a community, I would be concerned right now.”
Heisman described a dynamic whereby high net worth givers get cultivated by hospitals, universities, and research institutions and end up giving large sums in that direction. Meanwhile, small charities have a hard time accessing wealthy individuals, so there is a big division between the haves and the have-nots in how this plays out.
“This is going to be the first time people are trying these new regulations on,” said Heisman. “There’s been a big push on Capitol Hill to have a universal deduction, where people get to deduct every charitable gift regardless of where they stand for income. If I had my wish as a policy maker, that’s what I would be promoting.”