An excellent new development in the giving circle realm: The H100 Latina Giving Circle recently launched at the Texas Women’s Foundation (TWF). It was formed by the Hispanic 100 Network to further engage Latinas in philanthropy, and expand resources for local organizations empowering, educating and supporting Latinas.
H100 joins three other TWF hosted giving circles: Orchid Giving Circle, HERitage Giving Fund and The Village Giving Circle. The Hispanic 100 Network—founded in 1996 by prominent Dallas/Fort Worth area Latinas in business, education, arts, health, politics and community leadership—is helping launch the Circle by providing $50,000 in matching funds.
Here in the Northeast, we don’t tend to envision Texas as having a culture of diversity and women’s empowerment. But Texas is actually one of the most diverse states in the union. Currently, 68% of women ages 15 to 24 are women of color. The reality for the biggest state in the union is that the minority is the majority among young people. Texas is also home to one of the country’s largest women’s foundations, the Texas Women’s Foundation (TWF). Previously known as the Dallas Women’s Foundation, in 2018, it rebranded as a statewide endeavor with plans to increase its impact across all regions of the Lone Star State.
Big news for giving circle members and fans: The Catalist 2020 National Conference will be held from Feb. 23 to the 25 in Seattle, Washington. Catalist is a network and umbrella organization for women’s collective-giving grantmaking organizations. The conference will be hosted at the Motif Hotel by the Washington Women’s Foundation (WaWF), a Catalist member organization that will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.
The WaWF is a fitting host for the 2020
conference, because it was launched by Catalist founding board member Colleen
Willoughby in 1995. And, in 2009, Willoughby brought together collective giving
leaders from across the U.S., spurring the creation of the Women’s Collective
Giving Grantmakers Network (WCGN), now Catalist.
Quite a lot has happened in just a year’s time here at Philanthropy Women. We thought it would be helpful to let readers know about how this initiative is changing and evolving.
The impact of Philanthropy Women has increased significantly. Now in our second year, our writers, including myself, are more experienced and able to explore subjects more deeply and make more connections. Our amplification of content on social media has also increased. We are receiving more requests for media coverage, and our content has been sought for republication on high visibility venues. We have been able to attract top talent for writers, including Julia Travers, Laura Dorwart, Maggie May, and Tim Lehnert.
Giving circles bring people together to
practice collective philanthropy. In the same spirit, representatives of giving
circles and giving circle networks across the U.S. are now convening to build
power. In April 2019, 82 members of dozens of giving circles in the U.S. met
for two days in Seattle, Washington, to share stories, hopes and plans for
building a stronger giving circle movement. Women are playing a leading role in
Giving Circles Grow and Set Goals
Giving circles allow friends, neighbors, families and people with
religious, civil, cultural and other connections to learn about issues of
shared concern and decide where to donate their money. They are usually
created by women and/or members of ethnic minority, LGBTQ or other marginalized groups — those who
typically hold a lesser share of power and money in the U.S. — though many
open their doors to anyone with common values. Women make up most of their
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.”
Editor’s Note: Fascinating things are going on in the realm of giving circles and community giving projects. We are pleased to share this piece by Cheyenna Layne Weber, one of the founders of Solidarity Economy Giving Project in New York City, which aims to bring together donors in new ways.
From Cheyenna Layne Weber:
There are more than 2,000 solidarity economy organizations in New York City, most of them founded and maintained by women. These democratic, member-led groups take different legal forms, but hold certain values in common—social and racial justice, ecological sustainability, mutualism, and cooperation. They include low-income credit unions; cooperatives providing food, affordable housing, and childcare; cooperatives of farmers and workers; community gardens and land trusts; and community-supported agriculture. Together, these form a solidarity economy based on meeting material needs rather than making profits. (Explore these models in this short video.)
Women form solidarity economy organizations as creative solutions to systemic oppression faced in workplaces, families, housing, food systems, and financial institutions. Latinx women in Staten Island formed worker co-operatives that operate cleaning or childcare businesses while providing living wages and control over working conditions. Bangladeshi women in East New York grow food for their families in a community garden they control. In the Bronx in the 1980s, low-income women formed affordable housing co-operatives , which endure despite rising real estate values. Around that time, women of the Lower East Side formed a low-income credit union that not only continues to serve the immigrant community but has expanded to Harlem and Staten Island. In all five boroughs, no matter the race or ethnicity of the community, women are building a solidarity economy.
So why have you never heard of it? The erasure of women’s labor in the home has been well-documented, and a similar dynamic emerges for women’s labor in communities and workplaces. This is especially true when the labor is not designed to add value for shareholders of a corporation, but rather benefits the community members who control and make use of the services of a solidarity economy organization. Many innovative women are also overlooked because they do not fit patriarchy’s conception of the entrepreneur: white, male, affluent, able-bodied, straight, and Christian. Thus, dominant institutions like government, philanthropy, and the private sector have little understanding of the incredible entrepreneurial role women often take up, and until recently had expressed little interest in learning more. This is beginning to change as cities like New York and philanthropists such as Robin Hood Foundation have begun investing in worker co-operatives to ameliorate poverty.
But it is not enough. Solidarity economy organizations often lack funding, especially those run by and serving women who are of color, immigrants, low-income, disabled, queer and/or trans. While a few co-op loan funds and investors offer capital (such as The Working World or Cooperative Fund of New England), it is almost impossible for these women to find micro-grants to cover costs like training and technical assistance, crowdfunding matches, emergency support, or event sponsorships. Of the available grants, arduous application processes, requiring professional grant-writing or prior relationships to power (such as alumni networks), exclude women working within solidarity economy organizations.
To meet this gap young philanthropists and organizers created the Solidarity Economy Giving Project (SEGP). A program of the Cooperative Economics Alliance of New York City (CEANYC),a democratic membership organization for NYC-based, solidarity economy enterprises, the Giving Project is the only solidarity economy grantmaking effort in the United States controlled by grassroots leaders. The Project includes a multi-racial, multi-gender, and intergenerational Giving Circle whose members each give a minimum $2,000 gift annually and jointly host a fundraising party. Giving Circle members lead the program, which includes learning from local solidarity economy leaders about their work; developing an analysis of racialized capitalism; building skills to improve social justice philanthropy; and plenty of time to enjoy being with others dedicated to redistributing their wealth to address capitalism’s harmful impacts. Members also encourage each other to do more than just move money — to also become advocates and participants in the solidarity economy. Organizers initially hoped to raise $15,000 in the pilot year and ultimately raised $50,000. Now midway through year two, the Project has raised $61,000 in total.
Grassroots leaders designed the grantmaking process, which includes a very brief application and a reduced reporting structure. The grantmaking committee is comprised of the elected members of CEANYC’s Board of Directors. SEGP donors do not participate in fund disbursement, and grantees are not burdened by site visits or extensive interviews with funders. Instead, donors trust the solidarity economy community to distribute these funds. This transfer of control flies in the face of traditional philanthropy, where a donor’s name is often affixed to a gift, and breaks with the convention of foundation-based Giving Projects where full-time staff support participants in grantmaking decisions.
The impact of the Giving Project has been profound, even in its first full year of grantmaking in 2018. Grants included support for:
Nine women (seven women of color) to attend cooperative leadership trainings;
An affordable housing co-op in Brooklyn to prepare a vacant unit for a new family;
Manhattan community gardens to provide programs for low-income Latinx children;
Expanded staffing and ownership opportunities at catering and food processing worker co-ops led by people of color; and
Crowdfunding matches for a healthcare co-operative and a new food co-op that both serve Brooklyn communities of color.
The SEGP is something that like-minded donors could do in any city, and it is sorely needed. (Check out the solidarity economy in your area!) Whereas most funding is piecemeal,such as support for community gardens by health funders or credit unions by Community Reinvestment Act funds— we need resources to unify these disparate models in a single solidarity economy vision.
The Hildegard Fund and Economic Justice grantmaking of New York Women’s Foundation and the new Solidarity Economy Initiative funders collaborative in Massachusetts are promising steps by funders in support of a united solidarity economy rests on the power and potential of women’s leadership. Key to such efforts is acknowledging that this work must be self-directed from the grassroots, and that resources must flow to under-resourced, dedicated innovators, not to well-connected charismatic white men or existing grantees who happen upon co-ops as a good idea they want to adopt.
A solidarity economy that meets all of our needs and welcomes all of our contributions is possible. The Solidarity Economy Giving Project is a small step in that direction.
We welcome any opportunity to support others who want to implement a similar program. Reach us at any time via firstname.lastname@example.org.
With $200,000 in new funding, sex worker organizations and advocates across the U.S. will have more resources to address safety, worker’s rights, and political power in the new year. Third Wave Fund, a 20-year-old foundation, recently announced its inaugural grantees from the first and only Sex Worker Giving Circle, a new collective created by the fund in 2018.
This new giving circle is unique in many ways. The Sex Worker Giving Circle (SWGC) is the first sex worker-led fund housed at a U.S. foundation. SWGC consisted of 10 Fellows who were trained and supported by Third Wave Fund in order to raise more than $100,000 of the grant funding, design the grant-making process, and decide which organizations would receive funding grants, which ranged from $6,818 to $21,818.
“Sex worker organizing is both more necessary and more under-funded than ever. The SWGC is a critical new funding source for sex worker movements,” said SWGC Fellow Janis Luna, referencing the “increasing discrimination and violence under SESTA/FOSTA” that many sex workers report they are facing. The SESTA/FOSTA laws passed in 2018, which seek to end online sex trafficking, were both celebrated and sharply criticized by different parts of the feminist community. Some feminists, such as Mary Mazzio, director of the film I Am Jane Doe, which shed light on the tragic sex trafficking of children in America, supported passage of the laws, while other groups like Survivors Against SESTA, argue that the laws are driving sex workers back into exploitative situations with pimps, and back onto the street where they face increased harassment and criminalization.
SWGC Fellow Janis Luna says that many sex workers today “are struggling to make ends meet” and need all the support philanthropy can provide. In general, philanthropy tends to avoid the subject of sex workers and their rights, leaving only a tiny sliver of funding, $1.1 million for the entire U.S., going to aid and support sex workers.
Rhode Island recently experienced a bit more interface with the sex worker community as one of the state’s longest-standing strip clubs, The Foxy Lady, was shut down by the city of Providence for promoting prostitution. Employees of the shut-down club came forward on Facebook with a GoFundMe page, and comments from community feminist leaders ranged from supporting the fundraiser to suggesting that now would be a good time to organize a worker’s union and reopen with a better workplace environment. Stories like Rhode Island’s suggest there is a great deal of work to be done to ensure that women’s health and safety are a priority in sex work.
SWGC grants will go toward projects to build power and well-being within sex worker communities. In New Orleans, Women With A Vision will be using part of its new grant to organize their second annual Black & Brown Sex Workers event called Second Line. Other grantees such as WeCareTN (Memphis) and The Outlaw Project (Phoenix) will use grant funds to support trans women of color sex workers as they advocate for increased safety, employment, and political power.
It was an amazing year for women’s philanthropy. Amid an increasingly hostile political climate, women managed to get elected to public office in record numbers, partially due to the influence of women donors. In addition, the events of #MeToo and the Kavanaugh hearings served to highlight how prevalent sexual assault and harassment are, and how far we still have to go to become a culture that truly values women and prioritizes their safety and equality.
Our top posts here at Philanthropy Women were focused on emerging leadership for the sector as well as noteworthy strategies for giving. We profiled unique givers like Abigail Disney, and talked with new strategists in the field like LaTosha Brown. These posts highlight a diverse array of ways that women’s philanthropy is forging new ground and bringing needed attention to a wide range of social and cultural issues.
#1: Bringing on New Leadership for Women Moving Millions
With the advent of new technologies to accelerate donating money and distributing grants, giving circles are the cutting edge of how many communities are finding and funding their causes. Now, a significant group of giving circles and funders are coming together to enhance the potential for giving circles to impact the philanthropy landscape.
This new partnership is led by five giving circles and collective giving networks, many of which bring unique social and cultural foci to the collaboration. These five networks are coming together to “engage dozens of stakeholders across the philanthropic sector to design efficient and effective infrastructure to scale and strengthen the American giving circle movement.”
How are these giving circles finding the resources to grow the American giving circle movement? From some of the largest and most powerful funders in today’s philanthropy landscape. These funders include “Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Lodestar Foundation, Delores Barr Weaver, and Global Impact,” according to a press release announcing the project.
According to the Collective Giving Research Group, giving circles are a growing phenomenon in the United States, with the number of giving circles tripling over the past two decades to more than 1,500 in 2016. The research also shows that giving circles are responsible for as much as $1.29 billion in giving, and currently engage $150,000 people in the U.S.
The Five Giving Circles/Networks participating in this new collaboration are:
Amplifier: Advisory Board Member Felicia Herman is leading her organization’s involvement in this new collaboration. Amplifier’s mission is to “grow the movement of intentional, collaborative giving by building and sustaining giving circles inspired by Jewish values.”
Asian Women Giving Circle & Faces of Giving: Hali Lee is the contributing partner in this new collaboration. Asian Women Giving Circle is “first and largest giving circle in the nation led by Asian American women.” Lee is also a co-founder of Faces of Giving, which seeks to organize and empower giving in “minority, ethnic, immigrant and new American communities.”
Community Investment Network: CIN is a national network of giving circles working to cultivate giving leadership in communities of color in order to influence mainstream philanthropy. CIN Chair Marsha Morgan will be working with the new giving circle project.
Latino Giving Circle Network : Comprised of 18 giving circles, LGCN describes itself as “the largest network of Latino donors united by a shared sense of justice and generosity.” Sara Velten, Vice President of Philanthropy for LGCN, will be engaging with this initiative.
Bringing in the Big Funders
Anchor funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for this initiative is a great indicator of how the large foundation may be pivoting further in the direction of feminist philanthropy. Readers of Philanthropy Women will recall that The Gates Foundation recently hosted both Women Moving Millions and the Women’s Funding Network in Seattle, in order to further explore and support strategies around gender-based giving. The Gates Foundation’s commitment to this new effort for giving circles suggests that the organization is being further influenced in the direction of democratizing philanthropy and making it part of the experience of more people. This new support also suggests that the Gates Foundation is funding multiple strategies to support giving by women. Research shows that giving circles are heavily female-dominated, with women leading 640 of the 706 giving circles surveyed by the University of Indiana in 2017.
Discovering and Capitalizing on Giving Circles
Donors, including large foundations, are discovering that starting a giving circle is a great way to infuse more money into the causes they care about. Simultaneously, women’s philanthropy is growing in new directions, and one catalyst for this growth is women’s giving circles.
A prime example of a donor building out terrain in giving circles is Delores Barr Weaver, one of the funders of this new giving circle infrastructure-building project. Barr Weaver is one of five founders of the Women’s Giving Alliance of Jacksonville, a 473-member giving circle initiated by The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. Barr Weaver is also a Women Moving Millions member, and is invested in advancing rights for girls and young women in her community, particularly those at-risk because of juvenile justice or child protective issues.