“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.
Women comprise a large and growing percentage of the global workforce, yet they often work under unhealthy and difficult conditions, including harassment and violence, that are damaging to them, and to their families and communities. In textile, garment and shoe manufacturing, as well as flower farming and tea, coffee, and cocoa processing, women comprise 50 to 80 percent of the workforce. Many of these female workers are underpaid and suffer from pervasive gender discrimination.
The Tegan and Sara Foundation, founded by the eponymous indie/folk/pop musical duo, has partnered with shoemaker Teva to launch a limited-edition, multi-colored sandal to support the LGBTQ+ community. The elevated rainbow sandal celebrates Pride Month, and Teva will donate a portion of sales to the Tegan and Sara Foundation (TSF).
TSF “fights for health, economic justice and representation for LGBTQ girls and women.” Launched in 2016 on a commitment to feminism and racial, social and gender justice, TSF is in solidarity with other organizations fighting for LGBTQ and women’s rights. The Foundation raises awareness and funds to address the inequalities currently preventing LGBTQ girls and women from reaching their full potential.
Feminist philanthropy is designed to change the world.
Sometimes it works slowly, dollar by dollar, woman by woman and girl by girl, as we each come to realize that there are issues in this world we strongly disagree with — issues that we can take a stand against. In other cases, feminist philanthropy finds huge momentum in large-dollar donations, and campaigns leap forward with the assistance of celebrity women and female pioneers who hold significant amounts of the world’s wealth.
The rights of women, girls, and LGBTQA+ people around the world are once again coming into question, based on countries’ like the U.S.’s reluctance to commit to championing those rights in the United Nations.
On May 27, 2019, the Women’s UN Report Network (WUNRN) drafted an open letter to United Nations representatives, urging the protection of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) session scheduled for later this year.
Recently I read a post on PRI.org by Rupa Shenoy entitled “The US movement against female genital mutilation is at a crossroads,” which discusses how laws to prevent FGM are developing and facing challenges in the US. The article is very informative about the status of the issue at this time, and helps to explore different ways to address the problem including community education and prevention efforts.
A salient point was made by one of the experts interviewed for the article, Mariya Taher, one of the co-founders of the anti-female genital mutilation advocacy group Sahiyo. With regard to the doctor who performed the genital cutting surgery that was the subject of a federal prosecution on FGM, and who justifies the act as part of a cultural practice, Taher said:
When you think of San Francisco, the first thing to come to mind is probably the Golden Gate Bridge, or the picturesque houses lining multi-million-dollar streets. You likely don’t immediately think of the wealth disparity that Silicon Valley brought to the city’s families, or the racial tensions that still crop up in a “dark blue region of a blue state.”
San Francisco faces the same problems that plague any city of its size. But what if that could change?
The San Francisco Foundation recently announced that it is committing $50 million to “investments that are aligned with its mission to building inclusive prosperity and racial equity in and around San Francisco.” In other words, the Foundation is committing 6.3% of its $800 million endowment to investment opportunities that will be good for the city of San Francisco — and they’re looking to invest with women- and minority-owned asset managers.
Micro-loans, in which poor people are provided small loans so that they can jump-start or grow an enterprise, are often associated with least developed countries, but, according to a new study, this model has proved highly effective when applied to poor American women over the last decade.
The Grameen Bank model was pioneered in Bangladesh during the 1970s and 80s, and aimed to reduce poverty through the provision of loans, financial training, and peer support to those unable to access traditional credit mechanisms. It turned out a that small amount of funds enabling the purchase of such basics as tools, seeds, and livestock enabled many to lift themselves out of the most desperate kinds of poverty.
In 2014, Sweden made waves by becoming the first country across the globe to adopt an explicitly feminist foreign policy. Drawing both controversy and acclaim, the foreign policy was the first of its kind to focus so pointedly on international gender equality across every level of government. Since Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was confirmed to a second term on Jan. 18, 2019, activists have called for even more emphasis on continuing the successes of the feminist foreign policy.
But what exactly is a feminist foreign policy? In Sweden’s case, the policy focused on funding initiatives across the three “Rs” in which women tend to be underserved and neglected: resources, representation, and rights. Donors who are interested in promoting gender equality through their efforts and outreach can look to the Swedish model of feminist foreign policy to know where to begin.
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.”