Over the past few years, the #MeToo movement has brought to light the rampant issues of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence that plague many of our communities. Mainstream media has primarily focused on sexual violence and harassment in high-profile industries, such as entertainment, sports, journalism, higher education, and the corporate world.
But the populations most disproportionately affected by sexual violence and harassment are often the same ones that go underserved, both financially and by media coverage. These populations include women of color, trans and nonbinary women, women with disabilities and/or mental illnesses, immigrants and migrants, socioeconomically disadvantaged women, indigenous women, and incarcerated or formerly incarcerated women, among others. Many of these women work in industries where sexual violence is prevalent and often ignored, such as domestic work, restaurants, and hospitality. Workers in these industries often go without the labor protections that can serve as a partial buffer against sexual exploitation.
Women’s leadership is getting more strategic support to improve gender equity in journalism. Recently, Take the Lead announced a new program that is launching with support from both the Ford Foundation and the Democracy Fund. The program is called 50 Women Can Change the World in Journalism, and is aimed at “harness[ing] the collective power of women in journalism to build a more just and equal world,” according to a press release announcing the new endeavor.
Starting this year, 50 women journalists will engage in online and immersive learning with the program. The cohort will work to “re-envision journalism,” a profession dominated by women, but where women rarely make it into the top spots or earn as much as men.
“Women represent more than half of the journalism workforce, but are chronically underrepresented or misrepresented in journalism leadership,” said Gloria Feldt, Co-founder and CEO of Take the Lead. “Inequities within journalism must be rectified.”
To chip away at this inequity, the new journalism program will provide support and ongoing partnership with its first cohort of fifty professional journalists stationed around the country in publishing outlets. “Cohort members for this first #50WomenCan journalism program include many leading figures in communications,” says Feldt. “From The New York Times to The Center for Investigative Journalism to NBC News, our attendees are coming from the industry’s top media outlets.”
The Ford Foundation’s support for this project grows out of its mission to address equality in society. “Gender equity in journalism, as it is in any profession, is needed to ensure that all voices and viewpoints are heard, reflected and respected,” said Farai Chideya, Program Officer for Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation. “50 Women Can Change the World ensures this will happen.”
A powerful coalition of investors is taking action to steer the tech industry toward better practices that protect human rights in the digital age.
This coalition contains some familiar names in the socially responsible investing field such as Pax World Funds and Cornerstone Capital Group, but the largest number of signatories are Sisters of various religious orders: Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and this is only a few of the religious funds signing on to this statement.
Despite the myriad challenges that young Black women face in the U.S. South, only 5.4 percent of all foundation funding in this region is focused on women and girls, and less than 1 percent on Black women and girls. To address this imbalance and empower southern Black females, LaTosha Brown of TruthSpeaks Consulting is coordinating a new initiative called the Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium (the Consortium), with support from the NoVo Foundation (NoVo). Brown has a clear, creative vision for this work, which she plans to orient around listening to Black girls and “Black joy.”
NoVo’s Partnership With Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium
In the fall of 2018, NoVo, one of the largest private foundations advocating for gender equality, announced a partnership with the Consortium, which is a collective of funders, activists, and community leaders. Along with regional grantmaking, the Consortium will coordinate efforts and support opportunities to provide spaces for healing, political education, and capacity building for movements centered on and led by Black females of diverse ages.
Brown, who has a background in philanthropic advisory and social-impact philanthropy, recently spoke with Philanthropy Women to discuss one of the main challenges of advancing this work in a region that has been “deeply, deeply under-invested in.” She sees a “delicate dance and balancing act” ahead as they work to address historical barriers of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism while also creating new programs and avenues of support for Black girls.
“I think part of the challenge is being able to build and tear down at the same time,” says Brown. “To tear down those barriers that have had a disproportionate impact on Black girls, while, at the same time, building a new vision and creating a new framework.”
NoVo’s decision to team up with the Consortium marks the beginning of a new and essential stage in the foundation’s seven-year, $90 million commitment to strengthen its work with women of color in the U.S. — the biggest commitment ever made by a private foundation to address the structural inequities facing this population. In accord with the foundation’s core strategies of valuing the experiences of and empowering those most impacted by social injustice, the Consortium is coordinated by Black women in philanthropy, activism, and work with girls who, like Brown, have robust experience movement-building in the Southeast.
Women of color, having once been girls of color, are uniquely suited to steer this undertaking. Girls of color themselves will be included in the development of the evolving consortium, as they were in its selection by NoVo. After announcing the new giving strategy in 2016, NoVo spent a year conducting listening sessions with girls of color, movement leaders, and organizers, many in the South, Southeast, and Midwest, along with urban centers where it has established partners. Jennifer and Peter Buffett, NoVo co-presidents and board chairs, also conducted a similar listening process internationally when developing the focus for their foundation more than a decade ago. After the recent listening tour, NoVo requested national proposals for resourcing the movement for girls of color in the Southeast, and with the help of an advisory committee experienced in these fields, chose the Consortium as its core partner.
“Our goal is to create the conditions for change by advancing the work of the real experts in this movement: girls and young women of color and the advocates working with them,” Peter Buffett said of the new undertaking.
The strategy of zeroing in on young women of color aligns with NoVo’s missions of promoting adolescent girls’ rights in the U.S. and Global South and ending violence against girls and women. And, the Consortium’s mission can be seen as part of NoVo’s work to advance social and emotional learning and local community engagement. The new undertaking and partnership also recognizes the historically proven abilities of females of color to solve societal problems; the foundation lists notable activists Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, and Fannie Lou Hammer as inspirations.
In a similar vein, Brown says that in girls’ communities, there is “a lineage of women that feed into each other,” which is key to the Consortium. She describes its efforts as multigenerational, wherein girls’ mothers, aunts, and grandmothers are “very much a part of this work.”
NoVo Executive Director Pamela Shifman tells us, “We know that girls and women of color are powerful agents in addressing the systemic and structural racism, sexism and other forms of oppression facing communities.” Shifman also noted that the leadership of women and girls of color “has been largely overlooked by philanthropy and is long overdue.”
The Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium is also supported by the Appalachian Community Fund (ACF), the Fund for Southern Communities (FSC), and the Black Belt Community Foundation (BBCF). The BBCF, led by President Felecia Lucky, carries out grantmaking in Alabama‘s “Black Belt,” an area named for its rich soil that stretches across the middle of the state from Mississippi to near the Georgia line.
The foundation’s mission is to infuse this region with resources “that make a lasting impact,” with the guiding “idea that those living and working in the Black Belt best [know] the area’s challenges and opportunities.” The emphasis on trusting community members as change-makers resonates with both NoVo’s and the Consortiums’ goals, as does the BBCF’s statement that it values “the strengths of pluralistic communities where economic, racial, and social justice are practiced in a spirit of trust and sincerity.”
FSC’s work also lines up nicely with the Consortium’s plans.
“In a nutshell, FSC’s mission is to support organizations working to create just and sustainable communities through grant-making,” Executive Director Alice Jenkins says. She thinks the vision of the Consortium “perfectly and directly aligns” with this mission, pointing out that FSC and the Consortium also both seek to support “nontraditional and startup groups working to advance the work initiated by Black girls and women.”
Likewise, Margo Miller, executive director of ACF, sees the partnership with NoVo and the Consortium “as a real opportunity to lift up and bring much-needed resources and attention to rural areas like the Appalachian region in support of the creativity and power of Black girls in the South.”
The Consortium’s First Steps
During the next year, the Consortium’s leadership team will create a strategic work plan. It will partners with girls and their adult supporters in the field, design an infrastructure to manage grantmaking and additional capacities, and bolster related social movements.
Brown says listening will continue to be a core principle of the Consortium’s work. “The one thing that I often hear more than anything else from young people, and particularly young people of color, is that they do not feel listened to,” says Brown. “We will make sure Black girls are centered in the decision-making process from the start.”
Brown also wants the Consortium’s work to help Black youth question and decide what they think power actually is and what it means to them. “Creating and embracing the opportunity for Black girls to really be able to seek and define power for themselves is transformation,” says Brown.
Brown’s Philosophy of Change: Listening, Joy, Power, and Freedom
Black girls and women experience many obstacles and disparities. For example, from the start of their lives, girls of color are more likely to face poverty, child sexual abuse, public harassment, school suspension, and dating violence than their white peers.
Brown acknowledges that these types of stats can drive engagement, and “as a grown-up Black girl,” she knows that for many of these young people, their “orientation of being comes from a place of pain.” But, she is quick to point out that the Consortium will be initiated from a place of Black joy, and of “creating spaces to lift up and celebrate the beauty, diversity, innovation, and creativity of Black girls.”
Brown envisions joy as the driver for the healing that is part of the Consortium’s mission. “Joy [is] a vehicle to open up spaces for healing, spaces to build relationships, to break down protection mechanisms — these barriers that we have to our connection,” says Brown. “We’ve seen how that works; how a little bit of joy can just create a whole bunch of trust and space for people to communicate and to open up. And so the healing is not framed by victimization but within the frame of survivorship and the concept of joy.”
While working to build an infrastructure for regional grantmaking and movement building, this joy-centric consortium-in-the-making will provide resources to locally-based organizations, including those outside of traditional nonprofits. Brown says these may include networks and organizations carrying out intersectional and cultural work. She foresees that fields like music and art will be harnessed as powerful points of connection, expression, and empowerment for Black girls. She has a background in music herself and has always found freedom of expression to be a strong root for selfhood.
“I really believe that being encouraged by my family to use my creativity and my imagination gave me faith that the world didn’t give me,” she says of her own youth. She shares that while her school experiences were often filled with stifling expectations of how Black girls should behave, her family supported her curious, questioning, and free-spirited nature.
“My family was traditional about children respecting adults, but they created space for who I was as a very independent person,” she says, recalling being allowed to climb a tree in her patent leather shoes as a memorable example.
Drawing on her own life wisdom, Brown is embarking on a new journey with the NoVo Foundation and the Consortium’s other partners and participants, who seek to broaden Black girls’ support structures along with their realms of possibility and autonomy. “An element of liberation for me as a child, and even as a woman, was when others created space for me to be my whole audacious self,” she says. “Being able to express myself outside of the norm gave me a sense of agency for my own life. I would like to create embracing spaces where young Black girls can demonstrate agency over their own lives and have the freedom to express themselves.”
Wow, what a read. I had to keep stopping at points to walk around the block and get my core energetics realigned. Jacki Zehner literally pours her heart out in this stunning blog post where she shares about her experiences rising to the C-Suite at Goldman Sachs, as well as her intense love for gender equality philanthropy, which has been expressed in over a decade of devotion to growing one of the most important organizations in gender equality philanthropy, Women Moving Millions.
Zehner starts by letting readers know that this writing is more or less automatic — that is, she is going for a Jacki Unfiltered here. What we learn by reading this piece is that Zehner is a complex leader with significant life experiences that inform her activism for women’s rights.
Ever-considerate of others, Jacki warns us that 14 pages have emerged from this attempt to shine a spotlight on her thinking and feeling life. She then goes on to enter into some of the most exciting (and sometimes painful) thoughts and memories. As just an example, check this out:
If there was such a thing as a ‘finance professional Olympics’, becoming a partner at Goldman, especially as a young woman, would represent a gold medal. Of course, I know that there may be someone who reads this and posts in the comments section something along the lines of “die you wall street whore” as they have in the past when I blog freely about Goldman, but so be it. To that potential person I say in advance, “I hope that has helped you feel better about yourself.” […]
Beyond unflinching glimpses like these into Zehner’s mind, the post also delves into many significant life events, including some serious traumas. Her writing is the kind of material that future (or present) movie-makers will want to read in order to gather key scene details for the inevitable biopic of Zehner’s life. For example, here is just one in a bulleted list breaking down the timeline of Zehner’s progression:
Finding Women Moving Millions – 2002 to 2009. As the years from 2002 onward moved forward, I was spending more and more time with philanthropic groups focused on girls and women, and in particular women’s funds. My interest in supporting women’s leadership poured in to my work with various non-profits, and one of the main reasons I loved Women’s Funds so much. I had joined the board of the Women’s Funding Network, and it was there that I got to the know the incredible Chris Grumm. She became, and still is, a role model for me for courageous leadership. She is the one who invited me to consider joining the Women Moving Millions Campaign, as she was a co-founder of it. WMM at the time was a campaign to encourage women to make million dollar commitments to women’s funds. Again, holy shit, I could go on and on and on right here, but I won’t. The need to know piece for the rest of this story is that this moment was transformational for me. Why? Because the act of making that commitment, the moment of stepping onto a stage at the Brooklyn Museum to have a group photo taken by Annie Leibowitz to mark that moment in history where for the first time women of means came together to fund women at the million dollar level, helped me to see clearly what the next stage of my life would be about: helping to unlock the resources of high-net worth women to support other women, and more broadly, gender equality. […]
It’s quite wonderful that Zehner has the clarity to speak about these experiences and mark how these transformations happened for her. By doing so, she is increasing the chances manyfold that other women will get up their courage to do the same.
One other sentence toward the end really popped out at me for how it evoked the shared effort that Women Moving Millions summits are, and how this results in shared experiences that can refuel our courage and make us more powerful. Zehner writes:
The WMM summit 2018 could not have been more incredible from start to finish. (My next long post will be about it all.) I am in awe of how beautiful the program was (thank you JESS), how perfectly it was executed (the WMM and TES team), how open people were (thank you attendees), how much people shared (thank you speakers), and how everyone trusted that we, WMM, had created a safe place for everyone to be their most vulnerable and by definition, their most powerful.
I don’t want to overshare or overanalyze here. I just want to thank Jacki Zehner (as I have privately and will now publicly) for her brave years of service to the community through Women Moving Millions. And then point everyone to Jacki’s blog to read the post and let it open your heart and mind.
Both the Women’s Funding Network and Women Moving Millions are in Seattle today, meeting with their members. The Women Moving Millions event is co-hosted by the Gates Foundation, and both groups will be meeting up to discuss their work in the evening at the Gates Foundation.
One might wonder if this is an indicator of the increasing involvement of the Gates Foundation in gender equality philanthropy. And, in fact, the evening will close with a cocktail hour for the Women’s Funding Network hosted by Women Moving Millions at the Gates Foundation, so there will be some time for the three networks to compare notes.
The focus of the Women’s Funding Network meeting is Women+Power. The program includes an overview of the day from Tuti Scott, Founder and President of Imagine Philanthropy, and includes panels on diversity, equality, and inclusion, as well as an evening cocktail reception hosted by Women Moving Millions at The Atrium, at the Gates Foundation. Teresa Younger, CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, will also be presenting on a panel with Melanie Brown, Senior Program Officer for U.S. Policy and Advocacy, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Cat Martin, Vice President of Global Philanthropy for JPMorgan Chase. The full program is here.
At the same time that all this was going on, Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation company, Pivotal Ventures, announced the formation of the Reboot Representation Tech Coalition, which will aim to increase gender diversity in STEM occupations. In response to a survey produced by Pivotal Ventures, showing the poor representation of women, particularly women of color in STEM, a coalition of companies will now devote $12 million in funding to address the problem. More on that here.
We at Philanthropy Women look forward to learning what these two powerful women’s funding networks come away with from these Seattle meetings. We’re hopeful that more of the Gates Foundation’s resources can be redirected to gender equality causes, since there is a strong need for this kind of movement-building. If a more substantial amount of philanthropy focused on feminist strategies, movements for justice, inclusion, and systems change would have more fuel than ever, and we might start to see how women’s leadership can guide us toward a more sustainable planet.
While there has been a recent rise in the number of women running for offices across the United States, the journey towards gender equality in politics is not moving fast enough. Statistics shown in a recent paper written by Saskia Brechenmacher, an associate fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program, prove that gender equality in politics is still far from reach, yet many European countries have come significantly closer to this goal. Brechenmacher’s paper provides research about the efforts of such countries and identified moves the United States can make to reach gender equality sooner.
As of right now, women make up 19.3% of the House of Representatives and 21% of the Senate. In several Western European countries, women make up over 30% of their respective parliaments. Lack of equality in any government system leads to a structure that does not reflect its population’s makeup, diminishes the voices of women, and weakens the quality of democracy. In the article, Brechenmacher clarifies that this imbalance is less affected by voter bias and more affected by the small number of female candidates. Female candidates tend to be voted into offices just as often as men, yet they are less likely to run because of four major issues.
Four Issues That Need Addressing to Get Women Representing America
Issue #1: Change America’s single-member voting system. This limits the number of candidates a party can support and shrinks the window for women to enter the political playing field. European countries have adapted systems which allow parties to nominate several candidates, bring a much wider range of people to the ballot. While it is not likely the United States would adopt this same system, 11 U.S. cities use a Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) system instead. This structure allows voters to select several nominees and rank their choices. For candidates, this system encourages a civil approach to campaigning over huge spending. Because of this, it makes it easier for women and minorities to get their name on the ballot, likely not having the same access to funding and connections as men.
Issue #2: Establish gender quotas like European countries have done. These can either be mandatory by law or established within political parties, the latter being more common in Europe. With gender quotas, European parties have established percentages of their nominees and recruits to be female, thus integrating women from the lowest levels. In the United States and Europe, proposed gender quotas have received huge pushback, but unlike the U.S., Europeans have successfully implemented several at the local and government levels. This has been accomplished by female-led campaigns, the contagion effect, self-image of parties and party elites, publicizing research promoting such quotas, and making allies. In the United States, recruitment and training of female candidates have taken the place of quotas as an effort to combat this issue. The Republican party has established Right Women, Right Now to recruit and train women for state offices and the Republican Congressional Committee launched a short-lived program GROW to shine a light on women running for house seats. The Democratic party has seen significantly more success with this, however, through EMILY’s List, Women Lead, and the Women’s Senate Network. However, the numbers do not compare to those of European parties. Other options suggested by the Carnegie report are to set numerical targets for parties to recruit women, systematically recruit and support female candidates, address misconceptions about biases held against women running for office, and prioritize internal equality within parties.
Issue #3: Deal with the problems of publicly funded elections in the United States. Often, U.S. elections require huge sums of money to get noticed, giving the advantage to wealthy candidates with a recognizable name and connections. Because women have been left out of the world of politics, they immediately face a disadvantage when fundraising and advertising. European countries have taken this into account, making reductions on campaign spending. Some countries have made percentages of government funding to parties based on the parties support for and recruitment of female candidates. EMILY’s List and the Women’s Campaign Fund have made it easier for women to receive funding, but more steps could be taken. Financial incentives for support of female candidates, specific funding for open-seat races, and overall shifts in public financing could further level the playing field for women running for office.
Issue #4: Address the Gender Issues in U.S. political institutions. European countries suffer from these internal barriers as well, but activists have continued to make moves toward equality. Internal gender equality plans, placement of women in leadership positions, improvements on childcare and parental leave rules, family-friendly working hours, and internal support structures have vastly improved the experience of women in office in Europe. In the United States, the Carnegie report by Breckenmacher suggests we should work toward improving data collection, setting internal gender benchmarks, improving childcare and parental leave rules, and combating sexual harassment. With these changes, the everyday experience of female political figures will be vastly improved. Getting these issues addressed will keep the conversation on gender equality going on the local and congressional levels.
While European countries have made greater strides than the United States, their movement toward gender equality has plateaued as well. Internal barriers and biases are still huge issues that are the most difficult to uproot. Keeping the conversation alive is the most important aspect of our battle. It will allow for incremental change to continue and will break down stigmas and misconceptions about the power of women today.
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.
“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?”
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Catherine Gill, Executive Vice President at Root Capital, in collaboration with Charlotte Wagner, Principal of the Wagner Foundation. We are publishing it here at Philanthropy Women because we couldn’t agree more with the message. I see the way feminists do philanthropy differently, and to me, it is the critical difference that has the capacity to reshape communities and economies worldwide. From Charlotte Wagner and Catherine Gill:
Here’s an indisputable fact: The future of philanthropy is female.
A huge amount of wealth is now in women’s hands, and they are ready to invest it where it’s needed most:
Of the impending $41 trillion wealth transfer between generations,70% will be inherited by women.
Women give almost twice as much of their wealth away as men (3.5% vs. 1.8%).
This is good news for women and girls. Only 12 percent of global philanthropy currently goes to gender-related causes—with more women donors we can hope this proportion will grow. And that’s good news for everyone, since supporting womenbenefits entire communities.
We know this because, for the last seven years, our institutions (theWagner Foundation andRoot Capital) have been working together to build gender inclusion in agricultural businesses across the developing world. We do this not only because it improves the lives of women, but because inclusive businesses create more economic opportunity for all workers and their families.
While the work we’re doing is certainly feminist, we didn’t immediately think about our philanthropic partnership that way. Over time, we’ve come to recognize subtle differences between the traditional donor-grantee relationship and the way that Wagner Foundation and Root Capital work together. Our feminist approach to philanthropy happened organically, built from years of trust, pointed questions, and open minds.
What is feminist philanthropy?
According toFondo Centroamericano de Mujeres, a women’s organization in Nicaragua: “Feminist philanthropy is not a charitable act or an act of power. It is an act of solidarity and mutual empowerment.”
To us, it’s about three things: collaboration, lack of ego, and intersectionality. We’re calling this “feminist” because social science research shows that women tend to bemore cooperative and to seekcreative, holistic solutions. But—just like feminism itself—this approach isn’t only for women. Feminist philanthropy can help anyone who wants to innovate their giving and maximize their effectiveness.
Here’s what we’ve learned.
It’s about collaboration.
Traditional philanthropy often reinforces unhealthy power dynamics: Donors impose their priorities onto grantees, who then impose their preferred solutions onto beneficiaries. This structure may result in positive outputs—more children vaccinated, more teachers trained—but it can also result inunintended harm.
Feminist philanthropy means flipping this dynamic on its head. Instead of decision-making power trickling down from the top, we stand side-by-side. Donors roll up their sleeves and collaborate with grantees. Grantees welcome more donor participation. While both come to the table with certain preferences and assumptions, our experience proves it’s possible to approach this as partners, open to learning from each other.
In our case, Root Capital benefits from the lessons Charlotte Wagner draws from 10 years of experience partnering with nonprofits that specialize in healthcare in the developing world. And, in turn, the Wagner Foundation applies what it learns from working with Root Capital to other grants in other sectors, replicating what works well and losing what doesn’t. As Charlotte puts it: “We are leveraging knowledge and positive change across philanthropic sectors by working together.”
More importantly, this collaboration must extend to (and indeed, center on) the people and communities with whom we work. They are the only ones who fully understand the problems, opportunities, and possible solutions. At a recent event announcing the Gates Foundation’s$20 million commitment to strengthen women’s groups worldwide, Melinda Gates hit the nail on the head: “They know their community. They know what needs to get done.”
As part of our joint initiative, Root Capital and the Wagner Foundation deploy Gender Equity Grants: small disbursements that help agricultural businesses build inclusion of women. Rather than prescribe an approach, we ask community members to identify where the money is needed most, be it a childcare center, an internal savings group, or something entirely different. “The Gender Equity Grants complement the economic benefits of the agricultural loans Root Capital is making, and our hope is that the combination of the two will catalyze a more holistic social change in each community,” says Charlotte. While it’s early to gauge results, we firmly believe these locally-driven solutions will be more sustainable and impactful than anything we could have planned on our own.
Bottom line: The collaborative approach at the heart of feminist philanthropy allows us to discover new angles and opportunities, and craft better answers to complex problems.
It’s about putting aside ego.
We’re in this together. Our successes are mutual, and so are our failures. It may seem obvious, but too often this truism gets lost in the imbalanced relationship between those who hold the purse-strings and those who need the money.
Feminist philanthropy is about mutual empowerment. In our case, the Wagner Foundation makes a conscious and strategic effort to leverage their connections in order to make Root Capital more effective. That’s because Wagner Foundation deeply believes in Root Capital’s mission of growing prosperity for rural communities. And we both recognize that Root Capital can’t accomplish this mission alone. In fact, we need all the help we can get. So we work together to bring more supporters to the table.
Often, both donors and grantees are too interested in getting credit and acclaim. They want to make sure their logo is prominently placed and their spokesperson gets quoted in the media. We know; we’ve been guilty of this ourselves! But even with the best intentions—more attention can mean more money for your cause—this can get in the way of creating impact. A feminist approach means putting aside ego to focus on bringing in more voices and more ideas. Yes, your logo may get overshadowed; but your cause will be brought into the light.
That doesn’t mean we don’t tout our achievements. We’re proud of our impact and want people to know about it. But it’s in service of the greater goal. Tackling poverty or inequality is something philanthropists—and the organizations they work with—should approach with humility. We need to lift each other up if we have any chance of lifting others.
It’s about intersectionality.
Funding, particularly when it comes to international development, can be myopic. In some cases, interventions are Band-Aids—temporary relief, but without a change to the larger structures and dynamics thatperpetuate the problem. To create lasting change, we must think holistically.
Donors can help with this. Since the beginning of our partnership, the Wagner Foundation has pressed Root Capital to look beyond the act of disbursing a loan. In some countries where we work, women aren’t allowed to own land. Most have small children, making it difficult for them to work in formal employment or attend skills trainings.
Feminist philanthropy asks: How do we build better communities? How do we change the power structures that push some people forward while holding others back?
The Wagner Foundation has—gently, but persistently—raised these questions with Root Capital since the early days. Drawing on her past experience, Charlotte encouraged Root Capital to think about public health implications, gender-based violence, and challenges facing indigenous communities in rural areas. “It is often not enough to solely focus on one lever of change—greater impact can be achieved by taking a holistic approach and listening to the community about what is most needed,” says Charlotte. Root Capital believes access to capital is vitally important; but this partnership has pushed us to recognize that we need to consider the political, economic, and social context in order to have a real impact. It’s daunting, but it’s also empowering.
In applying the feminist lens, donors can make space for grantees to both accomplish the work at hand and think through the larger implications. Time for learning, innovation, and risk-taking need to be built into the grant agreement. And donors can push this forward by continuing to ask hard questions about intended and unintended impacts. For Root Capital, these questions have made us more effective and have translated to better services for our clients in rural communities.
We aren’t the only ones getting on board with this approach. Pioneers likeWomen Moving Millions andMaverick Collective are leading the way on growing the amount that female donors give to women’s causes. Many organizations, donors, and investors carefully monitor the gender impacts of their work.
But we’ll say it again: This isn’t just about women. By confronting and upending power dynamics—both between donor, grantee, and beneficiary and in the broader society—a feminist approach to philanthropy can make us all more effective and impactful. We’ve seen that result firsthand.
And now, in the spirit of collaboration, we want to hear what you think. Tell us in the comments section below: What does feminist philanthropy mean to you?