“I recently went to the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery Alabama. It’s an incredibly powerful place, but the stories of women are not as prominent as they could be,” says Surina Khan, Executive Director of the Women’s Foundation of California (WFC), in a recent interview about the principles guiding her leadership.
The experience of visiting the Legacy Museum reinforced for Khan the importance of gender justice impact assessments — of organizations and institutions regularly assessing whether they are paying enough attention to gender issues. Since returning to the helm of WFC in 2014, Khan has taken an increasingly intentional approach to employing a gender lens to everything they do, meaning from caterers to banking services to program grantees, it’s all about doing business with partners who align with WFC’s values.
Solidago Foundation might only have $5 million in assets, but you wouldn’t know it from their leadership among social justice funders, especially when it comes to supporting women at the grassroots.
“We are small, we don’t move a lot of dollars, but we move big ideas and are deeply committed to being in community in the arena where we hold our positional power,” said Sarah Christiansen, the Program Director for Environmental Justice and Inclusive Economy.
This outsized role is highly visible in the nascent funding for solidarity economy, an organizing framework that often overlaps with new economy, economic democracy, cooperative economy, and/or inclusive economy. It is characterized by economic initiatives and enterprises that are community-controlled, democratic, sustainable, committed to social and racial justice, mutualistic, cooperative, and respectful of diverse approaches.
Recently when checking in with the Obama Foundation, we learned that they are highlighting the Women’s Global Education Project (WGEP) and its work in helping global communities end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). To find our more about how this work takes place, Philanthropy Women spoke with Amy Maglio, Founder of WGEP. Maglio founded WGEP over 14 years ago after she was a peace corp volunteer in Senegal, where she lived for three years.
“When I got back from Senegal, I thought about all the girls I knew who weren’t in school,” said Maglio. She was particularly concerned with the reasons that girls weren’t going to school, and wanted to find more ways to ensure that girls got into school and stayed in school in Senegal. Maglio began partnering with local community-based organizations in Senegal that were already working on these questions. Local organizers in Senegal identified that girls ended their education often because of healthy, safety, and cultural issues.
One important role that the Women’s Philanthropy Institute plays is producing research that drills down on the data about women’s giving, adding more demographic detail, including race, to the picture of how and why women give.
In its most recent research, WPI has identified ways that donors differ across race, and ways they appear to behave in relatively similar fashion. All of this data points to the fact that philanthropy is growing more aware of its diversity, and funders and nonprofits would do well to find ways to maximize engagement with donors of all backgrounds. By doing so, philanthropy as a social domain can help recognize and empower donors from historically oppressed or marginalized groups.
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.
Sometimes people misunderstand social workers as professionals who are not focused on impacting larger systems with their work. This mistake was brought home in philanthropy recently when the MacroSW collective, a group of social workers focused on larger social issues, had to correct the perception being given at the Nonprofit Quarterly that “You can’t social work this” as a way of saying “You can’t fix this problem with social work.”
The response from the MacroSW collective, entitled Why We Have to Social Work This, points out that many social workers commit their life’s work to addressing systemic and structural problems in society, providing leadership for policy, legislation, and community organizations. It’s called Macro Social Work — as in looking at the “macro” or bigger picture to find solutions to social problems.
Since 2014, a group of social workers has been gathering online to discuss issues of macro practice and how social workers and their allies can come together to impact big social problems like immigration, sexual harassment, and LGBTQ rights.
West described macro social work practice as the practice of focusing interventions on larger systems, such as communities and organizations. “It encompasses a broad spectrum of actions and ideas, ranging from community organizing and education to legislative advocacy and policy analysis,” said West, in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women.
West sees social work as having unrealized potential for influencing public policy and systems change. “The social work profession is grounded in social justice,” said West. “Social workers strategize, network and collaborate to address injustice in the world, be inclusive, and plug-in politically to change policy and laws.”
West also asserted that social work is also ideally positioned to provide leadership for gender equality movements. She noted that social workers are often “in a key position to tap into an army of smart women all focused on diversity and gender equality.”
The collective of #MacroSW contains an array of chat partners in the social work realm, including Kristin Battista-Frazee, who goes by the Twitter handle @Porndaughter, and has written a book about her childhood, growing up as the daughter of Anthony Battista, who was convicted of pornography distribution for his role in disseminating Deep Throat in the 1970’s. (Battista has a funny trailer for her book that stars actor David Koechner, who plays Todd Packer in The Office).
Other members of the collective include ACOSA (Association for Community Organizing and Social Action), Stephen Cummings of the University of Iowa School of Social Work; Sunya Folayan, founder of The Empowerment Project; Pat Shelly from the University of Buffalo School of Social Work; Vilissa Thompson, a disability rights consultant and advocate; and Karen Zgoda. All of these folks get together on Twitter and talk about issues ranging from Native American heritage to the upcoming elections to #MeToo and disability rights.
Now #MacroSW is beginning to fundraise through Patreon to support its work, and is hoping that more donors will come to the table, especially progressive women who understand the added value that social workers bring with both clinical and social policy expertise.
West also invited progressive women donors to be peer collaborators with #MacroSW. “Giving money is always great, but providing mentorship and inroads for social workers to become leaders is sometimes even more important,” said West. West alluded to how this networking may help talented social workers take on challenges like running for office or scaling up a business. “We believe this is a powerful combination and social workers are natural collaborators,” added West.
#MacroSW chats have been so popular that they have increased to a weekly event happening on Thursdays at 9:00 PM EST, and are open to the public. Learn more about #MacroSW here.
Starting with a joke about who would be the word hog between the couple, Stephen Colbert recently interviewed Bill and Melinda Gates. The couple talked about their philanthropy in the context of larger political issues such as growing inequality, and shared some of their “surprises” — the theme of their annual letter this year.
Colbert remarked that Bill Gates used to be the richest man in the world, but has now fallen into the number two spot for the world’s most wealthy person. “Well, we’re trying to give it away faster,” said Bill.
“There’s a lot of talk that billionaires shouldn’t exist,” said Colbert, suggesting that too much money accumulating at the top is a failure of capitalism.
“We might be biased,” said Bill with a chuckle. “I think you can make the tax system take a much higher proportion from people with wealth.”
“70%?” asked Colbert.
Bill Gates talked about how tax rates on the rich should be higher, but, “I think that if you go so far as to say that there is a total upper limit,” that could be problematic for the economy. Colbert then asked what the Gateses have observed as they travel the world and visit other countries with higher tax rates on the wealthy. “How is that going for them?” asked Colbert.
“Not necessarily that well,” said Melinda Gates. “There’ll be many times we’re in France, and you’ll hear, ‘Gosh, we wish we could have a Bill Gates. We wish we could have such a vibrant tech sector,'” but Melinda Gates cautioned that some tax systems dampen growth. In France, Melinda Gates said, “the tax system has been done there in such a way that it doesn’t actually stimulate good growth. So we believe in a tax system that does tax the wealthy more than low income people, for sure,” said Melinda.
“More than presently is being taxed?” asked Colbert.
“Yes,” Melinda said.
“We’ve been lobbying in favor of increasing the estate tax,” Bill broke in, and then went on about how the estate tax used to be higher and could be made higher again to garner more taxes from the rich.
“We do believe that to whom much is given, much is expected,” added Melinda Gates.
Here, Melinda Gates began connecting the narrative to women, and how women’s control of money can be catalytic to global change. Melinda Gates sees philanthropy’s support of women’s empowerment as just the beginning, saying “Philanthropy can never make up for taxes, but it is that catalytic edge,” where experimenting and model-testing can be done before government gets involved to bring health or education initiatives to full scale.
Melinda Gates then talked about one of her big surprises for 2019:
“That cell phone has so much power in the hands of a poor woman. […] When she has a digital bank account — they’re not welcomed at the bank, they don’t have the money to get on the bus to get there, and if they do, they might get robbed — but when she can save one or two dollars a day on her cell phone, she spends it on behalf of her family, on the health and education of her kids, and she also starts to see herself differently, she sees herself as a working woman, and she’ll tell you, her husband sees her differently, if she’s in India, her mother-in-law sees her differently. Her older son sees her differently when she buys him a bike. So it’s not the only tool, but it’s one of the tools that will help empower women.”
There is a lot packed into that short message, but it helps elucidate how Melinda Gates sees the role of women in the global economy, and where she is focusing for hope — on financial empowerment, and on women using technology to come out of isolation and into community, so they are no longer controlled by repressive gender norms.
On the question of whether billionaires like Howard Schultz should run for President, Bill Gates spoke for the couple and said that, “We work with politicians but neither of us will choose to run for office.” Colbert then presented the couple with honorary t-shirts saying: GATES 2020: Not an Option.
All of this mainstream media discussion of women’s empowerment is good news for feminist philanthropy. As more progressive women donors get in front of the cameras, they are feeding a healthy trend of growing awareness about the value of women’s leadership.
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.”
Admittedly, I am not a philanthropist. But managing the money of philanthropists for progressive social change has given me a unique appreciation for the essential role of people and organizations that connect philanthropy and political strategy.
I’ve spent most of my career as that staff person expected to change the world $1,000 at a time, one issue at a time. In roles such as manager of young organizers, volunteer coordinator, lobbyist to fickle legislators, major gifts director, and Executive Director, I have worked to change political decision-making systems, often while holding up woefully under-staffed legislative and advocacy initiatives. As a single person Public Affairs or Program Director, I sometimes served in the role of five people, and was seen as a savior if I could project-manage a couple coalitions on the side – you know, for the good of the cause.
This is the plight of nonprofits that attempt advocacy with small staffs and fledgling budgets. We have magical unicorns among us, but we burn them out and don’t recognize the real opportunity and economic costs for these staff. We fund the sexy here-and-now social reform initiatives, but forget the critical connective tissue organizing that brings nonprofits together around one long-term plan. We short-change the outreach and engagement positions who partner in real ways to build political and community change that our charitable and direct service provider groups require to carry out their work. We cut short the operatives who know how to respond to and build power in spite of the political volatility and public narrative shifts.
But it doesn’t have to remain that way. Women philanthropists are demonstrating their systems change muscle and some are looking to build out connective tissue among women’s and girls issues. Because women understand that communication, collaboration and shared strategy is essential to effective movement building, women philanthropists are uniquely positioned to invest in this work.
So what does this connective tissue look like? It is a matrix of nonprofits designed to develop digital, narrative and community pipelines for leadership and action. We call it infrastructure. These nonprofits are legally and structurally set up to carry the message and deploy civic engagement tactics so that elected bodies move toward public policy changes.
“Social Welfare” or 501(c)4 nonprofits are an overlooked tool for moving the public narrative and elected leaders. Although sometimes scorned as “dark money,” particularly since Citizens United, 501(c)4s are a critical part of the larger investment strategy to achieve social change. If your passion is environmental justice or reducing maternal mortality rates- it IS political. The same state lawmakers that are blocking attempts to codify Roe V. Wade are the ones working to deter voting rights and further cripple structural democracy as we know it.
Women and girls issues do not exist in a silo. They exist inside a complex struggle for power among partisans – some of whom govern and some of whom are paid to work against women’s and girls causes. Service providers must be funded to provide their services, and social welfare organizations must be funded to build political power for women and girls. It is a moral and ethical imperative of the modern political era.
So here are my recommendations for how to be courageous:
Be a bold board member. Discuss how your 501(c)3 charity can partner with other nonprofits doing voter registration and mobilization programs. Ask your executive directors what 501(c)4 and infrastructure organizations help them the most and explore opening a connected 501(c)4 to allow your organization to be a stronger advocate for your core mission work.
Identify if there is an infrastructure donor alliance in your state or community. These are often 501(c)4 and 501(c)3 hybrid affinity groups that invest in long term, connective tissue strategies that bring single issue groups together around shared community organizing goals and a shared set of message, civic engagement and even litigation goals.
Endow entire staff roles and teams to focus on civic engagement partnerships. Make it acceptable for charitable nonprofits to have a seat at voter and community mobilization tables.
Reconsider your mix of giving. If you give $1 million a year to 501(c)3 causes, consider tithing 10% to 501(c)4s that are providing the teams and tactics to respond to deep societal and political crises (like government shut downs, as one recent example).
Educate your philanthropist friends. Help them understand that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Have tough conversations about diversifying how you invest in the charitable and social welfare sectors.
Paula Hodges is founder of Anchor Strategies, which works with individual donors and organizational funders to re-think their philanthropic giving by layering on political and advocacy funding and joining state based progressive infrastructure donor alliances. She was the founding Executive Director of New Hampshire Progress Alliance, New England’s first pooled investment fund for incubating durable, permanent progressive infrastructure.
Tomorrow evening’s Take the Lead Virtual Happy Hour will feature an exciting group of women talking about one of my favorite topics: journalism. Tomorrow’s event is called The Real Story: Women in Journalism Finding Fair Solutions.
The web call will discuss ways to promote change that will make for more equal representation and pay of women journalists. Given that Philanthropy Women is a journalism endeavor, I am planning to be on that call to see what I can learn for my work, and to discuss philanthropy’s current and future impact on these issues.
Here is more information about what is happening tomorrow night at 6:30 ET:
The Real Story: Women in Journalism Find Fair Solutions