In 2008, over half a million women died from complications stemming from pregnancy and childbirth. After ten years of campaigning, maternal mortality rates have dropped, but as of 2018 there are still more than 300,000 deaths attributed to maternal mortality each year. By the numbers, a woman dies from maternal health issues every two minutes. Over the course of a one-hour seminar, that’s thirty childbirth-related deaths.
And the worst part? Most of these deaths are easily preventable with modern medicine.
Founded in 2010 by Christy Turlington Burns, Every Mother Counts is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for everyone around the world.
“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.
“The deeper I get into impact investing, the more I’m persuaded,” says Ellen Remmer, Senior Partner at the Philanthropic Institute (TPI), after a 25 year career in finance and philanthropy. “Personally, when I changed advisors and started doing impact investing, it connected me to my money in new and different ways, and it was so much more interesting. I was always bored by [traditional investing]. Now it was interesting, because it was about social and environmental change.”
Remmer is part of a minority of women in our culture who has pursued her interest in impact investing to the point of actually doing it. While more women are finally moving into impact investing now, Remmer wants to add to that momentum and make sure they are equipped with knowledge and guidance to do impact investing well.
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.
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.
There is an old “riddle” that used to circulate in the early 2000s in which a father and son are critically injured in a car accident and rushed to the hospital. The hospital workers do everything they can to save the father, but he dies under their care. When the son is prepped for his life-saving surgery, the attending doctor stops dead and declares, “I can’t perform the procedure — I cannot operate on my own son.” How is this possible?
The answer? The doctor is a woman — the son’s mother — and that is why she is unwilling to perform the surgery. The difficulty of the “riddle” comes from the guesser’s automatic presumption that the doctor in question has to be a man — because, of course, only men are qualified to be surgeons, right?
Like many organizations in the women’s funding community, Women’s Funding Network had a robust year of working on the issues most important to women, including financial empowerment, collaborating with men as allies, and strategic leveraging as a donor and an advocate.
To go a little deeper into this past year of activity in feminist philanthropy, we decided to talk to Cynthia Nimmo, CEO of the Women’s Funding Network, and hear about what it felt like to run one of the most important organizations in the women’s funding space.
By operating regionally or at the state level, women’s funds add an essential level of leadership to gender equality work, since they are not controlled by government or corporate entities. This gives women’s funds the freedom to speak and act on issues that impact women, with less fear of political or corporate retaliation. By forming large collaboratives like the Women’s Funding Network, women’s funds are able to advocate for progress on the issues that women are dealing with on the ground — harassment, for example, or lack of access to health care — and support ways to address issues systemically through partnership between all sectors of society — business, nonprofit, and government.
This is why I support Women’s Funding Network as a donor. This year, I am urging all feminists to support WFN as a way to address gender issues and help us build a healthier world for all. In Cynthia Nimmo’s responses below, you will hear how WFN increased knowledge and strategy for gender equality on so many critical issues this past year. I am confident that WFN brings added strength to gender equality movements both in the U.S. and globally, and I hope you will join me in supporting the critical role they play in moving toward a more gender equal world.
And now, some questions and responses with Cynthia Nimmo:
Kiersten Marek: What were some of the highlights of this year at WFN?
After an extensive search and interview process, Women Moving Millions (WMM) recently announced the appointment of Sarah Haacke Byrd as its new Executive Director. Byrd is an influential rising star of the feminist philanthropy community known for being a “joyful warrior” in the ongoing battle for gender equality. Byrd also comes to her new position at WMM with a history of leadership focused on legislative changes that would make the processing of rape kits a necessity in all police investigations of sexual assault.
As the former Managing Director of the Joyful Heart Foundation, Sarah Haacke Byrd has played a critical role in movement-building around ending sexual violence. With her work at Joyful Heart, Byrd helped to convene a national community of sexual violence survivors, legislators, law enforcement, and major funders, to shed light on the frightening fact that rape kits frequently go untested. Byrd helped raise an estimated $169 million in new funding to address this lack of testing of rape kits, resulting in the passage of 35 laws in 26 states.
Founded in 2007 by sisters Helen LaKelly Hunt and Swanee Hunt, Women Moving Millions is focused on supporting women donors who are making large-scale investments in women and girls that are aiding in the global fight for gender equality. By taking on this key leadership role at WMM, Byrd will be steering one of the most significant and powerful networks for funding gender equality worldwide.
Earlier this year, Byrd testified before the California Legislature regarding legislation to mandate the processing of rape kits. This legislation passed in the House and Senate in California, and is only being held up by the Governor’s veto for budgetary reasons, so will likely proceed to a full pass in the near future. Byrd’s testimony is a powerful sample of how effectively she communicates within the political realm, and how well this bodes for the future leadership of Women Moving Millions. It’s also an excellent example of how philanthropy can aid in the process of gathering and disseminating critical information about a public safety issue, such as sexual violence, and push for needed reforms.
New Board Chair of Women Moving Millions Bring Financial Expertise
Along with WMM having a new Executive Director, the organization also has a new Board Chair: Mona Sinha, who is a passionate and longtime advocate for women and girls and the recipient of Smith College’s 2018 Development Award for Exemplary Leadership. Sinha is also very involved in efforts to end sex trafficking, and received the The Last Girl Champion award in 2017 from Apne Aap, an organization working globally on the issue.
Sinha brings particular expertise from the corporate worlds of finance, marketing and business restructuring. She is also is co-founder of Raising Change, which coaches mission-driven organizations to raise resources for social change.
As incoming Board Chair at WMM, Sinha is looking forward to launching a new education curriculum for members, who will spend several days together to work on three areas of development: impact, influence, and investment. “Each pillar will be taught in small cohorts that do a deep dive into the subject matter and enable robust reflection and discussion about practices and innovative ideas that are emerging in the world of philanthropy,” writes Sinha in a recent brief on the education curriculum launch entitled Why Women’s Philanthropic Education Matters.
Sinha sees this new education curriculum as having the potential to fulfill a prediction by the Stanford Social Innovation Review that the impact of gender equity efforts will add $28 trillion to the global economy by 2025. “Match that with the fact that women will control over $72 trillion in wealth by 2020,” writes Sinha, and she sees many more large-scale investments from women aiming to close the gender gap on pay and improve health and safety for women.
But Sinha recognizes that women philanthropists making these large-scale investments need support and education to achieve this goal. Within the new education curriculum, donors will have an opportunities to clarify and amplify their strategies, bringing greater integrity and influence to feminist philanthropy. “We have found that WMM members benefit from learning in community,” she writes. In the upcoming education curriculum launching in February of 2019, Women Moving Millions members will have the chance to more deeply investigate and structure their giving for women and girls. The development of the leadership curriculum was led by Jessica Houssian at WMM and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, including a detailed assessment before a full rollout of the program.
Sinha also serves several other organizations in the gender equality sphere including, Breakthrough (ending violence against women), Direct Impact Africa (empowers women to be leaders in the lower Zambezi) the Advisory boards at the Museum of Natural History (sponsors science education for inner city girls), Columbia Business School Tamer Center Social Enterprise Program (building awareness of social justice in future business leaders), Women Creating Change at Columbia University, and Columbia Global Mental Health program (promoting mental health as integral to overall healthcare around the world).
Two new reports from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute point to the increasing influence and diversity of giving circle (GC) members, and the challenges present when established foundations serve as “hosts” for GCs.
The reports are authored by the Collective Giving Research Group (CGRG) which was formed in 2015 as a collaborative “to explore and understand the dynamics of giving circles and other forms of collective giving.” Its members include scholars and consultants in the areas of philanthropy, public affairs and public administration, and it has institutional support from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI), which is part of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Funding for the reports came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation via the WPI, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
Giving circles typically comprise groups of individuals who donate collectively to an organization, cause or project of common interest. The difference between a GC and a typical philanthropic organization or non-profit is that donors themselves choose what to fund. Larger giving circles can have hundreds of voting members and a yearly membership fee (or required annual donation) of $1,000 or more. The Greater Indianapolis 100 is one such charitable women’s giving circle group; it makes gifts of $100,000 and membership costs $1,000 annually. Of course, a GC can also be quite modest and informal – a half-dozen people meeting in a member’s living room and deciding to pool their money for a charitable purpose, whether that be sending a needy local child to summer camp, protecting a slice of wetland, or supporting micro-loans for African women.
According to the CGRG, there are triple the number of US GCs now than a decade ago, and GCs are estimated to have given roughly $1.3 billion to charitable causes since their inception.
Women are Key to GC Growth
An earlier (2017) report from the CGRG on U.S. GCs noted “Women dominate giving circle membership, making up 70 percent of all members. …. While men have a presence in 66 percent of giving circles, they are only the majority of members in 7.5 percent of groups.” A separate 2017 CGRG report stated that women’s GCs represented nearly half the groups in their database.
Giving circles have increasingly become the point of entry for women, and particularly women of color, in charitable giving. Giving circles are places where groups underrepresented in traditional philanthropy can organize as women, or as a subset of women (LGBT, Asian, Latinx, African American) and find ways to support their own communities. GCs often give to local initiatives, are less traditional in their giving than typical funders, and more likely to support women and ethnic and minority groups.
The new CGRG report on GC membership indicates that compared to non-members, GC donors “give more money and time, give more strategically, and are more engaged in civic and political activities.” Moreover, GC members take greater advantage of their social networks in obtaining advice about philanthropy, bring in a broader range of information, and consult a wider array of people for advice than do non-members. The GC movement is relatively new, but already there are differences between GC veterans and members who have joined within the last year. Newer members tend to be younger, more ethnically diverse, and have lower incomes. Longitudinal studies, the report suggests, will reveal to what extent participating in a GC changes donor attitudes and preferences over time, and whether the diversity among new GC members is sustained.
The “Dynamics of Hosting” report focuses on GC hosting, and notes that community foundations and similar organizations are promoting and adopting giving circles to cultivate a more diverse donor pool, strengthen and expand community engagement, and foster a philanthropic culture. The CGRG findings on hosting were obtained in the summer of 2017 from survey data that included responses from 86 community and public foundations in 33 states. Of the 86, two-thirds host one or more GC groups. Over 90 percent of hosts indicated that they wished to affiliate with a GC in order to promote a culture of philanthropy.
The most common reason for the host-GC relationship is for the host to act as a fiscal sponsor in which it provides 501(c)(3) status, and receives donations and disburses grants for the GC. Hosts may also help a GC reach a specific group of donors, and work with a group of donors in establishing a GC to address a shared priority. Hosts may also play a role in communications and outreach, event planning, and regulation oversight. Hosting a GC is labor intensive, and some hosts charge a flat fee, while others take a percentage of annual CG assets. Some foundations do the work gratis, often as part of a mission to reach underserved communities and promote philanthropy. Regardless, the report indicates that most hosts did not feel that fees met their expenses.
No doubt, community foundations and other such entities have taken notice of the steady growth of giving circles and realize that partnering with such groups is the wave of the future. As the CGRG hosting report concludes, “Giving circles and collective giving groups hold enormous potential for broad outreach, flexible and authentic engagement of donors, and a more democratic approach to building a culture of philanthropy.” As GCs evolve, some of the questions surrounding host vs GC costs and benefits will likely be better answered.
While women’s giving circles are a growing phenomenon in the United States, we thought it would be interesting to touch down in the real world with a giving circle that has newly arrived on the scene: Waterbury, Connecticut’s Inaugural Women’s Giving Circle.
This new giving circle formed in 2017 and is housed at the Connecticut Community Foundation, a foundation serving 21 towns in the Waterbury/Litchfield area. For its first year of grantmaking, it gave out $34,000 in grants to seven community groups working to empower women and girls.
“It’s a thrill to award the first grants from the Women’s Giving Circle—made possible by the generosity of nearly 90 women in Greater Waterbury and the Litchfield Hills!” said Kathy Bower of Southbury, chair of the Women’s Giving Circle, in a recent press release on the grants. “We are energized and activated, and are driven to make lives better for women and girls and uplift local communities in the process. Our hearts and doors are open to welcoming more people into the Women’s Giving Circle and building on the momentum—and impact—of our first year.”
Women’s giving circles, new and growing ones like the Waterbury Women’s Giving Circle, and more established ones like Dining for Women, are bringing more women into the first-hand practice of grantmaking. This new giving circle in Connecticut requires an annual contribution of at least $500, and entitles you to participate in activities and events, and also to cast your vote at the annual meeting to determine how the circle’s funds will be given out in grants. You can join with the $500 on your own, or bring together friends to share in the $500 fee. Either way, the $500 membership means you will have one vote in the grantmaking process.
How This New Giving Circle Fits into the Connecticut Philanthropy Landscape
According to a report in HartfordBusiness.com, Connecticut saw a decline in the number of foundations and individuals making charitable donations and grants in 2015. Despite this, however, giving for the year increased by 11% (about $500 million) that year. The bulk of 2015 increase reportedly came from bequests, which increased from $90 million to $330 million that year. In 2014, giving declined by 3.2%.
Like in many states, Connecticut philanthropy professionals are concerned that the Trump Tax (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) will deter giving, since it takes away the itemized deduction from those who formerly met the threshold at $12,000. By moving the threshold for taking the charitable deduction up to $24,000 per household, many philanthropy analysts are predicting that the loss of itemization could reduce the tax income subsidy for giving by 33% and shave off millions, if not billions, of philanthropy dollars in the process.
Despite uncertainty in giving trends, for women in the Waterbury and Litchfield communities, the desire to give collectively has turned into a significant amount of grantmaking at the grassroots. These grants are going to funding-starved community efforts to help women and girls develop into healthy members of society.
Check out the grantees to see how these giving circle dollars will enhance the lives of women and girls in greater Waterbury and Litchfield: