To those on the outside looking in, the story of women and girls’ social advancement may look like a road paved with victories. To those within the sphere of feminist philanthropy, however, that road has more twists and turns than many realize. We cannot deny the progress we’ve made in recent years, but we also cannot ignore the inequality, violence, and oppression women and girls still face around the world today.
But where does this oppression come from? When did we as a society learn to value boys over girls, to treat women like property or lesser beings? Why do we have to fight against it in the first place?
Imago Dei Fund, through a free program presented by Emily Nielsen Jones and Rev. Domnic Misolo, seeks to answer these questions with a six-month reading journey through the history of patriarchy. Examining the liberation of women through historic and faith-based lenses,“The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom: Putting Faith to Work Through Love to Break Ancient Chains” offers participants six months a guided tour with readings, group discussions, and reflections centered around the emancipation of girls and women.
I’ve lived and breathed women’s philanthropy for much of my career, from the cubicles of corporate philanthropy, to the living rooms of philanthropists, and the open-office workspaces of nonprofits both large and small. While constantly assured I was in the most “game-changing” and “innovative” conversations on giving, rarely can I recall speaking about the contributions of Black women in philanthropy.
When you ask most people to name philanthropic leaders, the list is usually populated by their family members plus a few American tycoons. Industrialists of the early 20th century such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller come to mind, as do the technology and finance titans of today. Reflecting the historic racial divisions in financial wealth in America, philanthropic history and communities largely reflect the charitable actions of white ultra- wealth.
In the world of feminist giving, we have to celebrate the wins, both the small ones and the big ones. One of those big wins is happening right now, as Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos team up to distribute $30 million through the Equality Can’t Wait Fund.
Really, it’s hard to imagine a more positive development for the feminist giving sphere than Melinda Gates’s incorporation of MacKenzie Bezos right into the frontlines of feminist philanthropy. Yet this is also a searing indictment of how far inequality has advanced in our nation, that the coming together of two megabillionaires could have so much influence.
“Join other people who are passionate about what you’re passionate about, and things will just happen.”
This is how my interview ended with Leah Margulies, a longstanding figure in the world of activism and corporate
accountability. A civil rights lawyer, a policy maker, an attorney, an author –
Leah’s resume stretches across almost five decades of powerful work. Her career
represents the best possible outcome when philanthropy and activism intersect –
years of positive action, progress, and the ability to look back and see how
far we’ve come.
Editor’s Note: It gives me great pleasure to introduce Cynthia Reddrick as a guest contributor to Philanthropy Women. As awomen’s philanthropy scholar and experienced planned giving consultant, Reddrick invites us to celebrate Black Philanthropy Month by honoring Oseola McCarty, a Black female philanthropist who left an inspiring legacy of generosity.
August is Black Philanthropy Month (BPM), an opportunity to amplify the power and influence of Black women donors and philanthropists. Created in August 2011 by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland and the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network (PAWPNet), Black Philanthropy Month allows us to take time to globally celebrate African-descent giving.
The Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art of Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, Indiana recently received an estate gift of about $4 million from the late art historian and philanthropist Jane Fortune, who died in 2018. Fortune founded the non-profit Advancing Women Artists (AWA) in 2009 with a mission to research, restore and share women’s artwork, particularly in Florence, Italy. She was known to be a passionate explorer and advocate for the preservation of historic pieces by women and was affectionately dubbed “Indiana Jane” by the Florentine press, according to Smithsonian.com. The new gift to the museum consists of a collection of works as well as funds to back future research and initiatives that will support women artists.
The recent Kavanaugh hearings resurfaced a very old story about gender, power, and the truth of experience. When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely testified, people everywhere had to grapple with the fact that early life relationships, and particularly sexual traumas, can drastically impact our lives.
In fact, while our dominant culture remains in denial about the prevalence and negative effects of sexual violence, thought leaders in feminist psychology and sociology have been calling attention to the problem for decades. While sexual violence is an extreme form of domination and abuse, these thought leaders have demonstrated how gender-based violence is part of a continuum of control and exploitation that most women begin to experience more of as they hit adolescence.
As David Brooks wisely points out in his recent op-ed, Two Cheers for Feminism, “For thousands of years social thinking has been dominated by men — usually alpha men — who saw life as a place where warriors and traders went out and competed for wealth and power. These male writers were largely blind to the systems of care that undergirded everything else.” Brooks references Carol Gilligan, Niobe Way, Alisha Ali and Pedro Nuguero, in their new anthology called “The Crisis of Connection,” for their ability to identify how the stereotypically masculine values of “self over relationships, individual success over the common good, the mind over the body, and thinking over feeling” have perpetuated harmful gender dynamics in relationships.
One way to reduce the harmful effects of gender inequality in our lives is by consciously practicing a different kind of being with our power — experiencing ourselves as having “power-with” other people, rather than “power-over” them. Despite growing social inequality, in our personal relationships, it is still possible to practice a “power-with” approach. One such approach is facilitated by a process called Safe Conversations.
I recently attended a Safe Conversations training in New York, so that I could learn and teach others the skills to help people unpack the patriarchy and power dynamics in their personal lives. After decades of research and practice, Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix have come out with Safe Conversations, a new way to engage in relationships, that makes it possible for people to experience deeper empathy and understanding.
How Does Safe Conversations Work?
The training I attended in New York involved multiple practice sessions, during which we broke out into groups of three’s and practiced being both members and facilitators of the structured conversations. Within an hour of beginning the training, we had begun to engage in conversations that went deeply into a space of emotional revelation. Facial expressions softened as the groups tried out speaking to each other with new, unfamiliar sentence stems like, “Let me see if I’ve got that. You said…” and “Is that what you are feeling?” and then listened in new ways, with an ear toward being able to reflect back as much of what they heard as they could.
This wasn’t the first time I had practiced the techniques. I had attended an online workshop with my husband in February of 2017, and since then, had been introducing the technique in small ways in my private practice, with astonishing results. I had seen mothers and daughters reach new understandings of their longtime emotional struggle. I had seen couples practice the technique and come away with a renewed commitment to making their relationship work. Even as people sometimes felt awkward or resisted, I saw how speaking in this new way, using Safe Conversations, was impacting them positively.
Safe Conversations helps us identify ways in which we experienced early relational challenges, and how those challenges impact our identity, as well as our sense of hope and possibility about ourselves, our families, and the larger community. The process teaches us how to both share appreciation for people in our lives, and how to safely tell the story of our own emotional challenges. Built into the process of Safe Conversations is a feedback loop that fosters validating and empathizing with each other’s emotional struggles. Essentially, Safe Conversations teaches us that everyone needs to be part of the answer to a more gender equal and relational world, and gives us the skills to connect better with others.
A parallel process of sorts has been building momentum in philanthropy recently with a strategy called participatory grantmaking, which helps donors and grantees build stronger relationships. Participatory grantmaking invites donors and grantees to become partners, with the central premise that the grantee has the experience to lead the way toward solutions. Organizations like NCRP, the Center for Effective Philanthropy, and the Fund for Shared Insight, are adding to the chorus of philanthropy experts calling for more participatory grantmaking, with many large foundations joining the Fund for Shared Insight in the past year.
Three decades ago, Helen LaKelly Hunt was part of a small army of pioneering feminist founders of some of our country’s largest and most successful women’s foundations. By funding the start of these women’s funds, Hunt helped establish new community hubs for participatory grantmaking. Most women’s funds have been under-recognized practitioners of participatory grantmaking since inception, and these practices — of moving into relationship with the grantee, listening to and incorporating their feedback, and even of including grantees on boards and in the grantmaking process — have made women’s funds some of the most effective change agents in the philanthropic landscape.
In philanthropy, participatory grantmaking is teaching us to listen and value feedback in the donor-grantee relationship. This is a significant shift, but just as important are shifts that can take place in our own everyday relationships. With new techniques like Safe Conversations, we can all be stewards of stronger, more gender equal families and communities.
Editor’s Note: Kiersten Marek is trained as a Safe Conversations Leader and will be teaching her first Safe Conversations workshop on November 7, 2018. To learn more about future Safe Conversations workshops for both helping professionals and the general public, please email Kiersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Full disclosure: The Sister Fund (of which Helen LaKelly Hunt is co-founder) is a Lead Sponsor of Philanthropy Women.
It is with sad heart that I write about the loss of Deborah Holmes. I had the privilege of working with Deborah in March of this year as I prepared to write about the history of women’s funding for progressive change. Deborah was tremendously devoted to her work, and was a fantastic collaborator in creating the ideas for my recent posts published on Inside Philanthropy and The Chronicle of Social Change.
Deborah Holmes will be honored at a memorial on June 14th at 2 pm at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Several people have written about Deborah’s legacy since her loss on April 27, 2018. I thought of trying to provide excerpts, but each of the statements about Deborah seems to have its own integrity, so I am providing them in full below.
Cynthia Nimmo, President and CEO of Women’s Funding Network, wrote:
This evening I am writing to you, our many sisters throughout the network, to share the devastating news that Deborah Holmes passed away this morning, April 27.
Deborah learned two weeks ago that she had cancer. She was prepared to fight it with the tenacity she brought to everything. Despite her and her doctors’ best efforts, this final battle was lost. I know this comes as a shock and our team joins you in our grief and disbelief. Deborah was a very private person and had not wanted to share her news while she was on her healing journey. Just a week ago we talked about her wishes to get back to work as soon as possible, however, things turned very quickly and now she is gone.
I spent much of the past 3 days in the ICU with Deborah. It is important to me that you know that Deborah was at peace and she made sure to write that down so we knew. She liked her doctors and knew they were making every attempt to heal her. She was a long-time member of Grace Cathedral and they sent a Reverend over within minutes of her arrival at the ICU to pray with her. This morning we prayed with her to send her on her way home.
In true Deborah fashion, she wanted nothing to do with flowers or cards or people crying over her. When we asked her what her wishes were for her service, she said a service wasn’t important to her but we could all have one if we wanted. Deborah’s brother, Greg Holmes, will plan a service with Grace Cathedral to be held in May. Women’s Funding Network will be honoring her in every way we can think of to reflect the force for good that she was.
Deborah’s focus has always been on helping others, and to right the injustices women face – in particular women of color. We at Women’s Funding Network, will continue this work. For us, Deborah was far more than a Chief Communications Officer. She was my confidante, our big picture thinker, and a voice that ensured the intersection of race and gender was at the forefront at all times. She brought such vibrancy to our office, always playing music, bringing in home-made treats, and yelling out loud at the bad news of the day. As a CEO, it is a gift to work with such a leader. I speak for our team when I say we learned so much from Deborah. I respected her deeply and will miss her always.
Deborah Holmes was a member of the Global Press Board of Directors, which also issued a statement:
It is with great sadness that we share the news that Deborah Holmes, a member of the Global Press Board of Directors, passed away on Friday.
She was diagnosed with cancer just two weeks ago. This has been a shock to all of us who knew and loved Deborah. As we mourn her passing, we are also gratefully acknowledging Deborah’s legacy — her powerful commitment to justice and equality.
A former investigative journalist, Deborah spent the last decade at the Global Fund for Women and Women’s Funding Network where she worked to advance justice and equality for women around the world.
I first met Deborah in 2012 and she instantly became an advocate for the women of Global Press and their journalism. Deborah was always sharing Global Press Journal stories with friends and colleagues, passionately insisting that our journalism could change the world. And as a member of the Global Press board she co-created a strategic communication sub-committee and worked to advance our work in countless ways.
To honor her legacy, Global Press Journal will debut an award for exceptional coverage of racial justice in Deborah’s name. We’ll share more details about the award in the coming months. In the meantime, we extend our deepest condolences to Deborah’s family, friends and colleagues.
Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO, Global Fund for Women, also issued this statement:
It is with extreme sadness that I write to inform you that our courageous sister and friend Deborah Holmes died this morning peacefully. Deborah had breast cancer some years ago and it came back with force. Despite medical effort and Deborah’s own bold and good fight, the battle was lost to cancer this morning April 27, 2018. I write knowing that this news will come as a shock to many of you – it was Deborah’s wish that she fight this battle privately until the end, with the fortitude and resilience that all of us knew her for.
I was with Deborah for many hours of her last journey in the past few days. She knew everything about her illness and the medical interventions offered to her. She collaborated to make things better, but once she knew that the course of nature could not be reversed, she was at peace. She motioned me to give her the writing pad we used to communicate with each other and she wrote on it, “ I am at peace”. She died in the presence of her only brother, Gregory Holmes, and his wife Maria Holmes.
At the time of her death, Deborah was Chief Communication and Engagement Officer at the Women’s Funding Network (WFN) and the CEO of WFN gave her every possible support to the last minute.
Deborah worked for the Global Fund for Women from 2008 – 2017, just over eight years. In her time at the Global Fund for Women, she served as the VP of Communications (2008-2014) and as Chief of Staff (2014 -2017).
Deborah was extremely loved and respected by Board, staff, and partners of Global Fund for Women. As VP of Communications, Deborah played a key role in developing and institutionalizing Global Fund for Women’s communications strategy. She positioned Global Fund for Women as a thought leader on women’s rights issues in major media, and she led creative and successful efforts for the 20th and 25th anniversary gala years. She acted as a liaison to the board during the CEO transition in 2009, was an integral part of the leadership team and in the founding of the Staff Council, as well as taking on responsibilities for Human Resources. During her tenure as Chief of Staff and also head of HR, Deborah led the revision of policies to ensure equity and justice in our internal systems.
As a co-leader, Deborah was invaluable: she was our biggest cheerleader and our toughest critic. Her strength was contagious. Nothing could stop Deborah on a mission. She pushed organizations and people to embrace change and think differently. She challenged and supported staff to do better and to see a better future. She cared deeply about justice issues between people and she was not diplomatic about calling out racial injustice in this country and elsewhere. She could not tolerate injustice.
Behind Deborah’s strength also lay deep compassion, thoughtfulness, and kindness. She always welcomed new employees, she baked bread and cakes for the whole staff, she was an ear of wisdom and advice whenever she was called upon. She was a tireless champion of those she managed, and deeply loved by the team she supervised.
As Kavita Ramdas, my predecessor as CEO who hired Deborah, has so movingly and aptly noted, Deborah was: “a small package exploding with warmth, generosity, intelligence, style, and a passionate commitment to fusing beauty with justice…she understood the power of story. The power of women’s voice. The power of lived experience. The power of rising from the ashes and telling others it was possible. And, still we rise.”
Deborah’s savvy and commitment to justice was coupled with flair and incredible personal style. The fun part of Deborah were her shoes. We all wanted Deborah’s chic style, including shoes that matched her attire! She knew how to dress smart and travel light. Deborah never checked in luggage because she made good choices in what she selected and matched for travel.
Before coming to Global Fund for Women, Deborah was Senior Vice President of Fleishman Hillard and the Director of Public Relations & Marketing for the Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, Missouri. An accomplished television news reporter and analyst for more than 30 years, Deborah worked for local and international news organizations and received numerous awards for investigative reporting and documentaries.
Throughout her life, Deborah was a passionate advocate for causes she cared about including racial and social justice and equity, political empowerment, and freedom of the press. She acted as Board President for Bridging the Gap and the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, and was the Chair of the Board of Wellesley Centers for Women. She also served on the boards of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Foundation, Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy, Association of Black Fundraising Executives, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of HIV/AIDS, Wesport Ministry in Housing, Global Press Institute, and many others.
To celebrate Deborah’s life, at her family’s request, please make a donation to a cancer organization of your choice in Deborah’s memory.
We have lost a sister and her life illuminates values that unite and inspire us all. As we all come together to mourn Deborah’s passing, let us remember and celebrate her remarkable, bold, and passionate life.
Happy Women’s History Month. There are only a few days left to this month of focusing on the value of gender equality and the arc of its progression throughout time. I spent a lot of time this month researching and thinking about how women’s funds feed social change. Most of what I learned reinforced the theory that women’s funds represent a unique approach to philanthropy that the rest of the sector would do well to replicate.
My last piece for Women’s history month on this topic is published at Daily Kos, a site dedicated to the larger sphere of progressive political change.
As Philanthropy Opens Up, Women’s Funds Show the Way
Something unusual happened recently in philanthropy: Bill and Melinda Gates opened their annual letter by answering 10 “tough” questions from the public about their philanthropy. The Gates’ Q&A is just one example of philanthropists becoming more responsive to the public. Funders are growing more aware of the value of engaging with the communities they seek to serve. The Fund for Shared Insight (FSI) which is dedicated to bringing more openness to philanthropy, is cultivating this trend; it added five new foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this past year: Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, James Irvine Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Omidyar Network, bringing the number of funding partners in the collaborative to 39.
These new commitments to FSI represent a trend toward participatory grantmaking — a method of listening to and engaging with grantees and community members in the funding process, making the interventions being supported more impactful. It’s a powerful strategy that is gaining momentum, with grantmakers like Wikimedia Foundation increasing the amount of participatory grantmaking into the millions in recent years.
With help from FSI, Women’s Funding Network recently conducted research on the standard openness practices of its members, yielding significant findings about the power of participation.
How Do Women’s Funds Practice Openness?
Women’s funds recruit community members for several parts of the grantmaking process. Of the women’s funds studied for this research, 79% practiced participatory grantmaking in the form of bringing on grant readers from the communities being served. 74% of women’s funds also had community members participating in funding recommendations and site visits, and 61% engaged community members in evaluating grants.
Women’s funds use listening tours and other engagement strategies. Listening to the voices of community members is a key strategy that women’s funds practice. 68% of women’s funds in the study engage in listening tours and 88% engage in candid conversation with community members.
Because women’s funds listen, they do some of the most effective advocacy. 88% of women’s funds engage in advocacy, with 75% engaging at the state level. That advocacy is magnified by 96% of women’s funds engaging in coalition-building — getting other organizations on board when advocating for systems changes.
Women’s funds prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. Engagement and listening tours in the community help women’s funds fully appreciate and elevate the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Of the participating women’s funds, 58% have explicit definitions and commitments to diversity, equity, and/or inclusion.
The Women’s Foundation of California, recently introduced three important pieces of legislation through its policy institute that were signed into State law, all of which benefit underserved communities and enhance inclusion and economic equality. In Kansas City, Missouri, the Women’s Foundation was on the forefront of advocating for and enacting new paid family leave policies. And in Chicago, the Chicago Foundation for Women teamed up with other advocacy groups this past year to raise the minimum wage in Cook County to $11.
Bottom Line: Consistently employing participatory grantmaking practices can result in increased resources, knowledge, and self-determination for grassroots movements.
Women’s funds’ standard operating procedure of listening and understanding a community from its perspective, empowers grantmakers and community members to be more effective change agents. Grantees get more opportunities to collaborate with others in the community and participate in advocacy that creates structural change. Grantmakers feel more effective and confident about their connection to the community.
Now more than ever, foundations should fully embrace the participatory grantmaking model that women’s funds have been practicing for decades. By doing so, they will increase their capacity to accelerate the social change they seek.
Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is a clinical social worker and founder of Philanthropy Women. Full disclosure: Women’s Funding Network is the fiscal sponsor for Philanthropy Women.
What a great way to start the day, with my daily news search for the term “philanthropy women” turning up an article on Forbes that discusses both our fiscal sponsor, Women’s Funding Network, and one of our spotlight organizations, Women Donors Network. The article also talks in detail about other work we’ve covered, including Emergent Fund’s rapid response funding for the Resistance, and the role that Donna Hall and WDN have played in bringing together progressive funders this past year.
I won’t be a spoiler for you — you can read Marianne Schnall’s fine article here. But it’s interesting to note that we reported on many of the funders and organizations in depth over the past year, and now here they are all rounded up in another article published on a much larger mainstream publication, and by such a reputable writer. Schnall has a resume that is bursting at the seams with knowledge and experience in the field of feminism, including being the founder and publisher of Feminist.com since 1996, and having two feminist book titles to her credit.
While I try to stay reality-based about the value of Philanthropy Women as a micropublisher, I can’t help but wonder if other feminist writers, when researching their articles, are googling terms like “philanthropy women” and “feminist philanthropy” and are turning up some of our content in the process. In any case, I am glad to see the enhanced attention to the important work being done by WDN, WFN, Groundswell, Emergent Fund, and all of the other women’s philanthropy leaders discussed in Schnall’s article.