The Grateful Activist: This Longtime Philanthropy Leader Shares Insights

Tracy Gary has played a key role in building the infrastructure of women’s philanthropy over the past 40 years.

Tracy Gary says she starts every day as a “grateful activist.” That’s a good way to approach the morning, and an attitude that infuses the 66-year old Gary’s now 40-year career as philanthropy advisor, non-profit leader, donor and consultant.

A founder of nearly two dozen non-profits, Gary heads Unleashing Generosity and Inspired Legacies, and is on the road 40 days per year working with non-profits, foundations, and donors. That’s down from the 200 days away from home she used to log, but in the last few years she has reduced her workload (which used to run to 60-80 hours per week) and dropped 100 pounds. It’s a matter of staying healthy, and staying on the planet, so that she can continue mentoring the next generation of inheritors and philanthropy professionals.

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Discovering America’s History of Black Female Philanthropy: Madam C. J. Walker

American women have not generally been celebrated for their philanthropic activity, so it shouldn’t be surprising that African-American female philanthropists are especially invisible in contemporary culture.

Madam C. J. Walker

But that wasn’t always the case. In the early 20th century, African-American women were engaged in a literal battle for survival in a segregated and violently racist nation. One African- American woman, however, managed to go from being a laundress who sometimes earned less than one dollar a day to becoming one of the first self-made female millionaires in the United States. Her name was Sarah Breedlove, but she was known far and wide as Madam C. J. Walker, the founder of a hair care empire and a noted philanthropist. Walker used her fortune to champion the YMCA, the Tuskegee Institute, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other important civic and educational organizations.

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Helen LaKelly Hunt: Feminism and Philanthropy Are Converging to Create a New Relationship Culture

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Helen LaKelly Hunt

If you spend time reading about women and philanthropy, you will invariably come across Helen LaKelly Hunt. Along with her sister, Swanee Hunt, these two feminist philanthropists are major players in the women’s funding movement, which hit the big leagues in the past decade as high-net-worth women began to make gifts of over $1 million dollars to fund causes for women and girls.  

While researching for her dissertation on the origins of American feminism, Hunt discovered that 19th century women didn’t fund the suffrage movement. Instead, they funded things like their husband’s alma maters, churches (where they had no voice) and the arts. Years later, when women began pledging and making million-dollar gifts to women’s funds, Hunt captured that history in a book called the Trailblazer book, which was circulated to other women donors. This compilation of women’s testimonies helped catalyze the founding of Women Moving Millions.  

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