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.”
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.
When I told my husband I was going to a three-day retreat on gender reconciliation, he was genuinely excited for me, but he couldn’t help getting in a sarcastic reference to cliché. “Are you going to hold hands and sing kumbaya?” he asked.
I thought for a moment, and then my eyes lit up. “I think so!” I said.
The Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI) retreat held in Framingham, MA did indeed involve some hand-holding and song-singing. But it also did much more, traveling into a realm of meaningful communication and understanding where I have never been before.
As of this past Monday, the Women’s Funding Network (WFN) has launched its newest initiative: Wercspace.org, a free website for women entrepreneurs to build their network and their business. With this new space for women, WFN hopes to provide a community for women-owned businesses of all stripes to come together and support each other.
Wercspace.org acts as a business-oriented social networking site with a feminist approach. It provides access to a community of women-owned business that members can add as contacts, instantly building women into communities to help one another. Another section of the website is dedicated to resources and tools for business owners. These resources range from marketing to certification to self-care, and allow members to receive assistance based on the stage of their business. Furthermore, the site provides links to free and low-cost online courses in a variety of fields. These courses, along with the business stories of female entrepreneurs, emphasize the importance of learning and keeping an open mind as a business owner and a feminist. The site also includes information on funding a business, providing various links and sources of information.
So much exciting change is happening in women’s philanthropy, but one of the biggest breakthroughs by far has been the overwhelming response to the #MeToo campaign, which helps to break the silence on sexual abuse and harassment. While we all have to measure when and were we choose to tell our stories (and as a therapist I have listened to many accounts, and have helped guide people to make choices about how much they wanted to disclose, and to whom) it is heartening to see so many women willing to take the risk and put their story out there.
The holiday season means different things to all of us, but one meaning I would like to suggest we share this holiday season is a renewed dedication to self-care.
The idea of self-care can seem trite, but it is definitely not all about getting manicures. When I work with clients in my therapy practice, I like to help them widen their definition of self-care to include acts large and small that we can do to bring ourselves to a healthier place emotionally and physically. Here are a few examples from my life:
Look through the gender lens at your own life, and realize that the holidays might mean extra work for you as a woman. Explore ways to delegate holiday work to those around you who are able to give with their time and attention.
Re-read a familiar book that helps to reset your mind. My book is Diary of A Nobody by George and Weedon Grosssmith. Reading it is like rinsing my brain with a conditioner that take out some of the toxicity and negativity of daily life.
Watch a sit-com or other TV/film that helps shift you into a more neutral state, if you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed. Cute animal videos can also do the trick.
Do 10 minutes of unscheduled aerobic exercise. Get your heart rate up, and then feel how it makes your brain work differently. (If you are in some work environments, this sometimes needs to be done in the bathroom to avoid undue scrutiny. Yes, I did aerobics and yoga in the bathroom at corporate jobs.)
Linger longer over an activity you enjoy. Bake or cook alone or with others. Play games. Go out to dinner. Take a walk. Feel glad about the value of your solitude as well as the value of your relationships, and find time at the holidays to celebrate both.
Take selfies. Paris Hilton may have invented the Selfie, but I’m inventing the selfie for self-care. Be your own model for pictures of good moments in life. Take more selfies at the holidays, to reinforce the experience of enjoying yourself a moment.
In particular for women in philanthropy, an important component of self-care involves investing in and amplifying our vision for a more loving and tolerant world. Use the holiday season to contemplate new ideas for your vision of a better world. Take time to imagine how your ideas might evolve, and allow your intuition to guide you about how to pursue them.