“These extraordinarily demanding times call for increased responsiveness, investment, and collaboration from philanthropy,” said Ana Oliveira, The New York Women’s Foundation’s President and CEO, upon announcing a record $11 million in grants for 2018 to 175 community organizations. “Our 2018 grantmaking expresses the Foundation’s increased response to the needs of historically underinvested communities most impacted by poverty and violence.”
The New York Women’s Foundation (The Foundation) has been at the forefront of gender equality philanthropy for several decades. From 2017 to 2018, grantmaking from the foundation increased by $3 million, breaking its previous record of $8 million, a 27% increase in just one year. If the New York Women’s Foundation continues giving at this rate, in another five years, its giving could reach over $25 million per year.
With the fight to keep abortion safe and legal increasingly under threat, fundraising expert Kathy LeMay of Raising Change recently hosted a webinar with leaders from the National Abortion Federation. The goal of the webinar was to help philanthropists take action to support the abortion providers, during increasingly hostile times for providing these vital services.
Kathy introduced the Very Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, former President of the Episcopal Divinity School and Interim President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation. (Longtime CEO of NAF, Vicki Saporta, who put in 23 years at the helm of NAF, announced her retirement this past year.)
Despite the prevalence of the sexual exploitation of women and girls, gender-based violence funding accounts for just 1.8% of all foundation giving. And even within that small percentage, the majority of funds go to domestic violence, with commercial sexual exploitation often remaining neglected.
To bridge that crucial gap, the NoVo Foundation recently announced a $10 million, 3-year funding commitment for U.S.-based programs. The funding will go to programs that are aimed at “opening exit ramps” and “closing on-ramps” to the commercial sex trade–or, as it’s often called, The Life.
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.”
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 email@example.com.
Full disclosure: The Sister Fund (of which Helen LaKelly Hunt is co-founder) is a Lead Sponsor of Philanthropy Women.
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.
Wercspace will act not only as a tool, but as a community for female entrepreneurs. Female-owned businesses often fall under the radar or fail to receive enough support to get off the ground. With this new initiative, WFN is bringing women together from across the globe, regardless of the stage of their business, their available funding, or their background in business. This will allow for women-owned businesses to grow together and build strong partnerships on one platform.
I decided to start my own Wercspace account, being an artists and film editor who wants to start making new contacts in the professional world. I can attest that the process of setting up a profile was easy, and there are resources that I am looking forward to checking out further, including the courses section, which shares educational content like Feminist Business School and Project Entrepreneur.
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.
For funders in philanthropy, this is an important moment to reflect on how much you are doing to help create a safer culture for women in our country. When women feel safer in their own homes, we will have families bringing up healthier children. When women feel safer in all settings, I believe we will reach critical mass in political leadership and will be able to close the gender gaps across all sectors — even stubborn ones like technology and sports.
But we have a long way to go, and we won’t get there without investing more funding in amplifying the voices of women who have survived harassment and abuse. I am particularly appreciative of Ruth Ann Harnisch’s work in this area. By producing the film The Hunting Ground, Ruth Ann highlighted the ongoing problem of campus sexual assault, and contributed to the wave of women pushing back against a patriarchy that often blames and revictimizes women who have suffered sexual trauma. Seeing the film helped me both as a survivor and as a practitioner who guides other survivors in finding their voice and healing from sexual trauma.
Take a look at what some of the major funders of sexual assault prevention are doing to move our culture to a better place for women. Then consider how you might lend your resources to a worthy cause in the sexual assault prevention funding arena.
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.