Intersectional Philanthropy: A Conversation with Suzanne Lerner

Editor’s Note: This Q&A was created with the assistance and guidance of Claudia Carasso, Founder and Principal of Elastic Minds.

After our July webinar, “Lack of Funding for Women and Girls of Color: What Donors Can Do,” we had a chance to speak further with our guest, Suzanne Lerner, on her approach to intersectional gender lens philanthropy.

Suzanne Lerner, Co-Founder of clothing brand Michael Stars, is an activist entrepreneur with a primary focus on gender & racial equality, and the economic empowerment of women & girls. (Image Credit: Suzanne Lerner)

The conversation below explores Lerner’s experience as a philanthropist, business leader, and activist entrepreneur, as well as what other funders and company leaders can do to advance an intersectional focus in their approaches to philanthropy.

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Examining Patriarchy with “The Girl Child”: A Six-Month Journey

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.

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Lessons for Philanthropy from Black Women Leaders

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.    

black women leaders
Chantal Bonitto reminds readers of the lost stories of black women leaders in philanthropy with an essay exploring their contributions.

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. 

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Kamala Harris: “We’re Gonna Get It Done.”

“We’re gonna get it done.” These were some of the first words spoken by Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris in her phenomenal half-hour interview with Errin Haines, Editor-at-Large for the 19th, during the 19th Represents Summit on Friday. Harris’s plans to “get it done” refer to the upcoming Presidential election, and her goal to join Joe Biden in leading the U.S. out of one of its worst crisis periods in history.

Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris spoke with Errin Haines of The 19th on Friday, August 14th, giving details of her experience becoming the first woman of color nominated to the U.S. Presidential ticket. (Image Credit: The 19th video, Youtube)

Haines began the interview by asking what it was like for Kamala Harris to be in competition with women she respected and worked with, other candidates who were running for President and were in the lead to be asked to fill Biden’s ticket for the Vice President spot.

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Jenny Xia Spradling on Financial Well-Being with a Mission

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Jenny Xia Spradling, Co-CEO of FreeWill, a digital estate planning company that has helped more than 150,000 people make wills. Before FreeWill, Jenny worked at McKinsey and Bain Capital, where she helped launched the firm’s first impact investment fund. She is also a cofounder of Paribus, later acquired by Capital One.

Jenny Xia Spradling is the Co-CEO of FreeWill, a digital estate planning company that has helped more than 150,000 people make wills. (Image Credit: FreeWill)

What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

You can have a job where you believe in the mission and have really fast career growth. I always felt like this was a trade-off in choosing a career – you could have growth or mission, but not both. The movement of social enterprises has really grown even over the past 10 years, and I think there will be more and more opportunities for people to have financial well-being while also achieving impact they are passionate about.

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Black Giving for a New Era of Equity

Editor’s Note: The following essay is by By Dr. Jacqueline Bouvier Copeland, Founder of Black Philanthropy Month and The Women Invested to Save Earth™ (WISE) Fund.

This year has unfolded like the chapters of a dystopian Octavia Butler novel.  A third of US Covid deaths are Black.  Black unemployment rates are at more than 20 percent.  More than 40 percent of Black small businesses have closed.  The George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor lynchings, broadcast across traditional and social media, made it clear that virulent, violent, anti-Black racism is alive and well. 

black giving
Dr. Jacqueline Bouvier Copeland, Founder of Black Philanthropy Month and The Women Invested to Save Earth™ (WISE) Fund

These are confusing, life-changing times. Black joy, struggle, rage and giving converge in our story, creating history and shaping our future this Black Philanthropy Month (BPM). Stories give form to chaos, helping us see hidden lessons and new visions to become the change we want to see. For this unprecedented historical moment of BPM, the story begins and ends in Minneapolis, a new center of the global racial justice movement.

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Liveblog – What Donors Can Do About Lack of Funding for Women and Girls of Color

Today marks our third webinar at Philanthropy Women! On Thursday, July 23rd, we gathered for “Lack of Funding for Women and Girls of Color: What Donors Can Do.”

We kicked off our third webinar with a warm welcome to our participants. Kiersten Marek, Editor-in-Chief, began with an overview of the funding issues outlined in Pocket Change, the Ms. Foundation’s report on the funding gap for women and girls of color.

Kiersten pointed out other issues impacting the funding environment for women and girls of color, including the recent announcement of downsizing at the NoVo Foundation, and the potential for funds being redirected to address the COVID crisis. However, there is some encouraging action happening now, as new corporations and foundations have stepped up for intersectional giving.

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Liveblog of WPI: How Giving Circles Diversify Philanthropy

On July 16, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute hosted a live Q&A with Sara Lomelin of Philanthropy Together, to discuss the ways philanthropy can be democratized, empowered, and fueled by diversity. In light of current pressing issues like the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19, WPI and Philanthropy Together seek to answer the question, “How can giving circles transform the future of trust-based giving?”

Image Credit: WPI and Philanthropy Together

WPI Director Jeannie Sager kicked off the conversation by encouraging the participants to share their locations – people chimed in from all over the US and beyond.

Sager introduced the concept: “For too long, philanthropy has been seen as an exclusive club. Yet today, our country is experiencing a drastic reckoning… Who is called a philanthropist?”

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Beyoncé: “Vote like our life depends on it, because it does.”

“We have to vote like our life depends on it, because it does,” said Beyoncé in her pre-recorded acceptance speech for the 2020 BET Awards. The performer and philanthropist is 2020’s recipient of the Humanitarian Award, bestowed for her work through the BeyGOOD Initiative and other campaigns.

International superstar Beyoncé is the recipient of the 2020 BET Humanitarian Award. (Image Credit: BET/Twitter)

“Thank you so much for this beautiful honor,” she said. “I want to dedicate this award to all of my brothers out there, all of my sisters out there inspiring me, marching and fighting for change. Your voices are being heard and you’re proving to our ancestors that their struggles were not in vain.”

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Crisis Fundraising for Nonprofits: Training Course Begins July 24!

So far, 2020 has thrown a lot at nonprofits. This unprecedented year has been full of crisis, conflict, and budget crunching, and many social change organizations have had to scramble to pull together funds simply to keep their doors open. In Fundraising During A Crisis, a twelve-week course from Wright Consulting Group, Alyssa Wright and her team hope to arm nonprofit leaders with the skills they need to successfully raise funds in the midst of uncertainty.

Through “Fundraising During A Crisis,” Alyssa Wright and her team will arm nonprofit professionals with the skills and tools they need to successfully raise money during unprecedented times. (Image Credit: Alyssa F. Wright)

Fundraising During A Crisis is a online 12-week course that includes an analysis of the current philanthropic landscape, a check-in for fundraisers as to how they measure their success and who they want to become as purpose-driven professionals, and time to connect with guest speakers who you wouldn’t normally see as part of the development field,” says Wright, Founder of Wright Consulting Group. “It’s a really important program because it teaches nonprofit leaders how to adapt to ever-changing circumstances and also, what to value and how to measure their success during this very uncertain time.”

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