We all have a unique journey in giving, and now that my journey has landed squarely on feminist philanthropy, I am excited to host a Twitter chat on National Philanthropy Day, to discuss my journey as a giver and to learn about your journey. I believe that by conversing, we can do more than we realize to help each other along the way.
The Twitter Chat will take place on National Philanthropy Day, Wednesday, November 15th, at 11 AM EST it, and will last for one hour. The chat is being hosted by Women Thrive Alliance, one of our spotlight organizations, and will focus on the following:
Topic: The Added Value of Funding Women’s Rights Organizations
“How do you get movements to scale, while at the same time keeping them based on relationships?” asks Leah Hunt-Hendrix, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Solidaire. It’s a question central to many progressive movements that want to help communities grow from within.
Solidaire formed in 2013, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the Arab Spring, and anti-austerity protests in Europe. These disparate movements did not seek narrow policy change; instead, they sought to question—and remake—their societies, disrupting systemic inequality and injustice.
Like these movements, Solidaire seeks to support non-traditional social transformation, says Hunt-Hendrix. By empowering grassroots organizations like Black Lives Matter and their allies, it directs funding at the crosshairs of political struggle and progressive change.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Catherine Gill, Executive Vice President at Root Capital, in collaboration with Charlotte Wagner, Principal of the Wagner Foundation. We are publishing it here at Philanthropy Women because we couldn’t agree more with the message. I see the way feminists do philanthropy differently, and to me, it is the critical difference that has the capacity to reshape communities and economies worldwide. From Charlotte Wagner and Catherine Gill:
Here’s an indisputable fact: The future of philanthropy is female.
A huge amount of wealth is now in women’s hands, and they are ready to invest it where it’s needed most:
Of the impending $41 trillion wealth transfer between generations,70% will be inherited by women.
Women give almost twice as much of their wealth away as men (3.5% vs. 1.8%).
This is good news for women and girls. Only 12 percent of global philanthropy currently goes to gender-related causes—with more women donors we can hope this proportion will grow. And that’s good news for everyone, since supporting womenbenefits entire communities.
We know this because, for the last seven years, our institutions (theWagner Foundation andRoot Capital) have been working together to build gender inclusion in agricultural businesses across the developing world. We do this not only because it improves the lives of women, but because inclusive businesses create more economic opportunity for all workers and their families.
While the work we’re doing is certainly feminist, we didn’t immediately think about our philanthropic partnership that way. Over time, we’ve come to recognize subtle differences between the traditional donor-grantee relationship and the way that Wagner Foundation and Root Capital work together. Our feminist approach to philanthropy happened organically, built from years of trust, pointed questions, and open minds.
What is feminist philanthropy?
According toFondo Centroamericano de Mujeres, a women’s organization in Nicaragua: “Feminist philanthropy is not a charitable act or an act of power. It is an act of solidarity and mutual empowerment.”
To us, it’s about three things: collaboration, lack of ego, and intersectionality. We’re calling this “feminist” because social science research shows that women tend to bemore cooperative and to seekcreative, holistic solutions. But—just like feminism itself—this approach isn’t only for women. Feminist philanthropy can help anyone who wants to innovate their giving and maximize their effectiveness.
Here’s what we’ve learned.
It’s about collaboration.
Traditional philanthropy often reinforces unhealthy power dynamics: Donors impose their priorities onto grantees, who then impose their preferred solutions onto beneficiaries. This structure may result in positive outputs—more children vaccinated, more teachers trained—but it can also result inunintended harm.
Feminist philanthropy means flipping this dynamic on its head. Instead of decision-making power trickling down from the top, we stand side-by-side. Donors roll up their sleeves and collaborate with grantees. Grantees welcome more donor participation. While both come to the table with certain preferences and assumptions, our experience proves it’s possible to approach this as partners, open to learning from each other.
In our case, Root Capital benefits from the lessons Charlotte Wagner draws from 10 years of experience partnering with nonprofits that specialize in healthcare in the developing world. And, in turn, the Wagner Foundation applies what it learns from working with Root Capital to other grants in other sectors, replicating what works well and losing what doesn’t. As Charlotte puts it: “We are leveraging knowledge and positive change across philanthropic sectors by working together.”
More importantly, this collaboration must extend to (and indeed, center on) the people and communities with whom we work. They are the only ones who fully understand the problems, opportunities, and possible solutions. At a recent event announcing the Gates Foundation’s$20 million commitment to strengthen women’s groups worldwide, Melinda Gates hit the nail on the head: “They know their community. They know what needs to get done.”
As part of our joint initiative, Root Capital and the Wagner Foundation deploy Gender Equity Grants: small disbursements that help agricultural businesses build inclusion of women. Rather than prescribe an approach, we ask community members to identify where the money is needed most, be it a childcare center, an internal savings group, or something entirely different. “The Gender Equity Grants complement the economic benefits of the agricultural loans Root Capital is making, and our hope is that the combination of the two will catalyze a more holistic social change in each community,” says Charlotte. While it’s early to gauge results, we firmly believe these locally-driven solutions will be more sustainable and impactful than anything we could have planned on our own.
Bottom line: The collaborative approach at the heart of feminist philanthropy allows us to discover new angles and opportunities, and craft better answers to complex problems.
It’s about putting aside ego.
We’re in this together. Our successes are mutual, and so are our failures. It may seem obvious, but too often this truism gets lost in the imbalanced relationship between those who hold the purse-strings and those who need the money.
Feminist philanthropy is about mutual empowerment. In our case, the Wagner Foundation makes a conscious and strategic effort to leverage their connections in order to make Root Capital more effective. That’s because Wagner Foundation deeply believes in Root Capital’s mission of growing prosperity for rural communities. And we both recognize that Root Capital can’t accomplish this mission alone. In fact, we need all the help we can get. So we work together to bring more supporters to the table.
Often, both donors and grantees are too interested in getting credit and acclaim. They want to make sure their logo is prominently placed and their spokesperson gets quoted in the media. We know; we’ve been guilty of this ourselves! But even with the best intentions—more attention can mean more money for your cause—this can get in the way of creating impact. A feminist approach means putting aside ego to focus on bringing in more voices and more ideas. Yes, your logo may get overshadowed; but your cause will be brought into the light.
That doesn’t mean we don’t tout our achievements. We’re proud of our impact and want people to know about it. But it’s in service of the greater goal. Tackling poverty or inequality is something philanthropists—and the organizations they work with—should approach with humility. We need to lift each other up if we have any chance of lifting others.
It’s about intersectionality.
Funding, particularly when it comes to international development, can be myopic. In some cases, interventions are Band-Aids—temporary relief, but without a change to the larger structures and dynamics thatperpetuate the problem. To create lasting change, we must think holistically.
Donors can help with this. Since the beginning of our partnership, the Wagner Foundation has pressed Root Capital to look beyond the act of disbursing a loan. In some countries where we work, women aren’t allowed to own land. Most have small children, making it difficult for them to work in formal employment or attend skills trainings.
Feminist philanthropy asks: How do we build better communities? How do we change the power structures that push some people forward while holding others back?
The Wagner Foundation has—gently, but persistently—raised these questions with Root Capital since the early days. Drawing on her past experience, Charlotte encouraged Root Capital to think about public health implications, gender-based violence, and challenges facing indigenous communities in rural areas. “It is often not enough to solely focus on one lever of change—greater impact can be achieved by taking a holistic approach and listening to the community about what is most needed,” says Charlotte. Root Capital believes access to capital is vitally important; but this partnership has pushed us to recognize that we need to consider the political, economic, and social context in order to have a real impact. It’s daunting, but it’s also empowering.
In applying the feminist lens, donors can make space for grantees to both accomplish the work at hand and think through the larger implications. Time for learning, innovation, and risk-taking need to be built into the grant agreement. And donors can push this forward by continuing to ask hard questions about intended and unintended impacts. For Root Capital, these questions have made us more effective and have translated to better services for our clients in rural communities.
We aren’t the only ones getting on board with this approach. Pioneers likeWomen Moving Millions andMaverick Collective are leading the way on growing the amount that female donors give to women’s causes. Many organizations, donors, and investors carefully monitor the gender impacts of their work.
But we’ll say it again: This isn’t just about women. By confronting and upending power dynamics—both between donor, grantee, and beneficiary and in the broader society—a feminist approach to philanthropy can make us all more effective and impactful. We’ve seen that result firsthand.
And now, in the spirit of collaboration, we want to hear what you think. Tell us in the comments section below: What does feminist philanthropy mean to you?
One of the most significant barriers to women starting out in philanthropy is lack of knowledge about how and where to donate money. Women new to philanthropy, including women whose families may have ill-prepared them for the financial management of inheritance, may have trouble picking an organization or cause to focus on. They may be confused about which kind of donation will create the most value for an organization, or may simply not understand the tax ramifications of different forms of philanthropy. That’s where Women Donors Network (WDN) comes in.
A network of progressive women philanthropists, WDN focus on three themes: connect, collaborate, and catalyze. In other words, WDN helps women get into relationships that teach them about philanthropy — how to collaborate on philanthropic projects, and how to act as catalysts for progressive social change.
First, of course, thank you for reading. You are bravely joining me on the sometimes harrowing adventure of learning about gender equality philanthropy. I thank you for joining me on this journey.
Also, thank you to our sponsors, Ruth Ann Harnisch and Emily Nielsen Jones. You have provided an amazing opportunity to advance the knowledge and strategy of progressive women’s philanthropy, and for that you are wholeheartedly thanked.
Thank you, as well, to our writers — Ariel Dougherty, Jill Silos-Rooney, Tim Lehnert, Kathy LeMay, Susan Tacent, Betsy McKinney, and Emily Nielsen Jones. Your work reading, interviewing, thinking, and writing about women’s philanthropy has resulted in my receiving tons of positive correspondence about our content. The internal numbers also validate that we are making an impact.
The numbers show that our audience is primarily female on Google analytics. Our Twitter analytics indicate that our audience is comprised largely of progressive foundations, nonprofits, fundraising professionals, and technology specialists. This information is relevant to the theory that Philanthropy Women is helping high level foundation and philanthropy leaders access needed information. Many philanthropy organizations interact with us on social media in a positive way, amplifying and retweeting important content.
Our data also shows that our spotlight organizations are clearly enjoying more media attention as a result of our efforts. Women Thrive, WDN, and the Global Fund for Women, are all receiving a healthy percentage of click-throughs as a result of our presence.
Finally, in terms of our growing authority online, our work has been cited and linked to by the UCLA School of Law Blog, Philanthropy New York multiple times, and many other high level places such as Maverick Collective, Women for Afghan Women, and Giving Compass. We have a large and growing presence on social media, as indicated by the high number of referrals from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media. In addition, I have received high praise from many foundation staff about our writers and our content.
So, all this is to say that Philanthropy Women is successfully growing, and, I believe, making the conversation on gender equality philanthropy richer and more relevant. But I believe we can do more. I hope you will keep reading as we work to grow our impact. We have ambitious, but, I believe, achievable goals. Best, KierstenRead More
Last week in New York, over 50 female philanthropists came together to launch a new educational scholarship fund for women in Israel.
At the occasion, the American Society of University of Haifa announced the founding of its new Women’s Scholarship Fund. The scholarship seeks to engage women at all levels of philanthropy and support female students at all levels of education.
“We are very committed to education. Education is the key to everything. It is something that you can’t take away and if you give someone an education, it will enable them to help themselves for the rest of their life,” said Lady Irene Hatter, who spoke at the gathering. With their philanthropy, Hatter and her husband, Sir Maurice Hatter, support World Jewish Relief and World ORT, a worldwide Jewish educational NGO.
Editor’s Note: This is an editorial by Ashindi Maxton, who is a Senior Advisor for the Women Donors Network (WDN), one of our Spotlight Organizations. The editorial tells the story of how WDN and its allies have been able to effectively bring in more partners to fund the resistance. As Ms. Maxton points out, the Threshold Fund and the Democracy Alliance joined WDN and Solidaire to expand the Emergent Fund, amplifying the ability of that fund to protect and empower marginalized communities.
From Ashindi Maxton:
Philanthropy in the U.S. has never faced a moment quite like this one. New threats loom larger over one community after another in steady sequence and core norms of equity and democracy feel suddenly unstable.
Muslim-Americans face hate crimes and travel bans. Immigrant communities face criminalization and deportations. Women face attacks on reproductive rights. Black and Latino communities face attacks on civil liberties, including voting rights and police violence. LGBTQ communities face a loss of the most basic protections in employment and public safety.
As the level of threats we are facing increases, philanthropy must also elevate our level of response. The philanthropic community cannot meet this rapid barrage of unpredictable threats using our traditional models. Instead, we must question some of our own core assumptions.
A few best practices we could begin to question include funding driven by rigid long-term planning, extensive organization vetting, and decisions made entirely by donors or foundation staff who are removed from the crises at hand. We have to ask ourselves if our funding models seize the tremendous opportunity of the historical and political moment.
The Women Donors Network (WDN) and Solidaire, two networks of individual donors committed to funding movements for racial and social justice, shared a key question, “How can our work rise to the level of these crises?”
Two driving principles for our response: responding at the speed of the threats and placing radical trust in the threatened communities to develop their own solutions.
With these principles as the foundation, we built a funding partnership for rapid response called “The Emergent Fund.” The name refers to “emergent strategy,” solutions that fluidly adapt to rapidly changing conditions. Our shared vision was for the Emergent Fund to support the work of threatened communities to build their own new reality — one that emerges on the other side of crisis and supports organizing that uses the energy of the moment to build powerful new thinking as envisioned by community leaders.
Foundation staff and wealthy donors often do not reflect the communities most at risk in this moment. Mainstream philanthropy is anchored in a conviction that people with advanced degrees and sophisticated titles are best positioned to solve social problems although they are the furthest removed from impacted communities. Knowledge of those communities is too often considered irrelevant in hiring or decisionmaking.
The Emergent Fund, on the contrary, was based on the premise that expertise lives in the communities we want to support.
The process we used to ensure that the expertise of community members drives and informs our funding decisions was steeped in networking with community leaders.
We started by calling the organizers and community leaders, most affected by today’s political moment, that we knew and asked about needs and approaches to this work and criteria we could use to allocate funding.
Next, we formed a brilliant decision-making advisory council of eleven well-respected and networked community leaders and funder representatives with community organizing backgrounds. This group of mostly women included Latinx, Black, Asian, Arab-American, Muslim, Native, White, and LGBTQ members.
We designed an easy application form, available on our website for anyone to apply, based on our mutually agreed on criteria.
Finally, we asked a second set of diverse activist leaders from across many communities to serve as a Nominations Network, to let others know about the Emergent Fund, to vet strong proposals, and to provide feedback to inform funding decisions.
This model, adapted from other models like the North Star fund and Marguerite Casey Foundation, which have been doing activist advised funding for many years, was based on curating thoughtful decision-makers with expertise in the communities we wanted to support. In every conversation, we learned about critical dynamics previously overlooked or ignored by other philanthropy colleagues.
Two additional networks of progressive donors, the Threshold Fund and the Democracy Alliance, joined our effort. In the first few months of 2017, their individual donors helped to raise over one million dollars allocated directly to communities most in need.
As we reflect on the lessons learned from the initial launch of the Emergent Fund, one thing is clear: any funder concerned with social change should be grappling to answer this question, “Who is best equipped to solve the challenges facing the most threatened communities?”
Philanthropy cannot presume expertise over the people whose lives are most directly impacted in this moment. Rising to historical moments should mean letting go of practices that have not served us or these communities well. Now is the time to experiment with and adopt new funding and leadership models led by people forming responses and vision from their own lived experience.
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Ashindi Maxton is a senior advisor and funding strategist for the Women Donors Network (WDN) with extensive work in democratic reform, racial justice, and education. The Women Donors Network, a community of more than 200 progressive women donors who invest their energy, strategic savvy, and philanthropic dollars to build a just and fair world.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about becoming a Philanthropy Women Spotlight Organization, please contact us.Read More
Leaders from eight women’s funds across the country that spearheaded the Young Women’s Initiative received the 2018 Leadership and Diversity Award (LEAD), given by the The Women’s Funding Network at their annual summit, taking place this week in San Francisco.
The New York Women’s Foundation is a 2017 recipient of The Women’s Funding Network’s Leadership and Diversity (LEAD) Award, for launching the first Young Women’s Initiative in partnership with the New York City Council and inspiring similar efforts by women’s foundations across the country.
Sustainable Harvest International Founder and President Florence Reed did not encounter many other women leaders in philanthropy when she started the organization in 1997. “I was flying by the seat of my pants. I literally went to a library and checked out a book on how to start a non-profit, and went through it chapter by chapter,” she recalled in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women. Who knew then how successful her initiative would be: Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) was recently named by Charity Navigator as one of the “six highest-ranking charities in the sector making major strides to increase sustainable food production.”
For Helen LaKelly Hunt, three central passions drive her work: funding for gender equality, changing the culture of intimate relationships, and rethinking the historical roots of American feminism. These three passions all come together in a new way with the publication of her latest book.
“Jennifer Baumgardner gets much credit. After all, she published this book,” said Helen, in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women. “And as a result of Jennifer’s passion, I always remind her, this book has two mothers.” Baumgardner is the Publisher at The Feminist Press, which released Helen’s book this past May.