Giving circles bring people together to
practice collective philanthropy. In the same spirit, representatives of giving
circles and giving circle networks across the U.S. are now convening to build
power. In April 2019, 82 members of dozens of giving circles in the U.S. met
for two days in Seattle, Washington, to share stories, hopes and plans for
building a stronger giving circle movement. Women are playing a leading role in
Giving Circles Grow and Set Goals
Giving circles allow friends, neighbors, families and people with
religious, civil, cultural and other connections to learn about issues of
shared concern and decide where to donate their money. They are usually
created by women and/or members of ethnic minority, LGBTQ or other marginalized groups — those who
typically hold a lesser share of power and money in the U.S. — though many
open their doors to anyone with common values. Women make up most of their
Editor’s Note: Fascinating things are going on in the realm of giving circles and community giving projects. We are pleased to share this piece by Cheyenna Layne Weber, one of the founders of Solidarity Economy Giving Project in New York City, which aims to bring together donors in new ways.
From Cheyenna Layne Weber:
There are more than 2,000 solidarity economy organizations in New York City, most of them founded and maintained by women. These democratic, member-led groups take different legal forms, but hold certain values in common—social and racial justice, ecological sustainability, mutualism, and cooperation. They include low-income credit unions; cooperatives providing food, affordable housing, and childcare; cooperatives of farmers and workers; community gardens and land trusts; and community-supported agriculture. Together, these form a solidarity economy based on meeting material needs rather than making profits. (Explore these models in this short video.)
Women form solidarity economy organizations as creative solutions to systemic oppression faced in workplaces, families, housing, food systems, and financial institutions. Latinx women in Staten Island formed worker co-operatives that operate cleaning or childcare businesses while providing living wages and control over working conditions. Bangladeshi women in East New York grow food for their families in a community garden they control. In the Bronx in the 1980s, low-income women formed affordable housing co-operatives , which endure despite rising real estate values. Around that time, women of the Lower East Side formed a low-income credit union that not only continues to serve the immigrant community but has expanded to Harlem and Staten Island. In all five boroughs, no matter the race or ethnicity of the community, women are building a solidarity economy.
So why have you never heard of it? The erasure of women’s labor in the home has been well-documented, and a similar dynamic emerges for women’s labor in communities and workplaces. This is especially true when the labor is not designed to add value for shareholders of a corporation, but rather benefits the community members who control and make use of the services of a solidarity economy organization. Many innovative women are also overlooked because they do not fit patriarchy’s conception of the entrepreneur: white, male, affluent, able-bodied, straight, and Christian. Thus, dominant institutions like government, philanthropy, and the private sector have little understanding of the incredible entrepreneurial role women often take up, and until recently had expressed little interest in learning more. This is beginning to change as cities like New York and philanthropists such as Robin Hood Foundation have begun investing in worker co-operatives to ameliorate poverty.
But it is not enough. Solidarity economy organizations often lack funding, especially those run by and serving women who are of color, immigrants, low-income, disabled, queer and/or trans. While a few co-op loan funds and investors offer capital (such as The Working World or Cooperative Fund of New England), it is almost impossible for these women to find micro-grants to cover costs like training and technical assistance, crowdfunding matches, emergency support, or event sponsorships. Of the available grants, arduous application processes, requiring professional grant-writing or prior relationships to power (such as alumni networks), exclude women working within solidarity economy organizations.
To meet this gap young philanthropists and organizers created the Solidarity Economy Giving Project (SEGP). A program of the Cooperative Economics Alliance of New York City (CEANYC),a democratic membership organization for NYC-based, solidarity economy enterprises, the Giving Project is the only solidarity economy grantmaking effort in the United States controlled by grassroots leaders. The Project includes a multi-racial, multi-gender, and intergenerational Giving Circle whose members each give a minimum $2,000 gift annually and jointly host a fundraising party. Giving Circle members lead the program, which includes learning from local solidarity economy leaders about their work; developing an analysis of racialized capitalism; building skills to improve social justice philanthropy; and plenty of time to enjoy being with others dedicated to redistributing their wealth to address capitalism’s harmful impacts. Members also encourage each other to do more than just move money — to also become advocates and participants in the solidarity economy. Organizers initially hoped to raise $15,000 in the pilot year and ultimately raised $50,000. Now midway through year two, the Project has raised $61,000 in total.
Grassroots leaders designed the grantmaking process, which includes a very brief application and a reduced reporting structure. The grantmaking committee is comprised of the elected members of CEANYC’s Board of Directors. SEGP donors do not participate in fund disbursement, and grantees are not burdened by site visits or extensive interviews with funders. Instead, donors trust the solidarity economy community to distribute these funds. This transfer of control flies in the face of traditional philanthropy, where a donor’s name is often affixed to a gift, and breaks with the convention of foundation-based Giving Projects where full-time staff support participants in grantmaking decisions.
The impact of the Giving Project has been profound, even in its first full year of grantmaking in 2018. Grants included support for:
Nine women (seven women of color) to attend cooperative leadership trainings;
An affordable housing co-op in Brooklyn to prepare a vacant unit for a new family;
Manhattan community gardens to provide programs for low-income Latinx children;
Expanded staffing and ownership opportunities at catering and food processing worker co-ops led by people of color; and
Crowdfunding matches for a healthcare co-operative and a new food co-op that both serve Brooklyn communities of color.
The SEGP is something that like-minded donors could do in any city, and it is sorely needed. (Check out the solidarity economy in your area!) Whereas most funding is piecemeal,such as support for community gardens by health funders or credit unions by Community Reinvestment Act funds— we need resources to unify these disparate models in a single solidarity economy vision.
The Hildegard Fund and Economic Justice grantmaking of New York Women’s Foundation and the new Solidarity Economy Initiative funders collaborative in Massachusetts are promising steps by funders in support of a united solidarity economy rests on the power and potential of women’s leadership. Key to such efforts is acknowledging that this work must be self-directed from the grassroots, and that resources must flow to under-resourced, dedicated innovators, not to well-connected charismatic white men or existing grantees who happen upon co-ops as a good idea they want to adopt.
A solidarity economy that meets all of our needs and welcomes all of our contributions is possible. The Solidarity Economy Giving Project is a small step in that direction.
We welcome any opportunity to support others who want to implement a similar program. Reach us at any time via email@example.com.
Admittedly, I am not a philanthropist. But managing the money of philanthropists for progressive social change has given me a unique appreciation for the essential role of people and organizations that connect philanthropy and political strategy.
I’ve spent most of my career as that staff person expected to change the world $1,000 at a time, one issue at a time. In roles such as manager of young organizers, volunteer coordinator, lobbyist to fickle legislators, major gifts director, and Executive Director, I have worked to change political decision-making systems, often while holding up woefully under-staffed legislative and advocacy initiatives. As a single person Public Affairs or Program Director, I sometimes served in the role of five people, and was seen as a savior if I could project-manage a couple coalitions on the side – you know, for the good of the cause.
This is the plight of nonprofits that attempt advocacy with small staffs and fledgling budgets. We have magical unicorns among us, but we burn them out and don’t recognize the real opportunity and economic costs for these staff. We fund the sexy here-and-now social reform initiatives, but forget the critical connective tissue organizing that brings nonprofits together around one long-term plan. We short-change the outreach and engagement positions who partner in real ways to build political and community change that our charitable and direct service provider groups require to carry out their work. We cut short the operatives who know how to respond to and build power in spite of the political volatility and public narrative shifts.
But it doesn’t have to remain that way. Women philanthropists are demonstrating their systems change muscle and some are looking to build out connective tissue among women’s and girls issues. Because women understand that communication, collaboration and shared strategy is essential to effective movement building, women philanthropists are uniquely positioned to invest in this work.
So what does this connective tissue look like? It is a matrix of nonprofits designed to develop digital, narrative and community pipelines for leadership and action. We call it infrastructure. These nonprofits are legally and structurally set up to carry the message and deploy civic engagement tactics so that elected bodies move toward public policy changes.
“Social Welfare” or 501(c)4 nonprofits are an overlooked tool for moving the public narrative and elected leaders. Although sometimes scorned as “dark money,” particularly since Citizens United, 501(c)4s are a critical part of the larger investment strategy to achieve social change. If your passion is environmental justice or reducing maternal mortality rates- it IS political. The same state lawmakers that are blocking attempts to codify Roe V. Wade are the ones working to deter voting rights and further cripple structural democracy as we know it.
Women and girls issues do not exist in a silo. They exist inside a complex struggle for power among partisans – some of whom govern and some of whom are paid to work against women’s and girls causes. Service providers must be funded to provide their services, and social welfare organizations must be funded to build political power for women and girls. It is a moral and ethical imperative of the modern political era.
So here are my recommendations for how to be courageous:
Be a bold board member. Discuss how your 501(c)3 charity can partner with other nonprofits doing voter registration and mobilization programs. Ask your executive directors what 501(c)4 and infrastructure organizations help them the most and explore opening a connected 501(c)4 to allow your organization to be a stronger advocate for your core mission work.
Identify if there is an infrastructure donor alliance in your state or community. These are often 501(c)4 and 501(c)3 hybrid affinity groups that invest in long term, connective tissue strategies that bring single issue groups together around shared community organizing goals and a shared set of message, civic engagement and even litigation goals.
Endow entire staff roles and teams to focus on civic engagement partnerships. Make it acceptable for charitable nonprofits to have a seat at voter and community mobilization tables.
Reconsider your mix of giving. If you give $1 million a year to 501(c)3 causes, consider tithing 10% to 501(c)4s that are providing the teams and tactics to respond to deep societal and political crises (like government shut downs, as one recent example).
Educate your philanthropist friends. Help them understand that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Have tough conversations about diversifying how you invest in the charitable and social welfare sectors.
Paula Hodges is founder of Anchor Strategies, which works with individual donors and organizational funders to re-think their philanthropic giving by layering on political and advocacy funding and joining state based progressive infrastructure donor alliances. She was the founding Executive Director of New Hampshire Progress Alliance, New England’s first pooled investment fund for incubating durable, permanent progressive infrastructure.
Two new reports from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute point to the increasing influence and diversity of giving circle (GC) members, and the challenges present when established foundations serve as “hosts” for GCs.
The reports are authored by the Collective Giving Research Group (CGRG) which was formed in 2015 as a collaborative “to explore and understand the dynamics of giving circles and other forms of collective giving.” Its members include scholars and consultants in the areas of philanthropy, public affairs and public administration, and it has institutional support from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI), which is part of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Funding for the reports came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation via the WPI, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
Giving circles typically comprise groups of individuals who donate collectively to an organization, cause or project of common interest. The difference between a GC and a typical philanthropic organization or non-profit is that donors themselves choose what to fund. Larger giving circles can have hundreds of voting members and a yearly membership fee (or required annual donation) of $1,000 or more. The Greater Indianapolis 100 is one such charitable women’s giving circle group; it makes gifts of $100,000 and membership costs $1,000 annually. Of course, a GC can also be quite modest and informal – a half-dozen people meeting in a member’s living room and deciding to pool their money for a charitable purpose, whether that be sending a needy local child to summer camp, protecting a slice of wetland, or supporting micro-loans for African women.
According to the CGRG, there are triple the number of US GCs now than a decade ago, and GCs are estimated to have given roughly $1.3 billion to charitable causes since their inception.
Women are Key to GC Growth
An earlier (2017) report from the CGRG on U.S. GCs noted “Women dominate giving circle membership, making up 70 percent of all members. …. While men have a presence in 66 percent of giving circles, they are only the majority of members in 7.5 percent of groups.” A separate 2017 CGRG report stated that women’s GCs represented nearly half the groups in their database.
Giving circles have increasingly become the point of entry for women, and particularly women of color, in charitable giving. Giving circles are places where groups underrepresented in traditional philanthropy can organize as women, or as a subset of women (LGBT, Asian, Latinx, African American) and find ways to support their own communities. GCs often give to local initiatives, are less traditional in their giving than typical funders, and more likely to support women and ethnic and minority groups.
The new CGRG report on GC membership indicates that compared to non-members, GC donors “give more money and time, give more strategically, and are more engaged in civic and political activities.” Moreover, GC members take greater advantage of their social networks in obtaining advice about philanthropy, bring in a broader range of information, and consult a wider array of people for advice than do non-members. The GC movement is relatively new, but already there are differences between GC veterans and members who have joined within the last year. Newer members tend to be younger, more ethnically diverse, and have lower incomes. Longitudinal studies, the report suggests, will reveal to what extent participating in a GC changes donor attitudes and preferences over time, and whether the diversity among new GC members is sustained.
The “Dynamics of Hosting” report focuses on GC hosting, and notes that community foundations and similar organizations are promoting and adopting giving circles to cultivate a more diverse donor pool, strengthen and expand community engagement, and foster a philanthropic culture. The CGRG findings on hosting were obtained in the summer of 2017 from survey data that included responses from 86 community and public foundations in 33 states. Of the 86, two-thirds host one or more GC groups. Over 90 percent of hosts indicated that they wished to affiliate with a GC in order to promote a culture of philanthropy.
The most common reason for the host-GC relationship is for the host to act as a fiscal sponsor in which it provides 501(c)(3) status, and receives donations and disburses grants for the GC. Hosts may also help a GC reach a specific group of donors, and work with a group of donors in establishing a GC to address a shared priority. Hosts may also play a role in communications and outreach, event planning, and regulation oversight. Hosting a GC is labor intensive, and some hosts charge a flat fee, while others take a percentage of annual CG assets. Some foundations do the work gratis, often as part of a mission to reach underserved communities and promote philanthropy. Regardless, the report indicates that most hosts did not feel that fees met their expenses.
No doubt, community foundations and other such entities have taken notice of the steady growth of giving circles and realize that partnering with such groups is the wave of the future. As the CGRG hosting report concludes, “Giving circles and collective giving groups hold enormous potential for broad outreach, flexible and authentic engagement of donors, and a more democratic approach to building a culture of philanthropy.” As GCs evolve, some of the questions surrounding host vs GC costs and benefits will likely be better answered.
Sharing food: one of the ultimate human communing experiences. Now imagine sharing food with a group of generous women who, like you, want to make every dollar they give to charity count toward helping women and girls and addressing gender equality in developing countries.
Welcome to Dining for Women (DFW), a global giving circle dedicated to funding social change for women and girls. At monthly potluck dinners, members come together and discuss today’s issues impacting women and girls, particularly the organizations being funded that month, and in the process, these 8,000-plus women raise more than a million dollars annually to fight for gender equity. Dining for Women was founded in 2003, and many chapters have already had 10 or even 15 year anniversaries.
“Global citizens,” is how Dining for Women President Beth Ellen Holimon describes the women who participate in the growing movement. “Through member education, grantmaking and advocacy, DFW builds community here in the U.S.,” said Holimon, but that’s only the beginning of their positive impact.
Each DFW meeting helps to raise awareness about how women and girls are experiencing life worldwide, with presentations and information about organizations currently being funded. As they share a meal, members also share camaraderie and open discussion. Big issues now being funded by Dining for Women include helping Syrian refugee women find employment in Jordan and joining UNICEF’s effort to end gender-based violence in South Sudan.
One of the features that got me wanting to know more DFW was the organization’s attention to social policy and advocacy. On June 1 of this year, Betsy Dunklin, Chair of Dining for Women’s Advocacy Committee, sounded the alarm bells in a post about devastating cuts to International Aid proposed in the U.S Government’s 2019 budget. “The Administration has proposed a more than 30% cut to the International Affairs (IA) budget for FY2019,” she wrote. “Dining for Women opposes cuts to the US foreign aid budget because they disproportionately affect women and girls, who already suffer the most from global poverty, inequality, and humanitarian crises. Many of the proposed cuts fall most heavily on gender equality programs.” DFW’s advocacy position on these cuts is fully explained in Raise Your Voices for Women and Girls, DFW’s advocacy guide.
In her call to action, Dunklin also helped members understand the added impact of their advocacy by providing the context in which DFW operates as a member of the US Global Leadership Coalition — a 500 member nonprofit and business coalition. “We have the power as US citizens living in a democracy to stand up for women and girls around the world,” she wrote.
Doubling Down: How Some Organizations Become Sustained Grantees
Another way that Dining for Women amplifies the work they do is by choosing certain organizations formerly funded as a featured grantee for sustained funding. Starting in 2012, DFW began making two- and three-year grants totaling $40,000 — 60,000 to organizations chosen by a Grant Selection Committee. Grantees who have demonstrated significant progress toward achieving grant goals are eligible to become sustained grantees. Organizations such as Girl Determined in Myanmar and the Nepal Youth Foundation are able to get help to achieve specific goals, such as in Nepal, where Napal Youth Foundation is helping to eradicate “Kamlari,” the traditionally-accepted practice of selling young girls into servitude.
The Impact, Globally and Locally
In January of 2018, DFW Chair Susan Stall shared the latest 2017 stats on impact with members in the newsletter. “Thanks to your record-breaking donations, in 2017 we were able to fund grants and partnerships that directly impacted the lives of nearly 40,000 women and girls in 18 countries around the world,” she wrote.
In the still-small-but-growing world of gender equality philanthropy, that is a significant impact. Imagine if DFW’s membership went from 8,000 to 80,000 — and 400,000 women and girls were reached. Then we might really see the way that gender equality can shift economies and cultures in a positive way.
What It’s All About: Feeding Ourselves, Feeding the World
In case all of this isn’t enough, there are also the DFW recipes — a wide-ranging collection of favorite dishes from all over the world like Bolivia, Guatemala, Myanmar, and Chad. Joining DFW might also mean you get to try out new foods and recognize how different cultures provide nourishment in amazing and creative ways.
Another big plus: in joining DFW, you don’t have to worry about the level of your financial commitment. There is no pledge or yearly minimum. Members pay what they can, with the hope that as they get more supported by and investing in the group, their donation will organically grow.
“As we share food, we share something of ourselves and we honor each other.” So begins the Dining for Women Affirmation that women say collectively when they come together. The affirmation also recognizes the added burden that women experience as the main food providers in much of the world. If you’re one of the main family cooks like me, you probably suffer periodic episodes of cooking burnout. But the benefits of feeding others ultimately seem to outweigh the burdens, particularly for longtime members of DFW who continue to feel inspired and supported in their efforts to value and improve the lives of women and girls.
2017 was a tremendous year to be writing about gender equality philanthropy. In the wake of Trump’s election in 2016, women in progressive circles rallied their resources for fighting back against the coming regression. Our top ten posts help to recall the many ways that women joined the resistance and continued the fight. At #6, for example, Emily Nielsen Jones delves into the experience of coming together for the Women’s March last January. Meanwhile, at #2, one of the most unusual giving circles in the country celebrates its ability to reach women on the other side of the globe. At #5, we hear from Kimberle Crenshaw, law scholar and fierce advocate for philanthropy to reach out more to women and girls of color.
I love that this is the number one post on Philanthropy Women, since it highlights the importance of progressive women leaders coming together and developing the language and strategy of feminist philanthropy.
Our story on the New England International Donors Giving Circle, which raised and granted $70,000 in 11 months for gender equality organizations in Kenya, Senegal, Rwanda, and Uganda, sent a strong signal about the power of women’s collective giving to effect change both locally and globally.
While attending the Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s DREAM, DARE, DO conference in March, and seeing Tracy Gary speak about her lifetime of devotion to gender equality philanthropy, I began to appreciate how one woman’s work can impact so many. Her profile is one of our highest ranking posts, and speaks to the power of raising up women’s leadership and magnifying effective models of progressive women’s giving.
Jennifer and Peter Buffett of The NoVo Foundation have played a key role in identifying new strategies for moving the needle on gender equality philanthropy. With the foundation’s landmark devotion of $90 million in funding to address the needs of women and girls of color, this article explores how NoVo’s founders are contributing to the feminist philanthropy landscape.
With her ability to identify America’s blind spot when it comes to funding women and girls of color, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work resonates strongly with liberal strategies seeking to get at structural change. My favorite quote in the article from Crenshaw: “They say we lost the recent election because we paid too much attention to women and people of color, but the issue is that we didn’t pay enough attention to either constituency.”
Emily Nielsen Jones got us all on the feminist train early this year, and she has been driving that train to new destinations ever since. As the co-founder of Imago Dei Fund and Board member for New England International Donors Network, Jones continues to test her mettle as a donor activist. Her essay exploring the many ways that feminism needs to be embraced by both men and women, got a lot of page views this past year.
Another important progressive leader chimed in later in the year on Philanthropy Women: Allison Fine. With four fascinating books on nonprofits, networking, and social change to her credit, Fine also has several years experience as a policy wonk for Demos in New York. She is now Vice Chair of Board Of Directors at NARAL, an essential organization in the fight to protect women’s equality and access to reproductive services. With this thought leadership piece, Fine brings new ideas to the conversation on how women can embrace their power for funding social change.
Few thinkers or leaders have the ability to connect ideas and action quite the way that Helen LaKelly Hunt does. With her new book, And the Spirit Moved Them, Hunt explores the three central passions that drive her work: funding for gender equality, changing the culture of intimate relationships, and rethinking the historical roots of American feminism. These result is a book that retells the history of American feminism in profound ways and calls on progressives to strategize across race, class, and gender lines.
This piece by veteran fundraiser and consultant Kathy LeMay, got a lot of views, and helped explore how a new leader in philanthropy like Ana Morales can connect to the larger scene. My favorite quote from the article: “Morales’ philanthropic focus and confidence didn’t come overnight. It involved risk-taking and networking in unfamiliar territory. ‘I sat myself at dinners that scared the shit out of me and I started asking questions,'” said Morales.
It’s an essential question that doesn’t get discussed enough: who is funding sexual assault prevention? While this article is by no means an exhaustive list of the funders for sexual assault prevention, it describes many important funders in the field and how they are approaching the problem. The article also serves as a reminder of how little focus this area of philanthropy gets.
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.
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
Hashtags: #FundWomen #NationalPhilanthropyDay
Q1) Today is National Philanthropy Day. What advice do you have for individuals looking to give today?
Q2) How and why do you opt to fund women’s rights organizations?
Q3) What advice can you give to individuals who want to fund grassroots organizations?
Q4) Why is philanthropy so important when it comes to women’s rights and gender equality?
Q5) What are some resources that donors can use to educate themselves on investing in women’s rights?
Twitter chat guidelines:
At the beginning of the chat, Women Thrive will ask participants to tweet and say ‘hello.’ Women Thrive will go over how to answer the tweets – i.e. answer Q1 with A1; Q2 with A2 for all tweets corresponding to that question. Women Thrive will then begin by tweeting out the questions. Lastly, please include #FundWomen in all tweets.
Some areas I hope to cover include the growing use of giving circles as a vehicle for grassroots feminist philanthropy, ways to influence the communities around you to analyze their gender data, and ways to use your sweat equity as a writer, thinker, and amplifier to support feminist philanthropy. I will also be culling from our growing database of article on Philanthropy Women that are calling attention to the past, present, and future of how we #fundwomen.
Editor’s Note: It gives me great pleasure to welcome Allison Fine to Philanthropy Women as a guest contributor. Allison is the author of multiple books including Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age and The Networked Nonprofit. A former Senior Fellow at Demos, Allison specializes in the intersections of online activism and democracy-building.
Exactly a year ago, millions of women across the country created the Resistance. We have marched and protested, shared our outrage using hashtags such as #metoo, #yessallwomen #nastywomen and called (and called and called) Congress. Now it’s time to shift from powering the Resistance to creating the Renaissance. However, there is one huge barrier, the “final frontier” as philanthropist Ruth Ann Harnisch calls it: our discomfort with money and power.
According to one study, more women are giving to more causes than ever before. However, the amount of money women are giving hasn’t gone up correspondingly. Here is the key point, “Men may represent a smaller slice of the donor pool, but they have made up for it by giving more money, keeping their impact and influence similar to what it was in 1990.”
Even though many women are wealthier than ever, we have yet to connect the dots between money, influence and power.
So, how do we shift to funding the Renaissance?
First, we have to put our name on things. Frankly, no one really needs to have their name on a building; however, we do need to put our names on important issues and causes and campaigns. Pick a critically important issue for rebuilding our democracy, and there are plenty of them, say immigration or anti-gerrymandering or climate change, and then tell the world you are funding it at a significant level. Step out into the spotlight and say, “This is where my $10,000 is going.” Be proud of your contribution. Your pride will be contagious and other women will do the same.
The second thing we need to do is to get comfortable asking for money. Even if you can’t write a big check, it is likely that there are people in your social networks who can. Now, don’t get into the habit of asking for money from everyone all the time because people will begin to cross the street to get away from you. But you need to get comfortable with the sentence, “Can you write a check for $10,000?” And that’s just for starters, eventually it has to be $100,000. Then $1,000,000 has to become part of your vocabulary. That’s what those seats around the board table are reserved for – not for the nice people or the smart people, women have always been those people, but for the people who can write, or get, million dollar checks.
And finally, we have to create our own systems if we can’t get equitable access to existing ones. There are powerful women in Hollywood and even a few women in the C suite here and there, but they work within a system created by and maintained by men. We need women-owned studios and banks and venture capital firms. We have women’s foundations, but they are far too small to have a big impact. We need more women to contribute to these funds or pool their money as parts of giving circles in order to magnify the impact of their giving.
The revitalization of our country will be led this time by founding mothers, but only when we embrace our own power and leverage our wealth and connections to create a more equitable society.
One of the most fascinating trends in women’s philanthropy is the advent of women’s giving circles. In fact, I got so interested in this trend, that I decided to start a giving circle of my own. More about that later. First, let’s take a look at some of the amazing things that giving circles have done over the past year in the U.S.
While the idea of giving circles as a vehicle for growing grassroots philanthropy has been around for over a decade, with the new platforms and technologies available for crowdfunding and online donating, the progress on giving circles has really sped up. Giving circles are now propagating in so many forms and varieties, that I get overwhelmed every time I google it and try to write about it. But, just to get us all started, check out the giving circle page at the Women’s Foundation of California. They have developed a number of different ways to use the giving circle. Other signs that interest in giving circles is increasing: Community foundations like The Rhode Island Foundation are offering matching funds for giving circles that meet certain criteria.
One expert in giving circles that has made impressive strides in developing the form is Jacquelyn Caster, Founder and CEO of The Everychild Foundation. Check out our article about that work here.
The Explosion of Women’s Giving Networks
And while it’s not a giving circle, per se, we want to give a big shout-out to Women Moving Millions, which has mobilized at least $500 million to date in funding specifically for projects and programs benefiting women and girls. That group has big plans for the future. Other major women’s donor networks include Rachel’s Network, the Women Donors Network, the Women’s Funding Network, and High Water Women. All of these collaborative efforts are what make women’s philanthropy so unique and powerful. We look forward to covering this work in depth in the coming years at Philanthropy Women.