One of the best ways to leverage support for a community is by celebrating its culture. Angélique Kidjo and the Batonga Foundation seek to amplify their campaign for women and girls in West Africa through a one-of-a-kind benefit dinner hosted later this month in New York City.
Kidjo, a three-time Grammy Award-winning singer and musician, was born in Benin and grew up steeped in the rich musical and social culture of West Africa. She attended school at a time when girls’ education was not considered socially acceptable. In answer to taunts from boys in her classes, Kidjo would shout back, “Batonga!,” an invented word that has since translated into Kidjo’s music and philanthropy.
On August 20, 2019, an initiative to connect and catalyst the field of giving circles announced their intention to donate $32,000 to collective giving organizations. The funds, distributed in thirteen microgrants ranging from $500 to $5,000, will go toward circles and networks that “showcase, scale, strengthen, and sustain the field of collective giving.
This initiative is born out of a yearlong co-design process spearheaded by the organizations Amplifier, Asian Women’s Giving Circle, Catalist, Community Investment Network, and Latino Community Foundation.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by the I Be Black Girl Collective, and is shared on Philanthropy Women during Black Philanthropy Month in order to highlight local efforts across the country to grow Black Philanthropy.
“We know that the people most affected by an issue are not the people making the decisions around solutions,” said Ashlei Spivey, co-founder of I Be Black Girl, a collective of Black women in Omaha, Nebraska. “IBBGives is a space that allows everyday Black women, no matter their association, to invest in their community.”
I Be Black Girl (IBBG) is a collective for Black women and girls in the Omaha metro; its founding is modeled after the work of bell hooks. IBBG organically came to fruition after a Facebook post by Ashlei Spivey that called for Black women to get together to refresh and pour into one another. Based on the overwhelming response, IBBG formally became a collective in 2017, offering networking sessions and leadership development programming.
It’s great news when one of the oldest and largest feminist publishers decides to share your micropublishing work. This week, Ms. Magazine shared an article by Julia Travers on the growing giving circle movement.
I feel like I could write a whole memoir on Ms. Magazine and its influence in my life, but I’ll save that for another day. Right now, I just want to thank this most venerable feminist media institution for their support, and acknowledge Julia Travers for her unique talent in writing about this subject.
Great news for theatre buffs in Rhode Island: a new collaborative, formed a year ago, is now taking off to produce more dramatic works by women. Named WomensWork Theatre Collaborative and headed by Creative Director Lynne Collinson, they will present a trio of plays about madness in 2019 and 2020.
WomensWorkRI Theatre Collaborative describes itself as “a creative collective designed to promote theatrical opportunities for women of all ages. A major mission focus is to provide leadership roles – on and off stage — for women over the age of 40.”
“WomensWork has chosen three plays – all written by women — that examine the ways madness manifests itself in women’s lives, whether from the strain of caring for a parent with a deteriorating mind, the seismic change brought about by midlife crisis, or the daily dread faced by women duty-bound to risk their lives for a tyrant,” said Collison, in an announcement rolling out the slate of plays to be produced over the next year.
Here in the Northeast, we don’t tend to envision Texas as having a culture of diversity and women’s empowerment. But Texas is actually one of the most diverse states in the union. Currently, 68% of women ages 15 to 24 are women of color. The reality for the biggest state in the union is that the minority is the majority among young people. Texas is also home to one of the country’s largest women’s foundations, the Texas Women’s Foundation (TWF). Previously known as the Dallas Women’s Foundation, in 2018, it rebranded as a statewide endeavor with plans to increase its impact across all regions of the Lone Star State.
Big news for giving circle members and fans: The Catalist 2020 National Conference will be held from Feb. 23 to the 25 in Seattle, Washington. Catalist is a network and umbrella organization for women’s collective-giving grantmaking organizations. The conference will be hosted at the Motif Hotel by the Washington Women’s Foundation (WaWF), a Catalist member organization that will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.
The WaWF is a fitting host for the 2020
conference, because it was launched by Catalist founding board member Colleen
Willoughby in 1995. And, in 2009, Willoughby brought together collective giving
leaders from across the U.S., spurring the creation of the Women’s Collective
Giving Grantmakers Network (WCGN), now Catalist.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.