Potluck Power: How This Women’s Giving Circle Feeds Global Gender Equity

Photo from a 2018 trip to Rwanda for Dining for Women Members to learn about grantees.

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.

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Philanthropy Women’s Top 10 Posts for 2017

What a year to take on writing about gender equality philanthropy! 2017 was a year of barriers being broken in the conversation about safety for women. This past year also brought a renewed appreciation for feminism in philanthropy, activism, and political leadership.

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.

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Funders Take Note: #MeToo is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year are the Silence Breakers: those women (and a few men) who are telling the stories that are changing our culture.

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.

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To #FundWomen, Join Us on National Philanthropy Day

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

Host: @WomenThrive

Discussant: @philanthrowomen

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Women: Embrace Your Power for Funding Social Change

Allison Fine, author and nonprofit leader, is Vice Chair of NARAL: ProChoice America Foundation.

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, and encourages women to embrace their power in funding social change. 

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.

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Hot Topics and Trends for Women and Philanthropy, 2016: Women’s Giving Circles

The Women’s Living Room, a giving circle in Cranston RI, donated $1,788 to Artists’ Exchange for theatre scholarships for girls. Pictured are donors, from left, Linda Harris, Lammis Vargas, Kiersten Marek, Kate Aubin, Mike Sepe, Elaine Yeaw from The Artists’ Exchange, City Council President John Lanni, and Paula McFarland.

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

Next Up: Women’s Giving and STEM

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Helen LaKelly Hunt: Feminism and Philanthropy Are Converging to Create a New Relationship Culture

Helen LaKelly Hunt

If you spend time reading about women and philanthropy, you will invariably come across Helen LaKelly Hunt. Along with her sister, Swanee Hunt, these two feminist philanthropists are major players in the women’s funding movement, which hit the big leagues in the past decade as high-net-worth women began to make gifts of over $1 million dollars to fund causes for women and girls.  

While researching for her dissertation on the origins of American feminism, Hunt discovered that 19th century women didn’t fund the suffrage movement. Instead, they funded things like their husband’s alma maters, churches (where they had no voice) and the arts. Years later, when women began pledging and making million-dollar gifts to women’s funds, Hunt captured that history in a book called the Trailblazer book, which was circulated to other women donors. This compilation of women’s testimonies helped catalyze the founding of Women Moving Millions.  

Hunt has co-founded some of the largest and most influential women’s funds in the country, including the Dallas Women’s Foundation, the New York Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Funding Network, and Women Moving Millions. In 2007, Women Moving Millions emerged on the scene with a public launch, and began a two-year campaign to raise $150 million for the global network of women’s funds. During the financial meltdown of 2008, Women Moving Millions became one of the only campaigns to exceed its fundraising goal, with a total of $182 million raised during the economic crisis.

Along with being part of the history of growing women’s funding, Helen LaKelly Hunt is also destined to rewrite the early history of feminism in America. Her forthcoming book, And the Spirit Moved Them: The Lost Radical History of America’s First Feminists, gives an up-close and personal rendition of some little-known history: the first meeting of feminists in the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women held in New York.

In the process of researching her dissertation in the Barnard Library, Hunt discovered the primary source manuscript titled Turning the World Upside Down: The Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women Held in New York City May 9-12, 1837. The men’s abolitionist movements had been all white men, and the Seneca Falls Convention was all white women. But this cross-race, cross-class meeting was so meaningful that years after the Seneca Falls Convention, feminist Lucretia Mott told Elizabeth Cady Stanton to write the history of American feminism starting at the 1837 convention, saying, “That’s where the battle began.” Ultimately, Stanton chose to start feminism’s history at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.

Hunt is therefore shifting the spotlight of the history of American feminism in her forthcoming book, illustrating how its origins contained essential elements of movement building that are still relevant today.

“The window on history that I opened up in the Barnard Library unsealed a parallel window into my past,” she writes in the introduction to her forthcoming book. The window helped Hunt liberate herself from the “golden handcuffs” of gender-normed behavior that still confined her, and begin to accept more fully her power and purpose in building funding networks for women and girls. “I am grateful to be part of feminism and to add my labor to such meaningful work,” she writes.

Hunt’s research has also opened up what she sees as the next wave of feminism: Teaching the culture about the importance of relationships. “Relationality needs to be high on the agenda of the feminist movement.   Feminist activism can become siloed: focusing in fields like domestic violence, or trafficking or economic justice. A relational vision encourages intersectionality, and an understanding of how these issues resonate with one another.”

For several decades, feminist theorists such as Carol Gilligan, Robin Morgan, Judith V. Jordan, Janet Surrey, Irene Stiver, Carter Heyward, Beverly Wildung Harrison and Gloria Steinem have articulated a vision of culture that is “linked, not ranked,” as Steinem says.

“The problem is that, while women have been proponents of a relational culture, it’s only in the last 20 years that the relational sciences have developed to create tools that help people shift from conflict to connection,” said Hunt. She and her husband, Harville Hendrix, are experts in the field of relationship counseling, and are now disseminating a new process called Safe Conversations, a structured conversation that allows two people, even if they disagree, to speak with mutual respect for one another. “This helps shift the cultural dynamic from the vertical to the horizontal,” said Hunt.

“The next stage of feminism can emphasize more explicitly the primacy of relationships, and shift language away from competition and toward collaboration,” said Hunt. She sees state and city-based women’s funds as developing a new model for how foundations can be more inclusive and responsive to the particular needs of a community.

“Look at what was accomplished in the women’s funding movement,” said Hunt. “These women’s funds were not isolated: they emerged in relationship with each other, and they were all about relationships: they brought in grantees and community members to their boards, they brought in representation from populations served. They reached out to many different marginalized populations—women and girls of color, as well as women affected by poverty, by violence, by health issues.”

Hunt also sees women’s funds as playing a key role in showing the culture how women can wield financial clout. “Women’s funds have transformed women’s relationship with money from one of ignorance and ambivalence to one by which she began to unleash her voice into the culture.”

“Both philanthropy and feminism must celebrate the fact that women’s funds embodied for the culture a visionary organizing methodology, a relational vehicle for connecting all women, locally, nationally, globally, to set an important agenda,” she said.

Hunt also sees great potential for relationships to be more central to our culture in politics. “Hillary’s slogan is ‘Stronger Together’,” she said. “It’s a relational slogan. What makes us stronger together is our capacity to maintain our relationships. And only until recently has there been a relational technology that shows us how to do just that.”  

“Feminists have been a prophetic voice, warning against a culture that promotes a ‘winner take all’ and ‘get to the top of the ladder’ attitude. Both feminism and philanthropy need to promote values that strengthen the safety of the culture.”

The safety of relationships is a key area where Hunt sees philanthropy and feminism converging to foster significant change. “It’s only with safety that the world can thrive. That’s why Harville and I created Safe Conversations, which can help make that vision possible. We see ourselves as contributing to the fulfillment of a vision articulated by feminist theorists and feminist philanthropy over the past four decades.”Read More