Shaping the Shapers: How WMM Trains Women in Social Change

women moving millions
Sarah Haacke Byrd is the Executive Director for Women Moving Millions, where she is responsible for building strategy and scale around WMM’s mission for greater impact on gender equality. (Photo credit: Women Moving Millions)

Feminist philanthropy is designed to change the world.

Sometimes it works slowly, dollar by dollar, woman by woman and girl by girl, as we each come to realize that there are issues in this world we strongly disagree with — issues that we can take a stand against. In other cases, feminist philanthropy finds huge momentum in large-dollar donations, and campaigns leap forward with the assistance of celebrity women and female pioneers who hold significant amounts of the world’s wealth.

In the modern economy of feminist philanthropy, the curriculum used to reach donors and move campaigns forward is rapidly changing, in response to heavy social and political factors that are inspiring more and more female leaders to take a stand. But one thing remains the same: the passion for change, and the belief that together, we can change the world.

Women Moving Millions (WMM) is one such organization that enacts social change through large-scale commitments. The global community is made up of more than 300 affluent women who have each pledged or donated at least $1 million to campaigns that empower women and girls around the world.

WMM supports its donor network through leadership development and philanthropic amplification, giving its members opportunities to raise greater resources for the organizations, foundations, and campaigns they support. As firm believers in the power of “big, bold investments” from female pioneers, WMM is committed to enacting social change — and empowering the exceptional women who make these investments possible.

Sarah Haacke Byrd, Executive Director at WMM, is one of these women. For two decades, she has been building, guiding, and leading non-profit organizations in Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York. And now, as WMM’s Executive Director for the past six months, Sarah has taken on building strategy and scale around WMM’s mission for greater impact on gender equality.

“With women currently holding one-third of the world’s wealth (and growing), we’ve entered a new era where women are realizing their power, position, and influence,” she says. “And yet, we know gender disparities persist. The changes we have experienced in these last few years have made it even more clear that to fully realize gender equality, we must dedicate the necessary resources to uproot the cultural and structural barriers that are impeding our progress.”

Sarah has been described as a “joyful warrior” when it comes to her commitment to women’s empowerment — her work as Executive Director is the latest episode in a passion-focused journey that began in childhood.

“In my family, conversations around social justice issues, politics, and advocacy were a daily occurrence,” says Sarah. “My parents were educators and activists who inspired me to pursue work that was mission-driven, positively improved people’s lives, and that leveled the playing field so everyone could benefit from the opportunities this country has to offer.”

Her experiences in the nonprofit sector began in her college days, when she volunteered with an organization that helps asylum seekers rebuild their lives after experiencing torture at the hands of oppressive governments.

“I had the fortune to work on a project called New Tactics in Human Rights,” she says, “which was a campaign launched at the advent of the fiftieth anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The program sought to expand the understanding and knowledge of effective interventions that helped to realize human rights across the globe. “It opened my eyes to the role of innovation in social change, and helped me see that tough, intractable social problems require enormous amounts of creativity (and focus) to be solved.”

Sarah’s time with New Tactics in Human Rights helped shape a career in activism fueled by a deep personal commitment to women and girls. Before joining the team at WMM, Sarah served as Managing Director for actress Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization focused on transforming society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. Her extensive experience in financial and operational management, strategy, fundraising, external affairs, and program management make Sarah a force to be reckoned with in her role at Women Moving Millions.

“At WMM, we see ourselves in a supportive role and in service of the changemakers who are implementing programs on the ground,” Sarah says. “We seek to spark powerful collaborations and build partnerships to accelerate progress. We challenge ourselves to be better philanthropists, to learn and listen, to deploy creativity in terms of problem-solving, and then to listen again. This year, we launched a new Philanthropic Leadership Program for our membership community. This deep dive program is delivered in a retreat setting with world-class faculty and is designed to give our members strategies and tools to better support those changemakers and to build their leadership in order to amplify their overall influence and impact.”

WMM’s Philanthropic Leadership curriculum educates its members on supportive leadership through three pillars: Philanthropic Strategy, Voice & Influence, and Financial Engagement. The program is designed to give participants a deeper understanding of their own philanthropic power — the strengths they can play to, the opportunities they have for growth, and the ways they can use their knowledge, expertise, and affluence to improve their own philanthropic journeys.

The power of the program stands in its ability to open up new options for women who have the ability to make large-scale investments and enact social change with huge — and immediate — impact. WMM’s curriculum programs give their members the opportunity to discover just how infinite the limits of their impact can be.

“We encourage our members to challenge themselves to be better philanthropists, to deploy creativity in terms of problem-solving, and to listen to those changemakers on the ground who are implementing solutions,” Sarah says. “We’ve seen amongst our members the power of learning combined with a peer-to-peer network as being significantly beneficial to the advancement of their philanthropy, including helping them to think more holistically about their approach to philanthropy, to refine their vision, and to integrate strategies that will help them get to the heart of the change they seek.”

These programs have also had a large impact on new members, or women donors who know they want to use their means to contribute to social causes, but aren’t quite sure how to go about it.

“Donors who are new to philanthropy, or are thinking about giving in greater quantities, should begin by ensuring the alignment between their values and motivations and the issues they are most passionate about,” Sarah suggests. “Then, I would recommend they narrow down their area of focus within an issue to determine where and how they can have the greatest impact.”

This emerging group of affluent women also presents a unique opportunity for philanthropy representatives.

In the same way that WMM’s curriculum programs offer new donors the education and resources necessary to make the greatest impact with their funds, asset managers and foundation representatives serving this new clientele have the opportunity to introduce these donors to campaigns and processes that allow donation dollars to stretch further than they could have in the past. It comes down to identifying the donor’s passions and finding the best ways to fund empowerment efforts that suit those passions.

“Philanthropy representatives should move beyond transactional approaches and towards authentic engagement,” Sarah says. “This means taking the time to build a meaningful relationship with donors, which includes understanding a donor’s value system, what is driving their motivations, getting to the heart of the change they seek.”

When it comes down to it, the world of feminist philanthropy is in constant flux, and it is only by responding to this constant change that we as philanthropists and activists can continue to support gender equality. As women’s roles in the distribution of the world’s wealth continue to grow, so too do opportunities for female pioneers to contribute to campaigns that inspire and empower the next generation of female wealth leaders.

“Making bold investments in [women and girls] is a better way to deliver impact to benefit the whole of society,” says Sarah. “In this current social and political moment, we remain resolute in our belief that women and girls can change the world.”

To learn more about Sarah Haacke Byrd, her work with Women Moving Millions, and how you can get involved, visit the foundation’s website at

For more information and inspiration from female thought leaders in the nonprofit field, read our interview with June Sugiyama (Vodafone Americas Foundation), or our Q&A with Donna Hall (Women Donors Network) and Ruth Ann Harnisch (The Harnisch Foundation).


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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist. A Maryland transplant by way of Florida, DC, Ireland, Philadelphia, and -- most recently -- Salt Lake City, she has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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