On Tuesday, March 23rd, the We are for Good podcast featured Philanthropy Women’s own Editor-in-Chief, Kiersten Marek, as part of their Women of Impact Week specialty series. The interview explored Kiersten’s clinical social work as well as her analysis of feminist giving trends and their impact on social change, as the publisher and Editor-in-Chief here at Philanthropy Women.
Hosted by Jonathan McCoy and Becky Endicott, the We are for Good podcast focuses on innovative ideas and inspirational stories within the nonprofit industry. The podcast’s Women of Impact Week series was presented by Virtuous, a fundraising platform and customer relationship management tool for nonprofit organizations.
“Bookmark this, folks,” Jon joked when Becky brought up Philanthropy Women’s Knowledgebase, the only database dedicated to gender equality funders.
Feminist History and Kiersten’s Journey Into Philanthropy
Kiersten found her way into women’s philanthropy through her studies at Hunter College, her work with Inside Philanthropy, and conversations through her work as a clinical social worker.
In 2014, writing for Inside Philanthropy, Kiersten noted, “I started to see that there were these big pieces of funding that drove this work. And particularly, these women funders who no one knew about. I thought, ‘I’m going to make it my purpose to remedy this.'”
Speaking to the history of women’s movements in the United States, Kiersten described the initial anti-slavery and feminist meetings in 1838, the latter of which resulted in an angry mob burning down the building where the meeting was taking place.
“So for about 10 years, there was this kind of hush over feminism,” she explained. “Stuff was still going on, but people didn’t know too much about it. Understandably, there was sort of a traumatizing of the early movement.”
“That makes my stomach hurt,” said Becky.
While women achieved the right to vote in 1920, it wasn’t until 1972 and the Ford Foundation’s national fellowship program that research really began on women’s studies. Initial funding was just $1 million over three years dedicated to this research — between 1972 and 1992, around $36 million in funding went toward gender equality, with more than 80 women’s studies centers at colleges across the United States by 1999.
Familiar names like the Women’s Funding Network and Women’s Donors Network grew in the 80s and 90s, and the establishment of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute in 1997 and Women Moving Millions in 2007 established and validated the power of large gifts from women. Kiersten offered the examples of Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Scott as female funders carrying the banner for large-scale donations for women and girls.
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” Becky said. “That’s why giving underserved individuals a microphone and a chance to express their ideas, their thoughts, and how they can improve the world is so critical… I believe that so much good can come from women linking arms for good.”
Women’s Giving Trends in 2021
“How is philanthropy feeding gender equality across society?” Kiersten asked. “When you begin to address women’s needs, a whole lot of other issues become apparent.”
For example, Kiersten noted the intersections between health policy and a gender lens approach, such as Sarah Haacke Byrd’s work to raise money for processing the American rape kit backlog or the Obama Foundation’s work to end female genital mutilation around the world.
“We knew these things were a problem for a long time, but to actually take action takes years of movement building,” Kiersten explained. “And now we’re at the point where there is more action happening. It’s becoming more mainstream – larger foundations are helping to get [those topics] into the public conversation.”
“There are not many people who want to push [these] agendas,” Becky said. “But these are issues that are plaguing society, and if we don’t have conversations around them, and create awareness that they exist, then again — history is going to be doomed to repeat itself.”
As another example, Kiersten spoke to organizations like She Should Run and Higher Heights, which have directly contributed to rising numbers of women — particularly women of color — in office.
“This is how I see [women’s funding organizations] breaking through,” Kiersten said. “They’re getting more media savvy as well, and that’s a big piece of the strategy.”
Dynamic Engagement with Women in Philanthropic Causes
A crystal clear example of dynamic women’s action is the response to COVID as a crisis that needs to be approached with a gender lens. As we know, women and families have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and responses from organizations like the Gates Foundation and national governments are helping to address women’s and maternal health responses as impacted by COVID.
“I see the gender lens response becoming very mainstream,” said Kiersten. “People are recognizing that the response that centers on women is just better.“
On engaging women virtually, Kiersten recommended that funders bring people together “voice to voice or face to face” as often as possible. She described feeling “inspired and confident” in her work after attending women’s funding events, especially now that the use of virtual events has become so much more mainstream, opening up opportunities for connection that weren’t there before the pandemic.
“Community is everything,” Becky agreed. “You can bring like-minded individuals together, especially women who are hardwired to care, to want to lean in, to want to lift their voice, to want to encourage someone who says something really great. And I mean, you’re right, when you walk away from those sorts of robust discussions, where everyone has a seat at the table, everyone’s voice is equally as important, I just think incredible things can happen.”
“Wow” Moments in Feminist Giving Trends
“I’m just trying to fathom what it’s like to curate 800 pieces of content about this topic,” Jon said, asking Kiersten to share one story of philanthropy or “wow” moment that has stuck with her since starting this journey.
First, she shared the idea of “true gifts”: gifts that come from the heart and a sense of genuine caring, rather than gifts given in turn or because we feel like we have to. As an example, Kiersten described the difficult time when her mother was approaching the end of her life, and Kiersten’s sister traveled to Rhode Island to stay with her and manage that process. Her sister frequented the same restaurant during this time, and befriended one of the waiters, who listened to her updates about her mother and frequently asked after how she was feeling. After Kiersten’s mother passed away, the waiter attended her funeral.
“He didn’t have to do that,” she said. “It was such a true gift that he was there. He genuinely listened to my sister and appreciated what she was doing, and he showed it to her and to us as a whole family.”
“These are the moments where people rise above and they say, ‘I’m going to do something extra special. I know I’m not going to get anything from it, but I just want to do it,'” Kiersten said.
“That is such a gift in this world,” Becky echoed. “It just tells me how powerful one person’s kindness can be to another person.”
One Good Thing: “Reflect On Your Feelings”
We are for Good ends each interview by asking the speaker, “What is one good thing you can give our audience to take with them today?”
Kiersten’s was, “Reflect on your feelings, and be your own best friend. When you do that, you develop this sense of curiosity about yourself. And rather than judgment, you can come to a place of understanding from which you can advance and really live a better life.”
“That really resonates with me,” Becky said, joking that women are “terrible” at acknowledging their own feelings and being kind to themselves. “I look at the world right now, and I think that we’ve got to do better at listening to each other and not reacting, and understanding where these things come from. Storytelling is a huge part of that, but self care is so, so important.”
“We’re always looking for that next level,” Kiersten said of Philanthropy Women. “We have some funders, but not very many. And our real goal is to trend toward being… a for-profit product.”
“There is just so much information coming out about this sector,” she added.
“And these conversations are only going to get bigger,” Becky said. “The snowball is coming down the hill on this issue, and I’m very excited that you’re in the space.”
To listen to the full episode or subscribe to the podcast, visit We are for Good‘s website at WeAreForGood.com.
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