With so much bad news right now, it’s hard to bring up another tough topic, but bring it up we will. As a therapist, I know that having the hard conversations is part of the process of moving forward. This tough topic is the news that the NoVo Foundation will be scaling back some of its operations, particularly those that pertain to funding women and girls. As discussed in last week’s post, As NoVo Downsizes, What Next for Women and Girls?, the question of how we will fill the enormous void left by this shift is just beginning to take hold in people’s minds and produce some responses.
Women Leaders Step Up to Respond to NoVo’s Shift
Two important leaders in women’s funding, Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of MADRES and Mona Sinha, Board Chair of Women Moving Millions, responded to the news of NoVo’s shift in focus with letters to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Susskind, who leads MADRES, a feminist grantmaker and nonprofit with an intersectional approach, brought up some very uncomfortable facts:
“NoVo’s perceived move away from gender-justice funding starkly reveals how few other options remain to sustain this important work. From 2016 to 2018, NoVo funding made up a full 17 percent of domestic funding for women’s rights and services and 37 percent of funding in that category for black women. Similarly, for many of us working internationally, NoVo has consistently been our single largest funder. Moreover, the foundation has been among the few to fund and link movements in the United States and internationally.“
Take a moment to let this sink in. According to Susskind, NoVo accounted for 17% of US funding for women’s rights and 37% of funding in that category for black women. And so, a great deal of the movement-building we’ve experienced for women and girls of color over the past decade has been driven by NoVo Foundation and its grantees. Much of this work was also feeding a larger cultural shift of growing the pipeline for women leaders of color. Now, all of this is going to take a huge hit unless other funders step in.
Philanthropy Women to Convene Webinar on Addressing New Funding Gaps
What can be done? Right now I imagine some high level conversations are going on about how to deal with this issue. For our part here at Philanthropy Women, I have asked the NoVo Foundation to be a guest on one of our upcoming webinars. We would like to open up discussion on how this shift in their focus will occur and what other feminist givers can do to help. Stay tuned to find out if we are able to host this event.
S. Mona Sinha, Board Chair of Women Moving Millions, also responded to the news of NoVo’s shift in a letter to The Chronicle. Sinha offered both appreciation for all that NoVo has done to set a better standard for philanthropy and improve the lives of women and girls, and guidance for how to come together as funders and ensure these gains are not lost:
Fourteen years ago, the NoVo Foundation stepped up to fill the deficit of sustainable funding to organizations working to end violence against women, modeling a new approach to philanthropy. It made multiyear gifts that were flexible, were larger than government grants, and unlocked the promise of making sustainable change. Its leadership in this sphere has had a huge impact in lifting the veil off this scourge and enabling women facing abuse to raise their voices.
It took a decade for results, but at last, laws are being passed (most recently in Iraq and Sudan) to criminalize domestic violence and female genital mutilation. Justice has begun to raise its sleepy head. I made my first large commitment in this area inspired by the trust-based philanthropy that I saw. NoVo changed the rules of philanthropy, and the world was grateful.
Acknowledge the Disappointment, Then Figure out Next Steps
I’m actually getting choked up thinking about how much we owe to NoVo and other organizations that led the charge to bring these vital protections to women and girls around the world. But another part of me is feeling fiercely protective of these fragile women’s rights organizations who will now be in further jeopardy. While the community is “reeling” from NoVo’s announcement, Sinha advises all funders to take on their “shared responsibility” for vulnerable communities. She writes:
“In the weeks and months ahead, philanthropy has an obligation to stay the course or even double down in support of organizations that will lose funding and will need to rebuild.”
With so many organizations receiving a large amount of their funding from NoVo, this will not be an easy task. Let’s hope that, in the process of rebuilding, we create systemic change that ends gender-based violence and is not dependent on stock market gains or losses.
As she finishes her letter, Sinha calls on donors to take action:
“Now more than ever, opting out or scaling back is not a viable option. Let’s be united in shared purpose to protect women from violence and lift them up as agents of change.”