Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Sara Lomelin, executive director of Philanthropy Together.
1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
When I switched careers 12 years ago, I didn’t understand the power dynamics and barriers that exist for grassroots nonprofits. I wish I knew the intricacies of philanthropy and why such large gaps exist between those who need funding and those who receive. I now see that collectively, we are moving the needle to shift philanthropy, but it’s happening very slowly.
While I wish I’d entered on this path sooner, I am proud to now devote my career to giving circles because I believe this model is the most dynamic way to liberate capital to nonprofit leaders who know what solutions are best for their communities. Giving circles are filled with everyday givers coming together to diversify and democratize philanthropy. These are the voices that have historically been excluded by mainstream philanthropy and the voices that will break down these existing power dynamics and eliminate barriers to much-needed funding for grassroots leaders.
2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?
Giving circles are people-powered philanthropy. Currently, working in a virtual setting has been a challenge. I would love to sit around a table with my team hosting brainstorms, or meet for coffee with giving circle leaders in their communities. I would love to meet the organizations they are funding, listen to stories and share a meal with them. Our work thrives on these personal connections, and I’m certainly missing the in-person interactions. I am thankful I had the opportunity to travel to Charlotte, NC, recently and meet in-person with local giving circle leaders to pilot our new CircleUp program. These in-person gatherings are designed to bring back the magic and intimacy of sharing space with one another.
3. What inspires you most about your work?
Empowering and inspiring others to be part of charitable giving keeps me going in this work. I truly believe that giving circles are the most effective way to bring philanthropy to the front doors of everyday people. There is so much potential in having a world full of people learning about this giving model. In my work at Philanthropy Together, we aim to democratize and diversify philanthropy through the power of giving circles. We believe everyone can be and should be a philanthropist. My work to change the narrative on who gives and who receives is such fuel to light a spark in others. I find the most joy in my work when I’m able to change hearts and minds about getting engaged in their community.
4. How does your gender identity inform your work?
I am part of the 70 percent of women who are in the giving circle movement. Research shows that women and men do not give in the same way so it’s no surprise that collective giving is largely led by women because we tend to be more community-oriented, nurturing and collaborative. These are all values that inform my work because I know first-hand that this work cannot be done alone. We need many people to come together in order to make real change happen.
As a member of the Peninsula Latina Giving Circle, I rally with groups of women year-round to respond to the needs of the community. Because of our strong relationships with grantee partners, they know they can call on us at any time — and they do! For example, when more families began visiting Siena Youth Center’s food pantry at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, their refrigerator went down. Peninsula LGC was able to respond immediately with pooled funding for a new industrial fridge.
5. How can philanthropy support gender equity?
More than half of the world’s population is women yet women have been forgotten and alienated in the philanthropic field, and beyond, for so many years. Philanthropy can lift up women by not staying silent and moving resources where the dollars are most needed. I am a proud member of the National Council of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, dedicated to rigorous research and education in how women give. There is an urgency to create gender equity and philanthropy must take a bold stance. The Women’s March doesn’t take a day off. Moms Rising doesn’t take a day off. These large women-led movements aren’t taking any days off, and philanthropy can’t either.
6. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?
The strides that women have made in recent years have been amazing. Looking ahead to the next 10 years, I hope that we will be living in a world full of feminists; with more men self-identifying as feminists. Gender equity should not be something political, but rather a responsibility. Research shows when women work, they reinvest 90 percent of their income into their families, compared to 35 percent for men. We need to keep pushing on equal pay. We need to keep pushing on 50-percent-women leadership on nonprofit and corporate boards. And even with all women moving in the same direction, we need allies. We need men to be feminists and recognize that in order to leave a better world for our children, we need everyone on the same page.
More on Sara Lomelin:
Sara Lomelin (she/her) is a connector of people and ideas, a relationship builder and a firm believer that everyone can be a philanthropist. As founding executive director of Philanthropy Together, the first organization dedicated to strengthening and scaling the collective giving movement globally, she is working to diversify and democratize philanthropy by creating the infrastructure needed for the giving circle model to flourish in all communities. Lomelin’s work provides a platform for different perspectives in the collective giving field, a unique giving model that has given away nearly $ 1.3 billion in the past two decades and exploded in popularity among diverse audiences in the past five years.
Prior to Philanthropy Together, Sara served as Senior Director of Leadership Philanthropy at Opportunity Fund, the largest nonprofit small business lender in the US. Previously at the Latino Community Foundation, Sara served as VP of Philanthropy for eight years and created the Latino Giving Circle Network™—the largest network of Latinx philanthropists in the US with 22 circles and 500 members.
This interview has been minimally edited.
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