This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Julie Schwietert Collazo, co-founder and director of Immigrant Families Together.
What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
I wish I had understood the importance of assembling a top-notch legal and accounting team from the get-go. The problem is, when we started Immigrant Families Together (IFT), it wasn’t with the intention of it becoming an organization. I simply envisioned it as a rapid response group of volunteers that was responding to an acute crisis. Having had strong legal and financial counsel early on would have helped us strategically and operationally.
What is your current greatest professional challenge?
One of my current professional challenges is navigating our team through the crossroads at which we currently find ourselves. Having decided to pursue 501c3 status, we are looking at growth needs and hurdles and determining how to negotiate them. One of the reasons donors have been so generous to Immigrant Families Together is because our team is all volunteer, no paid staff. But a number of our volunteers have basically been full-time, unpaid staff for the past year, and that’s not a sustainable or healthy model for long-term work, so figuring out how to transition from volunteer to staff and how to convey that to donors is one of our current challenges.
I’d say another challenge is learning how to manage unsolicited advice. The more an organization grows, the greater its donations, and the more visibility it attracts, the more unsolicited advice it will receive. And while advice can be well-meaning, and even useful, it can also be incredibly time-consuming and distracting. Listening graciously and also knowing when to hold your own line is an art.
What inspires you most about your work?
What inspires me most about our work at IFT is how it has been powered and sustained to date by thousands of donors and hundreds of volunteers. It’s rare to see this kind of long-term commitment, and I feel grateful every day that our core team of volunteers is still around, doing the hard work.
How does your gender identity inform your work?
Well, our organization started because we had the goal of reuniting parents, mothers, in the majority, who were separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border as the result of the zero tolerance policy, so in a very pointed way, we have always been cognizant of our gender identity informing our work. The vast majority of our volunteers are women and so are the recipients of our support, and so we’re often looking at our work through the lens of gender.
How can philanthropy support gender equality?
Philanthropy can support gender equality in many ways, chief among them, by increasing the visibility of gender as an influencing variable in social needs projects. If a fund or project isn’t looking at the ways in which women and non-binary folks are included or excluded from funding priorities, then there’s a fundamental oversight that needs to be corrected.
In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?
I am incredibly excited about the influence of gender equality movements, and above all, by challenging us to reconsider or recast our very notions of gender.
More on Julie Schwietert Collazo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo is the co-founder and director of the Immigrant Families Together Foundation. In less than a year, the organization raised over a million dollars, posting bond for more than 70 adults separated from children as the result of immigration detention actions, and providing for these families’ ongoing needs as they pursue asylum claims. She has been recognized as a champion of women and families by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York State Senate and FWD.US.
IFT recently launched an “Every. Last. One.” campaign to raise awareness about the parents and children still awaiting reunions, with the support of many celebrities — check out the video below.
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