Nicole Boucher on the Unique Power of Women’s Lived Experiences

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Nicole Boucher, vice president of Way to Win and senior advisor to its 501(c)3 effort, Way to Rise.

Nicole Boucher, courtesy of Nicole Boucher

1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession? 

What you most often see in philanthropy are people with high education degrees, family philanthropy full of people who grew up with privilege and wealth, generations of parents who attended college, etc. My own background doesn’t reflect that. Early in my career, there was a time when I hid who I was to belong. I would nod along in meetings as if I knew what they were talking about, and then rush home and Google and study up late into the evening to catch up. I now see that the power of my lived experience is one of great value in solving our nation’s most pressing problems, and the insights and strategies that I bring to philanthropy can go to bat with any Harvard Kennedy School graduate!

2. What is your current greatest professional challenge? 

Who controls resources and where they go – philanthropy is overwhelmingly led by white men, and giving reflects that the majority of funding goes to organizations and efforts run by white men. This is a huge problem when you look at shifting demographics and at the most pressing problems in our country, like repairing democracy, and racial, gender and economic injustice. Philanthropy needs a seismic shift and transformation, and that is going to come from bold leadership as foundation presidents, and from invigorating boards of trustees with new leadership that is representative of our country – those with lived experiences and closest to the problems philanthropy is trying to solve.

3. What inspires you most about your work?

I am always immensely inspired by the incredible movement leaders organizing communities for change, repairing and healing our democracy, and building power – from LaTosha Brown at Black Voters Matter and Tram Nguyen at New Virginia Majority to Alex Gomez at Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) and Maurice Mitchell at Working Families Party. We work with some of the top state-level and national organizers across the country and are continuously energized by their passion, spirit and drive in mobilizing communities of color, young people and women.

4. How does your gender identity inform your work? 

All of my identities inform my work. There isn’t one that works in silos over another. I’m a queer, multiracial woman born to early teen parents. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school. My mother gave birth to me two days after her 15th birthday, and both my parents dropped out of junior high and high school. My grandparents were immigrants, and my early years were spent on public assistance. All of those experiences helped inform my trajectory and work to influence as many resources into communities most impacted by injustice, because we are the ones with the solutions and strategies to solve the world’s biggest problems.  

5. How can philanthropy support gender equity?  

Philanthropy needs to support all equity; gender equity, racial equity, LGBTQ equity, all of it. After all, the oppression of one group is intimately linked with the oppression of all. It starts with who you are investing in; don’t fund organizations led by those who already hold power, even when they are saying the right things. Invest in those who represent the actual communities you hope to serve. 

6. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us? 

I see them bringing us better leadership, a more reflective and strengthened democracy, and more equity and parity in philanthropic investments. Way to Win is just one example. It was founded by three women and works with women data experts and some of the boldest, most progressive women donors (and some great men too) to turn out a new multiracial coalition of voters of color, young people and women. In just three years, we’ve moved over $118 million and are building power in key battleground states like Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas. We’re also seeing powerhouses in Congress make waves, such as the Squad, as well as BIPOC women at the forefront of some of our best philanthropic efforts, like Crystal Hayling leading Democracy Frontlines Fund, Ashindi Maxton leading Donors of Color Network, Vini Bhansali at Solidaire and more. All these examples intersect justice and equity issues and place gender equity at the forefront.

More on Nicole Boucher:

Nicole Boucher is a Vice President of Way to Win and Senior Advisor to its c3 effort, Way to Rise. According to its website, Way to Win is “is a homebase for progressive donors and organizers seeking a strategic approach to political funding that wins elections, advances transformative policy and builds lasting power in the states.” Boucher serves on the boards of Color of Change PAC and is a brain trust member of the Democracy Frontlines Fund, housed at The Libra Foundation. 

Prior to Way to Win, Nicole was co-executive director of the California Donor Table. She tells Philanthropy Women that as a queer, multiracial Pacific Islander and first generation high school and college graduate, she has a deep commitment to equity. She has more than fifteen years of local, state and national experience leading racial, economic and climate justice organizations. 

This interview has been minimally edited. 

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Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

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