At 2:00 on May 14, more than 100 attendees gathered for “Feminist Giving for COVID: Strategies and Models,” Philanthropy Women’s first-ever webinar.
Joined by Marianne Schnall, Surina Khan, and Emily Nielsen Jones, our Editor-in-Chief Kiersten Marek sought to explore the questions surrounding giving and COVID: how can a gender lens improve funding and make funding more accessible?
Marianne Schnall on Feminist Giving to Address COVID
To begin, Marianne Schnall, Founder of Feminist.com and What Will It Take?, took the lead to discuss what she sees happening in terms of the feminist approaches to addressing COVID. Schnall draws on her perspective from the media and activism space.
“There are no ‘women’s issues,’” she said. “These are all human issues. The wellbeing of women and girls is so interconnected with the issues we face all over the world.”
Schnall offered some important statistics, explaining that women make up:
- 86% of nurses,
- 75% of primary caregivers, and
- 62% of low-wage workers.
“In the midst of this crisis, women make up many of the ranks on the front lines. At the same time, women are also taking care of their families, children, and elderly parents. Meanwhile, incidences of domestic violence are going up, given that women are forced to shelter in place with their abusers and it’s become much more difficult to find shelters.” Schnall mentioned that it’s important to note these challenges are even more extreme for women of color and women from marginalized communities.
“We always had challenges of balancing work and family,” she said. “But now, schools are closed, our children are home, and many of us are forced to oversee their education on top of it all.”
Schnall called attention to a new project from What Will It Take, COVIDGendered.org. This digital newsletter and online platform aims to collect data and raise awareness about the gendered issues surrounding COVID-19, and she encourages the call’s participants to share their stories, articles, and information related to the pandemic. The goal of the project is to address the varied effects of COVID-19 through lenses like gender and race.
“This is a time that I am convinced women are going to be at the forefront of creating change, in all different ways,” she said. “We need women’s voices, women’s perspectives, women’s solutions — not only is it a time to address what’s immediately in front of us, but it’s a time where our society’s cracks and issues are being laid out in front of us to see. Let’s face it, this is a very dysfunctional system. We have a huge opportunity to create a more healthy and just world.”
Schnall pointed out the temptation to retreat, whether that is socially or with finances.
“I don’t know about you, but this feels a little urgent to me!” she said. “Now is the time for giving, for really reaching out beyond ourselves. I want us all to build a hopeful, positive narrative, because we can’t depend on the mainstream media to do that.”
She pointed to the failing of mainstream media to adequately cover or address the nuances of issues such as the pandemic’s impact on marginalized communities, or to highlight positive stories or solutions. “That is on us to raise greater awareness, encourage change, and shape that narrative,” said Schnall. “We are the ones who will need to amplify those stories and make the invisible visible.”
Schnall took a moment to point out that we cannot forget about the pressing issues we were working on before COVID-19 struck. In a recent interview with Jane Fonda, Schnall discussed the importance of continuing to fight climate change in the midst of the pandemic. She asked Fonda how she stays grounded and positive in the face of the crisis.
“‘I would be depressed if I didn’t give back,'” Schnall remembers Fonda saying.
Schnall stressed that now is the time to use the force and energy of money to support women-owned non-profits and businesses, environmentally-friendly companies, and proactive campaigns that get resources people who need it most, without forgetting to look to the important issues we should not abandon.
Schnall’s Four Learnings for the Best Critical Approach
- We derive meaning from advocacy and giving back.
- We must be courageous.
- Giving back to women and girls is giving back to everyone.
- Join forces with other women – we are stronger together.
“There is an understandable instinct to withdraw right now, to protect ourselves and our assets and try to weather the storm on our own. But when we work together, and continue contributing to causes we believe in, we will see the most change and the heaviest impact. “
Schnall ends her portion of the presentation by encouraging all attendees to practice self-care.
“You can’t be of use to any endeavor if you don’t take care of yourself,” she said.
Surina Khan on Pivoting for COVID with the Women’s Foundation California
Next, Surina Khan, CEO of the Women’s Foundation California (WFC), spoke about the Foundation’s COVID-related procedure changes, as well as the understated issues we must address during the pandemic.
The WFC is now heading into its 11th week of working from home. In early March, Khan attended an event in Sacramento with many representatives from California government. She happened to be seated with the governor’s Chief of Staff, who “took her lunch to go” and left to figure out the state’s response to the pandemic.
“Very quickly things changed,” Khan said. By that Sunday, she made the decision to have all WFC staff work from home, asking important questions that all organizations should be considering at this time: “How do we care for ourselves in this moment? How do we make the shift to working remotely as a team?”
For the WFC, this meant shifting their monthly in-person staff meeting to weekly check-ins via Zoom. They also moved to a four-day weekend, cutting off Fridays, to allow staff members with families more time to be hands-on with children, and allow the entire staff crucial processing time to understand the pandemic and their places within it. In addition, WFC lifted all caps on sick leave and vacation time, to encourage staff members to use all the time they need to recover if they are to fall ill.
Externally, WFC focused on offering support to their core grantees and partner organizations as quickly as possible. Within days, they set up direct wire transfers–microgrants of $3,000 each–to their 25 core grant partners. The funds are designed to facilitate the technology needs and flux involved in making the transition to working remotely, for many organizations that have never attempted such a shift before. These initial micro-grants paved the way for WFC’s COVID relief fund, which has now served almost 160 organizations in 10 weeks.
WFC on COVID’s Impact on Women and Girls: How Can We Boost Feminist Giving for COVID?
Khan shared more concerning statistics: women make up two-thirds of the minimum wage, part-time, and/or tip-based workforce, and one in three jobs held by women are deemed essential.
“This means that many women are finding themselves suddenly out of work, with no concept of when they can expect to see an income, and many more women are still on the front lines of the pandemic while needing to care for their families at the same time,” she said.
Meanwhile, Khan noted, domestic violence calls are surging by 40 to 80% across counties in California. The Los Angeles prison system is currently operating at 136% capacity, and infection and hospitalization rates are soaring for black, latinx, and Native American populations in California.
“It’s a dire situation, and WFC and their partners are doing their best to combat it,” she said.
Khan pointed to an important initiative from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, one of the WFC’s partners. Working together, the two foundations facilitated emergency grants to domestic violence shelters across the state, while simultaneously supporting 130 organizations through their grant relief program. They’ve done away with complex application processes, simply asking for the most basic information input into WFC’s grantee database to get funding as quickly as possible.
“This totals almost $2 million to 160 organizations in just ten weeks,” said Khan. “I don’t believe in our forty-year history, we’ve ever given that many grants in a one-year period, let alone a ten-week period.”
Khan spoke to the importance of trust with grantee partners in this period. “Instead of hanging up funding on red tape delays, the WFC is working to get funds into the hands of organizations that need it most, as quickly as possible. Many of their emergency grants have been turned around in as little as fourteen days,” she said.
“Your support must feel like a godsend in this time,” Kiersten added.
Emily Nielsen Jones: Mama Bear and Feminist Bear
Next, Emily Nielsen Jones of the Imago Dei Fund kicked off her section of the webinar by offering a round of applause for Kiersten and Philanthropy Women in honor of our first webinar. (Thank you, Emily!)
“I have learned so much in my philanthropic journey from women’s funds,” she said. “The power of ‘she’ is truly the power of ‘we.’”
Jones spoke to the human journey of “my own pandemic angst.” She addressed the privilege she feels to be sheltering in place and not working on the front lines, and encouraged people to lean into their own sense of “pandemic angst” in positive, healthy ways.
“My feminism and my philanthropy are very intertwined with my spirituality, and my personal experience as a mother,” she said.
Jones describes the connection her “inner bear” represents: “She is both a Mama Bear and a Feminist Bear.”
(This topic was very popular with our attendees in the comments, and many started sharing our “Mama Bear” and “Feminist Bear” tendencies.)
Jones mentioned the balance between trying to maintain an active workday, while experiencing the heartbreak on behalf of organizations, communities, and individuals who are struggling. One thing Jones has taken up is sending granola bars made by refugees at Beautiful Day in Rhode Island to people she works with, including Kiersten. (Editor’s Note: the granola is AWESOME!)
“We have a shared humanity and deep embodied wisdom that we as women need to work together to reclaim,” said Jones.
How Philanthropy Can Embrace Feminism, Humanity, and Spirituality
Jones also spoke to the times when the world of nonprofits embraces a “get it done” attitude instead of the emotion and the humanity of an experience. She encouraged viewers to allow themselves to feel and be a little more human, so that we can find productive ways to use this sense of despair.
“It’s just heartbreaking and mind-numbing,” she said. “The inspiration I want to offer today is that it’s okay to really honor this time we have, when many of us are stuck in a cage, and many of us are on the front lines putting our bodies at risk. What is this cave-like time? What can we learn from this? What is it saying that we might be able to use when we get to the other side of this?”
Jones spoke to the intersection of feminist giving, humanity, and spirituality. She remembered back to the financial crisis of 2008, which was when she and her husband founded their foundation. She described the experience as her first time engaging with the patriarchy in an economic complex, and how she was able to “let that Mother Bear” into her meetings with executives from companies like Goldman Sachs, where she she dared to question the economic rules of the road,” and look at new ways to reform the economy.
“What is our unique platform where we can pull some strings, and be a little more brave to question those rules of the road?” she asked as a question for us all to reflect on.
She spoke to the nimbleness and flexibility of her NGO partners. Within a few weeks, her foundation was able to release an emergency fund for their partners. “That was born out of this despair that I feel,” she said. But Jones also acknowledged that this relief is “just a drop in the bucket–there is more that can be offered on many fronts.”
“Are we as bold, nimble, courageous as our grantees/investees? Good question…” posited Suzanne Biegel in the chat section.
Closing Thoughts from Kiersten and Our Speakers on Feminist Giving for COVID
Wrapping up the presentation, Kiersten spoke to the need for transparency, highlighting an experience she recently had with a healthcare service — she was quoted one price for a procedure, but when she received the bill, the total charge was frighteningly higher. In the end, her insurance benefits brought the total payment due down to the original quoted price, but she sees this as an opportunity for healthcare providers to be more transparent with their patients about pricing. This could help improve some of the fear related to finances, and health care, that many people are experiencing right now.
Khan added a note about the systems we are currently operating in. “We’re not going back to normal, and nor do we want to, because normal was not good. If this pandemic is doing anything, it’s shining a light on the inequities that were part of our old normal.”
Khan encouraged everyone to continue to lead with a feminist mindset, asking, “What does a feminist California look like? What do we want California to look like on the other side of this pandemic?”
“Be empathetic to what other people are going through,” Schnall added. “Be innovative in how we’re thinking. It doesn’t matter if you’re Tom Hanks or Prince Charles, you can get this disease. We need to look at how we’re treating our Earth, and our animals, as well.”
Schnall summed up her thoughts with this encouraging statement: “The more that we’re lifting each other’s work, we can feel our collective power. And I feel like that grows.”
Kiersten wrapped up the conversation by speaking to Philanthropy Women‘s role as a provider of media on feminist giving.
“This virtual piece is becoming more important, and our presence on the ground is becoming more important. We’re being pushed in these different directions that are part of a larger picture, speaking to why we’re in the position we’re in, and how that reflects on current leadership.”
Kiersten encouraged listeners to “Find women leaders and feminist leaders within your communities you can just watch every day. Shift your eyes away from the things that are too disturbing, because you can find better leadership – and together, we can amplify and grow that leadership. Even as a small organization, I’m able to prompt more people to do this thinking and participate in this style of giving because it’s so much more effective, so much more holistic.”
We signed off to many words of encouragement from the viewers. We are so grateful to those who took the time to join us today, and to our speakers for their enlightening words. We are all in this together!
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