Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features philanthropist, fundraiser and advocate Akilah S. Wallace, who serves as Executive Director of Faith in Texas.
- What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
When I started out in the nonprofit sector and philanthropy, I wish I knew the diversity of career paths available and how both work and volunteer experiences in private and public sectors provided much-needed, transferable skills. Additionally, I wish I knew how valuable my lived experiences as a Black woman, single mother, volunteer and more, could help shape culturally-relevant programs, policies and how resources are distributed.
- What is your current greatest professional challenge?
My current greatest professional challenge is ongoing advocacy for “equitable” investment in Black women’s leadership throughout the nonprofit sector. Earlier this year, Philanthropy Women published an article about the discrepancies in funding for Women of Color-led nonprofits. Since then, major funds like Black Girl Freedom Fund, Grantmakers for Girls of Color and Ms. Foundation for Women have launched investments prioritizing Black women and girls. These represent upward movement; however, I question the depth of the ripple effect and its reach with local and regional funders. The competition for national funds is massive and I am concerned that other funders are not following their lead and doing the hard internal work, such as evaluating racial inequities in funding policies, or wrestling with racial bias and privilege, etc., which should lead to increased funding in Black women-led nonprofits.
- What inspires you most about your work?
Having access to dozens of brilliant, bold and badass women with a diversity of thought, leadership, lived, and shared experience; spiritual and healing practice; and economic status inspires me the most about my work. Prior to working in nonprofits and philanthropy, I rarely engaged in meaningful conversations with people outside of my comfort zone. Now, I not only have established multi-year relationships with wealthy women who periodically check on my family but I have embarked on powerful policy campaigns alongside women on the margins, fighting for pathways to freedom, citizenship, quality education for their children and more. Every time I make a financial ask on behalf of our most vulnerable populations, I am inspired. Sharing testimonies, finding shared interests and speaking about the impact funding makes, inspires me to show up each and every day.
I am grateful for Dallas’ local funders who listened to recommendations from grassroots leaders on who to direct funds to in response to COVID-19 and heightened racial tension following protests.
- How does your gender identity inform your work?
My gender identity informs my work on a daily basis. First, in my experience, the majority of nonprofit staff are female. The grant managers and family decision-makers about giving have been female. The clients being served by many of the organizations are majority female. Everywhere I go, within the sector I am most likely to engage with a female. It is also important to note that they are generally cis-gender female, as well. However, I am grateful for my years working in community organizing because it has expanded my understanding of how systemic racism and patriarchy contributed to my past work experiences in predominantly white female spaces and shaped my current perspectives as a Black woman leading a multi-racial, multi-faith social justice movement. This is also why my giving circle chose to prioritize membership and financial investment for Black women. Unfortunately, I also feel added pressure as a female leader both professionally and personally.
- How can philanthropy support gender equity?
Philanthropy can support gender equity by establishing clearly defined and written equitable policies and practices. Institutions should have gender equity standards for its staffing, decision-making, funding and revenue, such as a gendered investments mix. Individual donors should ask nonprofits they fund about how they are prioritizing gender equity. Philanthropy can support gender equity by learning how history has contributed to inequities and committing to change the course, now, for future generations.
- In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?
In the next 10 years, I see gender equity movements transforming the world. Honestly, each generation has benefited from the relentless efforts made by gender equity leaders in education, civil and voters rights, LGBTQ+, feminist, girl power, environmental, healthcare and global movements. I believe current day events will result in a healthier, safer and less-impoverished world, and that the baton will be passed on to the next generation of gendered and non-gender conforming leaders with bright, innovative ideas that align with a reimagined society that benefits the collective.
More on Akilah S. Wallace:
Akilah S. Wallace is the Executive Director of Faith in Texas, a nonpartisan, multi-racial and multi-faith grassroots movement of people united in values working together to achieve economic, racial and social justice for all people. She has two decades of experience as a relationship manager, with expertise in nonprofit leadership, fund development, African-American media sales, and project management.
Wallace’s love for connecting community organizations with financial and in-kind resources has resulted in millions of revenue support. She is currently pursuing a degree in Human Services Management & Leadership at the University of North Texas at Dallas and has earned a Nonprofit Management Certificate from the Center for Nonprofit Management in Dallas, TX.
Akilah’s philanthropic leadership includes the founding of HERitage Giving Fund at Moore Impact, a Black women’s giving circle that has awarded $100,000+ in grants to Black women-led nonprofits; and #BlackDFWGives, an educational and inspiring, online initiative seeking to elevate platforms for philanthropy education, charitable giving and future generations of philanthropists of color.
Her distinguished honors include the 2021 Inaugural Black Women Give Back List, 2019 Young Black and Giving Back Institute Philanthropist of the Year, Dallas Business Journal 40 Under 40 and The Dallas Foundation Top 10 Good Works Under 40 Award. Akilah is a founding member of Power in Action, charter member of the Texas Women’s Foundation’s XIX Society and a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Her servant leadership extends onto community advisories, boards and other opportunities for volunteerism. Akilah is also a 2018 Dallas Public Voices Greenhouse, Op Ed fellow and sought-after public speaker. At home, Akilah is the proud mother to college student and businessman, Jamel and student-athlete, Jayce. Her mantra is: “There is no royal flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard,” a quote from Madame C.J. Walker.
This interview has been minimally edited.