This year’s change of the calendar left us only a few moments to breathe before the intensity of 2021 took our breath away again. We might desire more time to reflect on 2020, but we are being asked to look squarely at reality, exactly as it is right now. The pandemic is worse than ever, the floundering economy continues to affect women, especially women of color, more severely and disproportionately, and deep conflict across our country continues to rise. How do we face into a daunting New Year?
I know that change starts at home, so I reflected on what I can do. I challenged myself with this question: “What is uniquely mine to do to promote equity and inclusion?” I spoke to mentors and friends and re-read favorite books. One quote stood out for me:
“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
It led me to a clear decision to dedicate all my work hours on women’s philanthropy. To quote Brown, I will walk into the arena with leadership, expertise, and experience to accelerate women’s philanthropy. Women are funding major movements already and how women use their giving to create impact will only grow across politics, nonprofits, and higher education. Now is the time to bring women’s philanthropy into the consciousness and habits of every fundraiser.
My chosen focus is critical for the society I hope to create. The pandemic has laid bare the depth of gender inequality in many parts of our society and around the world. This persistent inequality places undue burden on women when it comes to job security and caregiving responsibilities. This burden prevents women from career advancement and taking a more active in leadership, or securing a promotion at work, or pounding the pavement to become part of change in their community. We know that women in positions of power – political, philanthropic or otherwise – tend to listen to different points of view, welcome new solutions and invest in alternative ways of providing support to those most vulnerable. When they invest, it’s a rising tide that lifts all boats and accelerates change in our communities. If we agree that social change is a good thing, and women philanthropists are a key lever of change, we would be silly not to pay attention to the unique ways that women give. Look at MacKenzie Scott’s recent transformational gifts. Her rigorous research with a streamlined team, the commitment to tackle systemic inequalities, the choice of organizations that are operationally strong yet rarely the normal recipients of large gifts, and the swiftness of her funding create a new model for philanthropy. She has broken the mold of placing one’s largess into a family foundation and giving it away slowly. This woman philanthropist is leading us to reconsider how major philanthropists might address long-standing inequities in our country differently.
Some organizations will say “We do pay attention to women in our fundraising, and they simply are not giving much.” It is unfortunate that these myths and unconscious biases persist. It is even more unfortunate that many, many women philanthropists still tell me in focus groups and private conversations that they are overlooked, not being asked for as much as their husbands, or receive thank-you letters addressed to her husband when she made the gift. Women are giving; everyone now knows that women are making or influencing on average 75% of all household philanthropic decisions. But perhaps they are not giving at all, or at capacity, to an organization that makes them feel disrespected and undervalued? The voices of these women ring in my ear as I choose to focus on women’s philanthropy.
As a coach, I teach that when we say YES to something big, it often means we must say NO to something we have been doing. Even though I know this principle, it is still hard – I want to do it all. I like being involved and to help in many arenas. I’ve had the privilege of doing far more than women’s philanthropy at Aspen Leadership Group (ALG). This exceptional team of colleagues helps clients embed a DE&I lens into every part of executive search and leader-to-leader consulting to ensure that teams and cultures welcome diverse backgrounds and perspectives for the sake of engaging ALL of their potential donors. ALG is at the forefront of strengthening all parts of our advancement profession to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive.
What ALG is doing is critical. AND I have my unique part of this larger transformation in advancement. So I’ve stepped away from my employment at ALG to focus singularly on women’s philanthropy through my LLC of Kathleen Loehr and Associates. With the help of so many individuals already in my village, we will raise up the stories of how women from all backgrounds give powerfully at all levels. We will provide strategy, tools, and templates for even more nonprofits and universities to fully embrace and integrate the ways that women approach philanthropy. We will accelerate how fundraisers are trained to adapt their approaches and connect with women in ways that better resonate. Finally, I will use my voice to write and speak more about how current definitions of power constrain our partnerships with donors, particularly women. Increased inclusion and equality undoubtedly will be accelerants for growing the funding we seek to raise for our critical missions.
For today, I leave you with this question:
What is uniquely yours to do to grow inclusion in our society and philanthropic sector?
Many have already figured out their answer and have been activists for years. I appreciate the hard-won gains from so many women across centuries who focused on challenging many intertwined systems of oppression and creating a new reality.
If you have not pondered this question, consider it now. All of us have a role to play to help create a just, equal, and compassionate society. You will not be alone in choosing your unique contribution and facing forward with courage.