I’m deeply worried and feeling overwhelmed. The COVID-19 variants keeps me second guessing any in-person visits, the fires, heat and flooding underscore that climate change affects us all but particularly those most impoverished, and the chasms in our economic recovery continue to affect women, especially women of color, more severely and disproportionately. How do I, one person, take useful actions in the face of all this?
I know that change starts at home, so 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
My reflection deepened my commitment to dedicate all my work hours on women’s philanthropy. To quote Brown, my unique contribution is to 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 role 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 equal 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 women 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 MacKenzie Scott’s 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 boldly, or receive thank-you letters that don’t recognize she made the gift. Women are giving; everyone now knows that women are making or influencing over 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 focus on women’s philanthropy.
I have my unique part of this larger transformation in advancement. With the help of so many individuals in my village of Kathleen Loehr & Associates, we raise up the stories of how women from all backgrounds create powerful change at many levels. I am a proud member of the Steering Committee for the Allies in Action, supporting women of color. We provide strategy, tools, and templates for nonprofits and universities to fully embrace and integrate the ways that women approach philanthropy. We accelerate how fundraisers are trained to adapt their approaches and connect with women in ways that better resonate. Increased inclusion and equality are essential to grow 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 and men across centuries who focused on challenging many intertwined systems of oppression and creating new realities.
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.