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Changing the Face of Philanthropy

May 03, 2008

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(Christine Gumm is president and CEO of the Women's Funding Network, an international organization committed to improving the status of women and girls locally, nationally, and globally. This is her first post for PhilanTopic.)

Every year around this time, the organization I lead, the Women’s Funding Network, salutes individuals and organizations who have advanced philanthropy for and through women and girls around the world.  We call these awards Changing the Face of Philanthropy. Fern Portnoy recently wrote on this blog about how women’s giving has shaped a different philanthropic model, one "more democratic than aristocratic," to use her words.

Women's funding embraces a new way of giving back -- a way of giving that transforms the donor as well as the community. It also focuses on lasting social change as opposed to quick fixes.

Those of us in the women's funding movement take very seriously the call to change the face of philanthropy -- with the obvious play on words -- so that philanthropy looks more and more like the world it serves. But who does this, how does it happen, and what does that "changed face" look like? This year's honorees offer some answers in the examples they and their work provide:

Abigail Disney. A longtime leader in women's funds, including the New York Women's Foundation, the Global Fund for Women, and much more, Abby is one of those transformed donors. She has described herself as a "human checkbook" before discovering women's funds. Last year Abby made a challenge grant that has become the stuff of lore. She stood before the annual breakfast of the New York Women's Foundation with an audacious offer: for the next three months, she would match contributions to the foundation up to a million dollars. The result: $2.62 million for the foundation, including Disney's $1 million. Abby is changing the face of philanthropy by playing a leading role in encouraging women as donors to think big. 

Ford Foundation. One of the giants in its field, Ford knew decades ago what is only now becoming widely realized. When you empower a woman, you empower her family and, by extension, her community. Last year alone, the Ford Foundation funded programs for women and girls to the tune of $85 million. It is one of the world's most prominent institutional forces in women's philanthropy, having granted more than $85 million in 2007 specifically to advance social economic justice for and through women and girls. For years Ford has been a major supporter of women and girls both domestically and abroad. It has specifically led the way in grantmaking in the areas of anti-discrimination efforts, reproductive rights, efforts to halt sex trafficking, prevention of violence against women, and efforts to reduce poverty and injustice for women and girls.

Stacey Stewart, Senior Vice President, Office of Community and Charitable Giving, Fannie Mae, and the Washington Area Women's Foundation. The daughter of civil rights activists, Stacey has brought that spirit of activism to her work in philanthropy. This means that, under her leadership, the Fannie Mae Foundation was more than simply a passive source of funding -- it was an active partner with the organizations it supports. Fannie Mae’s $1 million gift to the Washington Area Women's Foundation for its Stepping Stones initiative is a perfect example. Stacey rolled up her sleeves and joined others in leading this multi-year project, which already, early in its life, has helped clear a path to economic security for low-income, female-headed households in and around Washington. Stacey's personal involvement helped the Women's Foundation leverage Fannie Mae's $1 million gift into $5 million from a broad array of new funding sources.

The Stepping Stones program is the "jewel in the crown" of the Washington Area Women's Foundation, which we are honoring as a shining example of the vitality of women's funds. In less than ten years the foundation has become one of the most dynamic of the 128 women's foundations around the world. Its strategic focus, its emphasis on impact, its brilliance in communications, and its ability to forge community among women of all classes, races and ethnicities -- these qualities represent how women's funding is changing the face of philanthropy. In less than a decade, the foundation's grantmaking has jumped from $30,000 to $1 million a year. And in just two and a half years, its Stepping Stones initiative has helped nearly 4,000 women in the Washington metropolitan area collectively increase their assets by $17 million by shedding debt, getting better jobs, and building assets.

What do these individuals and organizations have in common? They know -- and they are acting innovatively according to this wisdom -- that when you empower a woman, you empower her family and, by extension her community. They know what social investors and, more recently, the private sector, have come to realize: Investing in women and girls isn’t just good for half the world -- it’s good for us all.

-- Christine Gumm

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