The movement to grow women’s philanthropy is not meant to focus only on one profile of women who give. Women’s philanthropy includes ALL those who identify as women. It is intended to be inclusive. Yet current language and actions by those who identify as white cisgender women leaders in this movement – including myself – may not be making inclusivity clear. We unconsciously may be perpetuating a system of racism and gender inequity.

History shows that women-led movements have not always been inclusive. For example, in the push for women’s right to vote and the eventual passage of the 19th Amendment, white suffragists abandoned their initial solidarity with black suffragists when they saw their self-interest at risk. By seeking to further their own agenda, white women sanctioned the continued harassment and marginalization of black women in their effort to vote.

When I read this history, I am awakened to the errors of the suffragist movement and the oppression it continued to support. In light of ongoing murders of black men and women today, my lens to anti-racism has sharpened, and I commit to doing better than our foremothers, starting with looking at myself.

Being more aware of my white privilege, I now see where I have unconsciously perpetuated disenfranchisement. I’ve shared with untold audiences over this past year that it is time to adapt fundraising better to meet women in ways they prefer. I’ve also regularly said: “Once you adapt fundraising for women, you begin to understand how to adapt fundraising for all other historically underrepresented groups.” This latter advice implies two things. It first suggests that we start with women – primarily white women – who can give big gifts now to create momentum in demonstrating the power of women’s philanthropy. It also suggests a linear progression of change, as in “focus on this challenge first, and then you’ll be able to move to the next.” I see now that advice is tantamount to saying: “Let’s demonstrate that women, primarily white and privileged, who have been unseen in our fundraising, do give powerfully. We can tackle other discrimination after that.”

To focus on just one profile of a woman despite the multiple identities that women hold is to replicate what fundraisers did in the past – assume that all donors give like the prototypical donor of the 1960’s who was male, white and straight. And holding a linear, non-inclusive path forward towards change limits what we envision and choose for our actions. For instance, many of my examples of growing women’s philanthropy have been about white women. Is that because those are truly the majority of examples? Or is it because I had an unconscious bias, as well as a mindset of “Let’s get to success quickly“? As a result, I did not look for more diverse stories from women. Inspiring stories are there for us all to find, if we look, from Madam CJ Walker and Annie Turnbo Malone, self-made entrepreneurs and pioneers in the beauty industry who became two of America’s first major black philanthropists, Mary Church Terrell, a leader in black women’s suffrage and civil rights activism, Kwanza Jones, a significant donor to Princeton University whose pressure helped remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from campus in 2020, Mary Hooks, an organizer of the Black Mama’s Bailout campaign, co-director of Southerners on New Ground, and a leader in the Movement for Black Lives, and countless others.

Let’s amplify together the stories of all women philanthropists. To find and hear these stories, all women (she/her/they/them) must be included on councils, in gatherings, and in calls and visits. More attention needs to be paid to how and what women might care about depending on their additional identities – race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and socioeconomic status. Otherwise, how can we as a sector embrace the philanthropy and leadership each woman can bring to the critical changes we need on our campuses, in our organizations and across our country?

At the meta level, working with our donors who hold identities other than white and straight provides a framework to understand that there is a broader community of philanthropic actors available to support our missions. This broader community brings change to our society from many levels, not just from the top down. For the sustained, transformative philanthropic change needed today, we need multiple perspectives and entry points. This broader community also brings more than just wealth to social needs – it brings a new definition of philanthropy that encompasses time, talent, treasure, ties and testimony. Embracing a new definition demystifies and democratizes philanthropy.

I want to state boldly and unequivocally that inclusion is a non-negotiable pillar in the effort to grow women’s philanthropy. I started by looking within, and I reflected on the following to change my path:

  • Where are my unconscious biases?
  • Where might I be sacrificing the long-term commitment of inclusivity for short-term goals?
    • Below is what is on my night table, to help me remember that this is a long journey and I always need to orient today’s work towards the north star of inclusivity.
      • The Feminist Revolution: The Struggle for Women’s Liberation (Bonnie J. Morris and D-M Withers)
      • Funding Feminism: Monied Women, Philanthropy and the Women’s Movement 1870-1967 (Joan Marie Johnson)
      • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Austin Channing Brown)
  • Where am I devoting time and energy to show up as an aspiring ally?

I invite you to share what you are reading and doing to grow your awareness and create change. Please also share your commitment to inclusive women’s philanthropy with this online community and your colleagues and volunteers. When we embrace change and act in unison to create inclusion for all, that is when our movement becomes more powerful to achieve lasting change.

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