Tell us about the purpose of your organization.
Rachel’s Network is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that brings together women at the intersection of the environment, philanthropy, and women’s leadership. Our members are activists, business and community leaders, foundation trustees, impact investors, and board directors who share a commitment to the environment and healthy communities. Rachel’s Network harnesses the collective wisdom of this group to lift up other women environmental leaders and support one another in our philanthropy.
Please share more about the leadership of your organization. Who started it and why?
The network was founded in 1999 by 18 women led by Winsome McIntosh, who shared a commitment to conservation philanthropy. They named the organization after Rachel Carson, a woman who changed our understanding of the natural world with the 1962 publication of Silent Spring. Winsome wanted to provide an alternative to the “boy’s club” that was prevalent in philanthropy and nonprofit decision-making and she recognized that women working together were a powerful force.
What progress have you made so far?
Since 2000, our network has collectively given roughly $2 million towards strategic partnerships, investing in women leaders at the frontlines of our movement and the solutions that secure a thriving planet for future generations. That has included funding for projects fighting petrochemical development in the Ohio River Valley, advocacy against the US-Mexico border wall, and shareholder activism against toxic pesticides.
In 2018, we launched the annual Rachel’s Network Catalyst Award to celebrate women environmental leaders of color. Since that time, we have re-granted over $300,000, not only through the Catalyst Award, but to organizations in the Catalyst network, recognized 35 women (includes 20 finalists), and oversaw positive equity shifts in our collective giving.
Why did you choose the collective giving model to advance climate justice?
Relationships have been central to our work from the beginning. The women who joined us early on were working and giving mostly in solitude and this became a place for them to share their interests and deepen their philanthropy. Co-funding naturally evolved out of that. What’s new for us is recognizing that we can play a bigger role in supporting other networks of women out there through the Catalyst Award. Whether it’s women coming together as funders or women coming together as environmental and climate justice activists, we share our founders’ understanding that there is power in these kinds of connections. Our intent is for the Catalyst Award community and our member community to be intertwined as much as possible. There are often power imbalances between funders and grantees, but we are committed to working through these challenges.
What does impact and success look like to you?
Impact and success look like seeing our network rally around and support women of color who have been doing tremendous work—sometimes overlooked—for years. It looks like what we hope the future will be.
What do you want potential donors to know about collective giving and climate justice work?
There is a serious racial and gender bias in philanthropy that we are wrestling with. For instance, Black-led organizations receive roughly half the revenue that white-led organizations do, and the unrestricted net assets of the Black-led organizations are 91 percent smaller than the white-led organizations. In addition, only 1.6% of US philanthropy is focused on women and girls and only 1.3% of environmental funding was directed towards environmental justice activities from 2016-2017. While we value the many projects we’ve funded through the years, there’s no denying that our past collective giving has mirrored these disparities.
Increasing our collective funding of women leaders of color and the solutions they bring helps to correct this lopsided situation and invest in new, creative ideas and effective leadership. Our organization’s mission of elevating women environmental leaders puts us in a perfect position to address these gaps.
How can donors get involved with your organization?
Women funders are welcome to join our membership here. In addition to co-funding, we also offer private educational and networking events and webinars, fiscal sponsorship and board placement, and endless opportunities to connect to fellow women environment funders and nonprofit leaders. Our members often say that the relationships they build with one another is the most rewarding aspect of membership.
If you know/are a woman environmental leader of color, please consider nominating them/applying to the Catalyst Award on our website here when we open the 2021 application cycle later this spring.
Come see Rachel's Network at We Give Summit On Tuesday, May 12, Rachel's Network is hosting "When Women of Color Lead, Climate and Environment Win." You'll hear from grassroots leaders and environmental funders on how by supporting women, we advance a healthier, safer, and more just world for all. Register today at wegivesummit.org.