Women of color have often used our philanthropy to elevate our families, neighborhoods, cultures, and communities. We know in our bones what it means to be separated from our children or land, to have our economic dreams deferred, our languages ignored, our places of worship attacked, our bodies violated, and votes suppressed at the same time we are first ladies and CEOs. Philanthropy channels pain into progress with passion and compassion, generosity and kindness. Afterall, isn’t philanthropy really about love?
The organization I lead, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFCO), has long held values of equity and inclusion that drive our commitment to cultivating philanthropy. Our founding mothers shared the belief that women of all backgrounds and identities are philanthropists, a finding that was recently highlighted in research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. Organizations such as WFCO were designed to democratize philanthropy, and we’ve come a long way, but more work needs to be done to institutionalize the rich history of philanthropy in communities of color.
Four Ways Women’s Funds Can Change Philanthropy:
1. Listen to women of color, then reflect: Asking women of color to share their vision for our organizations and how we make them feel as philanthropists yields hard but necessary feedback. The second, often uncomfortable, step is to reflect: Are we committed to lifting up women of color as philanthropists? Are women of color authentically welcomed and valued in our community of giving? Do we honor the experiences and perspectives of women of color or are “equity” and “inclusion” just buzzwords in our values statements?
2. Commit to doing the work: Changing the culture that has historically excluded women of color from institutional philanthropy takes a commitment at the individual, organizational, and systemic level. During my time at The Denver Foundation, we started a program called the Inclusiveness Project to help nonprofits develop blueprints for racial inclusiveness. Our research found that successful organizations see “inclusiveness” as an action word - practiced by everyone on staff, starting with the CEO; every day; and in every part of their work. Inclusion is not an isolated benchmark to reach and proclaim “We’re done!” I am pleased that WFCO’s board, with the leadership of our chair, Stephanie Bruno, is on its own journey of deepening its understanding of inclusiveness.
3. Invest in leadership by women of color: There are more people of color leading philanthropic organizations than ever before, but we are still a small percentage of the whole. Even fewer of us lead women’s funds. Diverse representation in philanthropic leadership creates a domino effect: More equitable missions and inclusive policies leads to better practices that attract and foster more diverse staff. They, in turn, steward more diverse donors, invest their endowments with women and minority investment managers, and support organizations led by people of color. Women’s funds must build pipelines of leadership for women of color and create a culture that authentically values our voices and contributions. Representative leadership, not tokenizing, creates better outcomes for our communities.
4. Live the four T’s of philanthropy: For decades, organizations such as CHANGE Philanthropy, led by WFCO Empowerment Council donor Carly Hare, and Community Investment Network (CIN) have worked to redefine philanthropy to honor equally the gifts of time, talent, treasure, and testimony. Women’s funds can look to CHANGE and CIN to see how embracing and elevating the 4 Ts is essential to advancing equity in philanthropy and cultivating philanthropic leadership in communities of color. It would be a disservice to ignore that there are women of color who write 5-, 6-, and 7-figure checks, but by valuing the contributions of women who advance our missions in all essential ways, we welcome all women, especially women of color, into our communities of giving as philanthropists. Recognizing the value of inclusive philanthropy, W.K.Kellogg Foundation invested in strategies supporting cultivation of donors of color. Similarly, The Vaid Group gathered new insights into high net worth donors of color through “The Apparitional Donor” research.
The Women’s Foundation of Colorado is proud to be part of a community of women’s funds that is doing intentional and innovative work to advance racial equity in philanthropy: NoVo Foundation pledged that its $90 million investment in women and girls of color will be community-led, prioritizing the leadership of women of color, and Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis’ Young Women Philanthropists program educates and empowers the next generation of Memphis philanthropists. Chicago Foundation for Women is democratizing philanthropy through collective giving and we are home to Colorado’s first African American women’s giving circle – the Sisterhood of Philanthropists Impacting Needs (SPIN).
"I was inspired to really change the narrative around communities of color always wanting a hand out as opposed to giving in return,” Nneka McPhee, co-founder of SPIN. “Even though our communities have a rich legacy of philanthropy, it’s not acknowledged or celebrated in mainstream media and SPIN gives me a way to change that."
The cultivation of women’s philanthropy from an intersectional perspective is essential and I challenge women’s funds to continue to rise to the occasion. We, women of color, are philanthropists. It’s about time the philanthropic sector caught up.