Issue area: Women and Girls
Geographic focus: San Francisco Bay Area and International (East Africa, Latin America, & Nepal)
Giving vehicle: Donor-advised Fund (the HOW Fund)
Years in philanthropy: 14
Time spent on philanthropy (weekly): 10 hours; previously 20 at the outset
Wealth story: Liquidity event in early 2000s
Recommended Resources: Thousand Currents, Komera, Black Girl Freedom Fund, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Recommended by: Ayushi Vig, Freedom School
I want philanthropy to be a joyful and transformative journey for donors. I want us to dismantle the shame and the guilt that so often come with privilege and holds us back from giving with our full selves. Instead, I want us to take responsibility for our privilege, take action and step into deep purpose. Philanthropy can be a liberatory process for all of us.
Women have provided some of the safest, most healing spaces of my life. My mother was killed in a car accident when I was very young, and it destroyed my father's life. He became an alcoholic, and it drove him to his death. Alcoholism and drug addiction run in my family, and so I grew up in a complicated, often painful, family dynamic. The women in my life -- friends, mentors, teachers -- carried me through. I learned to appreciate the concept of women supporting women from an early age.
As I reflected on my life experiences and connected the dots, it was clear to me that my purpose is to support women and girls. As I look back on it, I can see that it was also, in some ways, about healing my own inner girl.
In my grantmaking, I fund grassroots organizations led by people of color. Grassroots organizations are the ones led by the communities themselves. They don’t necessarily have fancy websites or newsletters, but I have found they are doing the most transformational work on the ground. They have lived expertise of community needs and are nimble, strategic, and invested in the work for the long-term. Leaders of color also get disproportionately fewer funds, so being able to fill this critical gap allows me to expand my impact.
Second, I fund with an intersectional approach. Women and girls are affected by every issue imaginable -- I can’t think about them without thinking about climate change, education, or healthcare. I try to fund in clusters to support women's wellbeing across multiple dimensions of their lives, rather than divide up a portfolio between strictly defined programs. These issues are all part of the greater systems at play.
On finding grassroots organizations to fund
Grassroots organizations tend to be the ones that don’t have access to funding networks or don’t have the time or capacity to seek out and write complex proposals or applications. The best way I’ve found so far is to have my current grantee partners recommend other organizations, such as those that complement their work or whom they are learning from. It’s led to much more meaningful relationships with my grantee partners, and also helps me deepen my intersectional approach to my giving.
On partnership as a donor
I see myself as a partner to the organizations I fund -- I call them my partners instead of "my grantees.” I see myself just as accountable to them as they are to me, and it is my duty to make sure the relationship goes deeper than a financial transaction. I need to show up as more than my money. I foster and amplify partners' work whenever I can. I help them find other funders, connect with other organizations in their region, attend conferences, and access personal development opportunities. I also tell them I am always available if they want to talk through a challenge and strategize, or even just vent.
I also believe that as a donor it is important for me to "do my homework,” per trust-based philanthropy. I put in the time to continually educate myself so that others don't have to do it for me, and I do my best to show up prepared to every meeting with my partners.
On the evolution of giving
I don't think I've pivoted much in my giving [since the events of 2020]. Rather, I think the way in which I have been giving for years now -- in deep, long-term relationships with grantees -- set me up to respond well to a crisis. Because of the trust I have built with my partners, they have felt comfortable opening up to me about all of the challenges they are facing. Because of the multiyear general operating support I provide, they have been able to pivot to meet these challenges. I have started to fund several new organizations, but the core of what I do has remained the same. Not for a second did I consider withdrawing any of my multiyear commitments to my partners.
Final Thoughts: My grantee partners’ leadership inspires me, and the deep relationships and friendships I have with them keep me grounded and accountable. For example, I was catching up recently with the leader of an organization I support in Rwanda, and I was just venting and expressing frustration about the state of the world. And she said, gently but firmly, to me, "You need to channel that anger into action right now. You need to get on the ground and do some work.” That kind of relational accountability has been essential for me in this journey.
Read other stories about donors centering equity.