It was one of those weeks. I have written about them before. One of those weeks that leaves my head spinning and my heart whirling until I feel like I’m going to explode or lift right up off of the ground like Dorothy and Toto in The Wizard of Oz. So what exactly happened last week? You better get comfortable, because this is going to take awhile.
My week started when 20 wonderful people gathered for a Fearless FUNdraising retreat I hosted in my hometown of Park City, Utah. Our facilitator was Kathy LeMay, a person you can only describe in one way: extraordinary. For an entire day she shared her stories and had us share our own to help us discover how we could more fully step into our capacity, to inhabit our authentic selves, and to champion resources for the issues and organizations we care most about. As donors and board members to non-profits, I strongly feel that we have an obligation to help these organizations raise money. The goal of this retreat was to help each of us figure out how to do this with passion, with authenticity, without judgment, and most importantly, to have fun doing it. Mission accomplished!
So what did we discover to be the key to successful fundraising? Sincere listening, exceptional relationship skills, the ability to clearly communicate your own story, and finally, the willingness to take the leap and actually make the ask. It was through this retreat that I had a major revelation: I came to realize just how much I let how I THINK the person will respond get in the way of my fundraising goals. Often my train of thought will go something like this: “She already gives to other organizations… I don’t think she cares about this issue… If she says no will she avoid me in the grocery store?… Will she in turn expect me to give to her cause that is just not something I really care about…” It never ends, but it suddenly hit me that I have to stop thinking so hard and just start sharing my passion with others. When the moment is right, invite others to join you with respect, and be sure to leave any baggage or judgment at the door.
I also had a big revelation about women like me, people like me, who want to do everything for everybody and never say no. I came to see that we have to be able to do just that. Often I want to say no, but I can’t. I love the people who are asking me and I know that I can help them, but I simply don’t have the time to do it all. Last week at the retreat we came up with a good solution: offer to do just one thing, and then simply do just that one thing. For example, I was recently asked by a group to join their advisory committee for a major fundraising campaign that would involve reaching out to many potential donors in my network for support. While I can’t commit to that amount of work, I do know one major donor who I think would be a great fit, and I do have the time to set up a call between this donor and the committee’s executive director. And it’s all right to let that be enough.
I went from the retreat to an early morning departure to San Francisco to attend TEDWomen. Before the conference began, Women Moving Millions hosted a gathering with an amazing group called The Kitchen Sisters, the Peabody Award winning duo consisting of Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva. ( I am pictured with Nikki above) Both are independent producers, and together, The Kitchen Sisters are the creators of hundreds of stories chronicling the lives of the people who make up this country’s diverse cultural history, with all of their work being produced for public broadcast. Their message is story, and it is a message that speaks to me directly. Throughout my life I have come to know, not think or feel or wonder; KNOW that at the center of everything I am and do is about story. STORY. The narrative. Who, why, when, where, and how told in such a way that the story connects us to each other, to issues, and to action. If you have heard me speak or have been a reader of my blog you know that I am “quote girl.” I collect quotes, I use them, I cherish them, I share them. The Kitchen Sisters feel the same way and here are a couple they shared:
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” – Muriel Rukeyser
“Just as you cannot live without food, you cannot live without stories.” – Alice Waters
“The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.” – Harold Clarke Goddard ( that was my addition in the intro)
Nikki Silva spent the next 40 minutes sharing stories of some of the people who have changed our world. Stories that you have most likely never heard of, because myself, along with almost everyone in the room, had never heard of them. The first was the story of Georgia Gilmore. Georgia was a grass roots activist in Alabama who in the 1950s started The Club From Nowhere; a group that baked pies and cakes that were sold in beauty parlors and gas stations in order to support the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Georgia knew that what she did best was cook, and she used this asset to help spur social change. Of course Nikki shared a quote: “Some people look at a pie and see a pie. Others look at a pie and see a weapon for social change.” I cried. This is everything I believe in summed up in to ONE LINE. One story. We WILL change the world for the better in a fast and furious way if we begin to see everything we have as a tool for social change. EVERYTHING. Everything we have is something we can use and direct to support our vision for the world. Our money is so much more than just our giving dollars. There’s our purchasing power, our investment dollars, and the ability to NOT BUY and NOT PURCHASE to enact social consequences on those who do things that are not aligned with our values. It was an exhilarating gathering.
Next was TEDWomen. Even before the sessions began I was running in to people on the streets and in the lobby of the hotel, connecting and sharing what we are doing and might do together. Connectedness. I met with two NGO leaders who wanted to talk about how their organizations were working together and how that partnership might be leveraged for greater impact. I spoke with a woman I met a few weeks earlier who was considering joining Women Moving Millions. I ran in to extraordinary women like Rachel Payne who founded FEM Inc., an online content analysis and delivery site that just launched this week, and is a company in which I am proudly an investor. I met a new woman named Tara Lemmey who started a company called SPIN that is launching a mobile video communications platform that aims to bring human emotion into online interactions. As soon as she had told me about it, my very first question was ‘Who funds you and can I be an investor?” All of these amazing connections before the conference even began.
Then TED began. During the opening night party we heard the stories of many prior speakers and how their lives have changed because of their talk. They included Tony Porter, whose A Call to Men talk in 2010 has been viewed over a million times, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a speaker from 2011 who spoke about the way the media shapes people’s perceptions of women, and iO Tillett Wright whose 2012 talk on people’s personal notions of sexuality has nearly one million views. I was present in the room for all those talks and they were indeed memorable. Their lives had changed because of their TED talks, and I understood why. Allow me to share how my life has changed because of TED.
Being invited in 2012 to give my TED talk forced me to think deeply about what idea do I have that is worth sharing? My idea was big and complex, but it boiled down to this: Why Women, Why Now, and What Next? and it is summarized in this blog entry. It told my story and why I believe that advancing gender equality is good for everyone, and details specifically how we can make it happen. Taking the time, the HUGE time, to write that speech forced me to think more deeply than I ever, ever have about what I care most passionately about and how to take action. It was not just an idea, in fact it was the opposite, it was all about action. A CALL TO ACTION. How my life has changed is that I now see that talk as the core of who I am and what I do in the world. I serve as the CEO of Women Moving Millions because our mission is “to mobilize unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls.” In this community, with this platform, and with all the other affiliations in which I am involved, I am doing just that, and I want to help inspire others to do the same.
Then came the TED Talks themselves. With over 25 talks and speakers this blog would be a book if I were to write about all of them, but I wrote about three highlights for LinkedIn on Friday and invite you to check them out here. One of the few men to speak was environmental and literacy activist Boyd Varty, who shared the lessons he has learned including from the late Nelson Mandela. Mr. Mandela was a family friend and Boyd heard of his passing just before going on stage. It was a truly touching moment. I had the pleasure of meeting Boyd and his wonderful family this past summer at the Londolozi Game Reserve while my husband and I, together with the most incredible group of friends, were there on safari. Upon returning I wrote a blog titled “Lessons Learned in Africa.” If ever you want to go on Safari consider going to this magical camp and if you need help planning I highly recommend Roar Africa. They made every little thing amazing.
Big Picture. What were my take-aways from TEDWomen2013, Invented Here? First, I just loved the theme, because it celebrated invention in all its forms. “Not just technology, but also new solutions to poverty; new approaches to leadership; new expressions of art and music; and, at times, the invention of our own lives.” That basically meant that there were cool people talking about everything. Invention is all around us and it is not just about what we might newly create, but about how we might newly approach the world each and every day. As someone who creates content for my writing and for events, the TED experience shifted how I might approach both to be more innovative, fresh, and relevant. Second, speaker Jessica Matthew spoke about a concept she labeled ‘domino innovation’, and it describes how innovation begets innovation like a game of dominos. An innovation of any kind can create a huge effect that one could not ever have imagined or predicted. It might be about how a product created for one purpose ends up being used in a completely different way from its original intention, or how someone affected by a certain type of innovation finds their life suddenly taking a whole new direction because of it. LOVE IT. Third, and there could be 100, Diana Nyad, the amazing woman who at the age of 62 became the FIRST PERSON to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aide of a shark cage. Diana highlighted to me how absolutely important it is to think of life as a team sport. She did the swim, she was the one in the water, she ‘did it’, but she could not have done it without the people helping her in the boat for all those hours, not to mention all of the people who helped her prepare for her swim for all the years that preceded it. Greatness and reaching your potential can only truly be accomplished with a community. We can become great and we can change the world, but what we need to more fully acknowledge and lift up is not the rugged individualism of it all, but rather the interdependence of it all.
Post-TEDWomen and all the amazing formal talks and informal conversations, my head was, is, swimming with new ideas and concrete next steps for action. I tried my best to capture them all in writing before they floated off to Neverland, which they often do, but soon I was back on a plane as I flew to LA to attend an event that evening hosted by the International Documentary Association (IDA). The IDA was presenting The Amicus Award to my dear friend Geralyn Dreyfous, only the second person to receive this prestigious honor, after Michael Donaldson was recognized in 2009.
However, before this event I spent three hours meeting with some fabulous women from The Shriver Report, a non-profit led by Maria Shriver that works to advance the status of women and girls across all areas of American society. I am honored to serve on the advisory board for a new report that will be coming out in January. This report will highlight the economic challenges faced by American women, and how the factors leading to their economic insecurity affect the children under their care. It will be available here in January 2014. The big question we asked ourselves at this lunch was how do you really serve the needs of low-income women and children in this country? How might we create a massive intervention in a short period of time that could have significant impact? Policy issues are big factors, including raising the minimum wage, paid sick leave, paid maternity leave, health care, and affordable child care, but what else? What is working at the local and grass roots level to truly help and serve those in our communities who need it most?
For me, one of the most powerful investments we can all make is in our local women’s foundation. The majority of these entities came in to existence for exactly this purpose, and it is time to bring them to scale. If you have never heard of a women’s fund and do not know what they do or what their theory of change is, I invite you to visit the website of this one, The Dallas Women’s Foundation, or this one, The Washington Area Women’s Fund. If you asked me today, apart from these big policy issues, what is the ONE THING that could dramatically improve the lives of the economically vulnerable people in our country, my answer would be to DOUBLE, TRIPLE, QUADRUPLE the grant making of our nation’s women’s foundations. And here is how much money it would approximately take. $50 million, $100 million, $150 million. That is it. I left the lunch promising connections and so excited about the importance of this report, and particularly how it just might be the catalyst for great change IF WE ACT ON IT!!!! One of the quotes someone made at TED was “movements have moments”, and I believe we are at just that moment for prioritizing and addressing the needs of women and girls.
After this amazing lunch I headed back to the hotel for a freshening up before the IDA Awards. For those who have read this blog for years, you know that I have a passion for storytelling, for films, and in particular, for documentary films and anything related to women superheroes.
This special event, now in its 29th year, honors incredible work in the area of non-fiction filmmaking. I was there for Geralyn because she has become not only a dear friend, but a mentor and collaborator in my work. My husband and I joined Impact Partners in 2011, an organization Geralyn co-founded that brings private investment to documentary films. Besides our investment in Impact films such as Anita, The Crash Reel, How To Survive A Plague, and American Promise, we have also given grants to others like Miss Representation and The Invisible War. I also Executive Produced my first film called Ready to Fly which is about the quest to get Women’s Ski Jumping in to the Olympic Games, which it will be next year for the very first time! Not only have I fallen in love with these films, but I have become enamored with the filmmakers and their journeys, which are often not easy. The passion, time, and commitment that goes into these films is truly unbelievable. At the forefront of so many of the film projects that have changed our world for the better is Geralyn. Yes, she is a producer, but she is so much more than that. She uses every tool and every resource she has with a spirit of pure generosity in a way that can only be described as superhuman. I would not have missed sitting in the audience in support of her for anything in the world. It was additionally cool that giving her the award was another dear friend and colleague, Geena Davis. Both Geralyn and I sit on Geena’s board, and just that evening we learned of a major grant that was coming to the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in Media to support their incredible work. There were just so many reasons for toasting! See tweets on the evening at #honorgeralyn.
The after party for Geralyn started at 11:30PM, so needless to say it was not an early night. Falling asleep was not easy given the days of stimulating conversations, but eventually complete and utter exhaustion took over. It was an early wake up call, because I had to be at the Santa Monica airport to catch a ride home to Park City on a private plane thanks to the generosity of some mutual friends. I jumped in a cab at the Beverly Hills Hotel and I asked to go to Santa Monica Airport. I noticed the dazed and confused look of the driver and I asked him if he knew where that was. He grabbed his notebook, NOT a GPS, and went to a page that had the directions. My first instinct was to jump out of the car but I did not. First mistake. I was told it was about 20 minutes away, and 20 minutes later we had gone in a zig zag manner to nothing that looked familiar. I was starting to panic and again asked the driver if he knew where he was going and he promised yes. I was madly trying to get a hold of my friend, but I could not reach her to get help or to let her know I was cutting it close. I started to panic as not only do I hate being late because being late is rude, but it is also expensive when there is a private plane waiting for you. Finally, 45 minutes later, we found the airport, but the driver could not find the entrance. I could tell we were on the wrong side of the airport, but he would not listen to me and was insisting that I get out of the car because we had arrived. Still unable to get ahold of my friend, I started googling directions and looking for people to ask. We could not find anyone. I started yelling at him, him started yelling at me, and in doing so he ran a red light and a SUV was suddenly coming straight for my door. I screamed and truly thought life was over. OVER. Somehow the driver swerved and missed us with horns blaring and we found ourselves at the side of the road.
I started to hyperventilate and then tears suddenly started pouring out. I tried to get a grip, the driver was in shock, and I instructed him to go the gas station ahead. Thankfully I got a text with a ‘where are you?’ and I made a call so I could get the exact address of the terminal. I plugged it into my phone, told the hysterical driver to go THERE, to follow the blip, and to stop talking and yelling. Five minutes later we were there and I fell out of the cab to the arms of Geralyn crying so hard I thought I was going to vomit. Of course everyone was already on the plane as it was now 9:30AM, 1 hour and 15 minutes after I jumped in the cab for a 20 minute ride to the airport, and the tears would not stop flowing. I guess I just needed a good cry. My friends were great, and it was not long before the tears had stopped and we were talking about how we might better serve the economically disadvantaged in Park City.
Now it is Sunday. I am home to my family, to my dogs, to my home, to peace, and yet I had to get all of this out. I guess I am a writer, officially, as I can’t not write. When things happen to me, when I have experiences, I cannot just have them, I need to share them. Why?
Story. Story. Story.
Because I believe it all comes back to that, and I feel that the more I share my stories, the more I am helping and supporting others to share theirs, and that is how the world will change. Is it strategy? Is it action? Is it to do lists? Is it meetings? And committees? And, and, and… Yes! Of course it is. But it begins with sharing our stories.
Fearless Fundraising, The Kitchen Sisters, TEDWomen, The Shriver Report, IDA, Geralyn, and a near death experience that made me realize just how precious all of this truly is.
So if you made is this far, made it through another rant that I have been known to do occasionally on a blog of almost 700 entries, thank you. THANK YOU.