As published on LinkedIn Influencers on September 23rd, 2016.
This past Saturday morning, in a room full of over 100 amazing, thoughtful, passionate, and committed women, and a few incredible men, something magical happened. It was so special and so moving, I will now refer to my work as before September 17, 2016 and after. I wrote the following article on little sleep, very little sleep, and thought long and hard about whether to post it here on LinkedIn. My rational self was tempted not to (too personal, too long, too story driven, too something…), but instead I am sharing it as is; long and deeply personal.
So be warned, the estimated reading time is 10 to 15 minutes. Maybe more. (Don’t you love it when they do that on the top of posts?) But if you are interested in the topic of GIVING, interested in the story of my involvement with Women Moving Millions, interested in philanthropic engagement, and/or work for a non-profit organization in some way, I hope you will find it worth your time.
First, let me set the context. For the past 6 years I have worked full-time as a volunteer to help move Women Moving Millions (WMM), an organization that started as a campaign to encourage women to make million dollar gifts to women’s funds, into a community of philanthropists committed to mobilizing unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls. I am what I now call a Career Philanthropist, meaning I am someone who takes on, like she would a job and a career, the work of giving their time, treasure, and talent in service of a philanthropic mission or purpose, but for no pay. Some people are lucky enough to be able to do that, and I am one of them, and because of my work with WMM, I have the privilege of knowing many, many more. Over sixty of them were present with me at the 2016 WMM Annual Summit, which took place in San Francisco this past Thursday through Saturday.
On the way to the airport on Sunday night with a new and fellow board member, I shared the story, a very long story, of why and how I became involved with WMM, and how this past weekend marked a turning point for me as both a leader of the organization, and as a philanthropist more generally. I shared the why and how of co-founder Helen LaKelly Hunt (pictured with me above), who conceived and executed the initial campaign, handed me the baton in 2011, then from me to our first Executive Director, and how yet again we transitioned this past year. I stepped down from my role as founding President, making way for the fantastic Ann Lovell to take on that role, at the same time that we welcomed our second Executive Director, Courtney Harvey. (#loveher)
Over the past weekend I realized we had successfully transitioned from having a leader of an organization, to having a leader-full organization. By that I mean that there are many of us now; staff, board, members, etc. who help the organization move forward in a big way. We have untraditional and cool titles like Chief Engagement Officer (mine) and Chief Philanthropy Officer (Jess), which marks a willingness to be creative in how we keep passionate people engaged. Being leader-full means you have many who do the work, many who champion the work, and many who pay for it. They may be the same many, or a different many. To me, that is the way it should be, and it is now what I will predominately look for when I decide to become involved with an organization.
The Hard Parts
The years between the start of my major involvement with WMM in 2009 and this past weekend have at times been very tough. There were times when I could be found curled up in a ball crying, knots in my stomach, mad at myself for what I had gotten myself into as a volunteer. Usually that kind of pain was felt when something relational happened. I wish I could say that working in the women’s movement is always pie and ice cream, but no. In fairness, this is not just about the other. I have not always shown up as my best self, and I am so grateful that I now feel surrounded by women who will hold me accountable for being so. We all make mistakes, and mistakes with authentic apologies and a promise to do better should always be forgiven. At least the first time or two anyway. And to be clear, the VAST, VAST, VAST majority of people I have had the privilege of working with are incredible, values-driven individuals, and that is why, when the other does show up, it is so stark and can cut so deep.
I also feared business model failure. I feared that what started as something so beautiful, as a campaign, would fade on my watch. (See recently published Makers conversation on failure) What we were doing, and what I was leading, was a start-up, and you can jump to the thousands of articles here on LinkedIn talking about the challenges you are likely to face in starting an organization, for-profit or non-profit. We faced many of them, which my 14 years at Goldman Sachs as a trader did not really prepare me for. The model around what we were building did not exist, but, thankfully, we had a team of people that truly were in it together.
And then there was the time committment. When I was interviewed for an article at our annual Summit this past weekend, I realized that I can’t remember more than a couple of times over the past 6 years that I travelled away from my family, often for days on end, on a trip that was not for the goal of promoting the mission of, or trying to secure much needed resources for WMM. To this day, when I am home, I am often on the phone. “Always on the phone”, or “always on my computer”, I would sometimes hear from my kids, and it hurt. I felt torn and guilty, as working people and especially working mothers often do. I missed birthdays and parent-teacher meetings and had friends and family telling me that they were not my priority. I don’t think it was until this past Saturday that I fully knew it was worth all the tough choices. But I am getting ahead of myself. During those especially challenging years, I would tell my kids that even though mommy does not ‘have to work for money’ she ‘has to work’. I hope I taught them that not everyone is lucky enough to be able to choose what they can do with their time, and if you do, you have an extra special obligation to choose wisely.
I was also lucky, am lucky, to have a very supportive husband, who also serves abundantly, but he does it close to home. He never once told me to quit, even though at times I begged him too. While I was at a yet another conference or board meeting, he was home making sure our kids were well cared for. He is an outstanding husband and father.
Now, if you have read some of the dozens of nasty comments that Gwenyth Paltrow got when she wrote “I Walked Away from A Career Where People Kissed My Ass”, in which she talks about her journey to build her company, you will know that when privileged people talk about things they do that are hard, it is often followed by negative comments. They are told that “they don’t know hard”, and my personal favorite, “ I just rolled my eyes back so far back in my head I could see my brain.” If you are feeling this now and are tempted to write the same, I respectfully invite you to block my content from ever crossing your LinkedIn path again. At the end of the day, we only know our own story, and since I am sharing mine here, the story goes… at times it was, for me, really hard.
The Fun Parts
But there has also been so much joy. We tell our kids, or at least I do, that almost everything that is worthwhile doing is hard. And for all the hours spent under a cloud of fear or uncertainty or stress, there were multiple more hours spent in the powerful sunlight. For the journey I have been on, to help lead WMM to where it is today – a powerful global community of 259 people, each of whom have given a million or more to organizations of their choice that work to advance women and girls – was not one done alone. Every step of the way, there were women right there with me on a volunteer basis, and, of course, on a staff basis as well, who shared the vision and did the work to make that vision come alive. So many of my best friends on the planet today are people who share my vision for creating a more just, equitable, and gender-balanced word, and I would never have met them without WMM.
I also see the impact. When I was starting my journey in philanthropy, I longed for a place to go that would help me figure out how I could give of my resources for the greatest positive outcomes. I knew my passion was around women’s advancement and empowerment, but which organizations did the best work? Who were the non-profit leaders that I needed to know and learn from? The questions were endless, and there were no efficient and/or effective mechanisms to get them answered – at least not 10 years ago.
Over the past decade, donor communities and funding groups of all kinds have exploded, as well they should have. As supported by behavioral research and common sense, when people give as part of a community, they have greater impact, they give MORE, and they report a higher level of satisfaction with their giving. The story untold by current philanthropic research, which we are about to undertake with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, is how much BOLDER women become when they are part of a community, a supportive community, of people who share their values, hold them accountable, and, frankly, have their back.
Of course, there is the impact of the dollars mobilized, the leaders supported, and the visions actualized, but this article is long enough as it is, so this part will have to wait.
Jump To This Past Weekend
Anyone who has planned an event, especially a 4-day event for hundreds of people who have paid a lot to have an experience, knows what it takes. In fact, as our amazing Executive Director, Courtney Harvey, pointed out in her opening remarks: in a recent survey, “The only jobs ranked more stressful than an event coordinator were enlisted military personnel, fire fighter, airline pilot, and police officer.”
For us, our 2016 WMM Annual Summit included a number of events, starting with a full day workshop on Women + Money + Impact which I had the pleasure of curating and moderating. Then, on to our opening night ALL IN FOR HER celebration for nearly 300 people, featuring filmmaker Tiffany Shlain and Rosie Rios, former Treasurer of the United States of America, and ending with a powerful performance by the San Francisco Girls Choir. Starting Friday, we had two full days of talks, panels, and workshops, which included a keynote from Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, a musical performance by Afghan rapper and activist Sonita Alizadeh, a panel of experts speaking to the refugee crisis, and so, so, so much more. (See #WMMSummit on twitter for highlights.) Our moderator was the brilliant Lisa Witter who just founded the company Apolitical, which you must check out. It was our mighty WMM team that did almost all the heavy lifting, but, as the former leader, I still felt like I was carrying much of the weight. This was the first year where I was not both President and Chief Engagement Officer, and even though I knew that there were now many people taking on the responsibility of moving us forward, I had not truly seen it play out in front of my own eyes until this past weekend.
So with that history and context, let me take you to Saturday morning. After the workshop (amazing!), the opening night (best ever!), a full day of incredible speakers, and a dine around town where we were able to just spend time talking, Saturday was our time to share with the attendees both what we had accomplished and where we were taking Women Moving Millions. Included in that was not only what we were currently doing to serve our existing community of members programmatically, but an announcement around our efforts to incubate the idea of a $1 billion dollar campaign for women and girls. Our other big announcement was our intention to develop what we think is the first ever holistic leadership (leader-full) development curriculum for women. This curriculum would be both curated and created around four pillars: 1) voice and influence, 2) philanthropic strategies, 3) self-awareness and self care, and 4) financial engagement with a focus on impact and gender lens investing. All of this news was enthusiastically received! And all of this, of course, requires resources, big resources, to make happen.
Then, it was time for ‘the ask.’ Me again? That was the first thing that popped into my mind when I was asked to do ‘the ask’ a few days earlier by our Executive Director. Conscious of how much time I was going to be on stage over the few days I questioned, “Are you sure someone else doesn’t want to do it? Or should do it?” The answer was no.
Let’s take a minute right here. Isn’t it almost always no? Tell me, and be honest, if your favorite non-profit picked you to stand up in front of a room full of people, most of whom have likely already paid something significant to be there, and ask them to give, would you jump at the chance or run for the bathroom? I thought so, and you would not be alone. The bathroom line would be long indeed. (see left)
However, of course I said yes, and yet, as I sat down to prepare all the different sets of remarks I had to give over the course of the Summit, this one I just could not write. One, I did not have time, but two, I did not know how to say, in just a few minutes, all of the reasons why I give my time, treasure, and talent to WMM, and especially in a way I had not said before. Moments before I was about to walk onto our beautiful stage, I felt like I did right before my TEDxWomen talk in 2012. I thought I was going to vomit, and I could not find any words. None. Zero. I was in a full out panic.
Just then, as I was standing in the back of the room with my bucket, one of my best friends and fund raising gurus, Kathy LeMay, someone who I had witnessed doing many such asks and brilliantly so, walked by. I grabbed her. “Kathy, help me, I am about to go up to do the ask, and I have no idea what to say. One quick tip please,” I pleaded. Her response? “How much do you want to raise?” I did not have an answer. I didn’t know. She withheld the desire to say out loud WTF? But I knew that was what she was thinking. As an expert, she knew you had to walk on with an intention. “Well, it’s Women Moving Millions so ask for a million from the collective membership.” Up came the vomit, but I swallowed it down. “OK”, I said, and she sent me off with a, “You go girl!” It was time to walk on.
So I walked on. I am quite sure that one of the most stressful and vulnerable things you can do is to stand up in front of a group of people and ask them to commit to giving money. Especially when you are asking them to give to something that you care about so deeply, so personally, and so completely. Then I saw all of the beautiful faces looking up at me, including those of my two children who had come to the Summit for the very first time as volunteers (pictured left), and I relaxed into the amazing positive energy in the room. I don’t even remember what I said, and it likely does not even really matter, because it was the why I said it that mattered. I spoke from the heart, pure heart, and for that, no notes are ever required.
I shared my WHY. I shared my WHY of Women Moving Millions. My WHY of holding and moving forward a vision for ending gender inequality in my lifetime through philanthropic movement building, and, in particular, through investment in women’s engagement and leadership. My WHY for creating a place and a community where women, and like valued men, could come to learn, to share, to challenge themselves, and to become the best donors and partners they could possibly be. My WHY of how they could then take all that knowledge, that passion, that sense of belonging, and that commitment to their NGO partner organizations, to their foundations, to their local communities, and into their spheres of influence. It is called going ALL IN FOR HER, and if you want to see this mapped out in a beautiful visual, download the book.
Yes, this story is about Women Moving Millions, but I could have easily been up there sharing my WHY for The Sundance Institute, Tostan, The Global Fund For Women, The Representation Project, The Media and Social Change Initiative, Culture Reframed, Girl Up, and the many other organizations that are in my giving portfolio (sorry if yours was not named). In fact, sign me up; I will do it for them too if asked! When you think about it, shouldn’t there be a long line of people ready to do it? If you are writing a check to an organization, or giving a lot of your time to an organization, and are not able to explain why you are doing it, maybe it is time to sit down with a set of values cards and figure that out. Or, if it is your fear of public speaking that is holding you back, then find a program or a group of friends who will help you get over it. The only way to get over a fear of public speaking and public asking is to just do it.
Then, what happened can only be described as magical. One by one, women, and one man, took the microphone and shared what they could pledge in support of this work, but most importantly, WHY they were doing it. I have never seen anything like it. Never. And, I think, neither had anyone else in the room. Not only did so many of our members stand up but so did potential members, NGO leaders, speakers, our own WMM employees, and corporate partners who gave out of their own pockets. Thankfully, one of our team members was recording it, because I was somewhere floating above the room wondering what the heck was happening, while at the same time I was trying to take it all in. It went on for a long time. There was no rush to speak, but in fact, quite the opposite. At times there were many seconds of silence.
When it was over, so many people had shared WHY they were pledging and what they were pledging, which included, at times, a willingness to serve on a committee and/or a financial gift. Each commitment was equally valued; each one came with a story, often a deeply personal one. Together we raised over $2 million for our work, much of it in multi-year commitments, and our biggest gift was a $250,000 bequest of a life insurance policy. I invite that woman, you know who you are, to share your story of WHY in a future post, if you would like to. Words are not enough, but thank you. In case you are wondering if this was a big step up from the prior year, the answer is: OH MY GOSH, YES! Multiple times over.
And although, of course, the financial piece was incredible, what was truly beyond measurement were the stories that people shared as to why they were making a pledge. The stories were priceless. Yes, there was support for our mission and for the new programs, but above all else, the WHY related to the sense of community that people felt – the passion, the commitment, the shared values, and the hope that together, we could, we would, make a positive difference in the lives of women and girls here and around the world. The words “if not us, who? if not now, when?” were certainly in the room, even though they may not have been spoken.
All of us give. All of us give of our time, treasure, energy, and talent in some way for the good of others. We do that every day in our homes, in our places of work, perhaps even in line at a grocery store. Yet, when we think of giving, we generally think of what we give to non-profit organizations, and that is, of course, GREAT! What we give to, and/or how we give it, should be the outcome of WHY we give, and I invite you to think about your WHY for the organization(s) or causes you care about most. When you give that story the space and intention to surface, and then you share it, imagine what impact that might have. Imagine what untapped philanthropic capacity might be unleashed, within you, and within those to whom you share your story.
An Important Side Bar (before I close)
I am not sure if the role of Executive Director or Chief Development Officer made many lists of the most stressful jobs, but they should. There are 1.5 million non-profits in this country alone, each trying to attract their piece of the $360 billion (US) annually that is given charitably. Increasingly, we, the donors to these organizations, put the pressure of raising the money they need to do the work on them, and that is not right. It is not the way this is supposed to work, and it needs to change.
I googled how much NGOs spend on fund raising and I found this. I have heard numbers at the low end at 10%, and at the high end at 30%. So, let’s do the math together. We, Americans in this case, collectively give somewhere between $35 billion and $100 billion annually, to pay for our non-profit organizations to raise somewhere between $250 and $360 billion. If all of us got better at knowing our WHYs and sharing our WHYs, and we were able to make fundraising even 10% more effective in so doing, that would be $3.5 to $10 billion more that could go to the WHAT and the HOW.
To fund raising professionals, thank you! Thank you for the work you do every day to make such a difference in the lives of so many.
Wrapping It Up
Let me take you back to where I started this article, which I know was a very long time ago now. The reason my world shifted was that, while I always knew that the storytelling of WHY we choose to support the organizations we do was important, I had never seen it in action in the way I did on Saturday. Yes, I was lucky enough for it to be for an organization that I have given the past 6 years of my life to, but it could be for every non-profit organization. And, for that matter, a heck of a lot of social and for-profit businesses as well. It was also the feeling, the knowing, that the organization I helped to build was not only an important one in my life but in the lives of many, many others. It was all worth it.
Every non-profit organization has people who believe in its mission, or, by definition, it would not exist. This is a call to action for you, as a donor to an organization or someone whose job it is to raise resources for an organization, to tap into the power of WHY. Believe me when I say: when you do, magical things can happen.