2017 – What do you Believe? The Year of Wonder Woman

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on December 31st, 2017.

Yes, yes. I know. I know I promised that I was done writing about Wonder Woman. I promised no more articles until the sequel. But the thing is, I recently saw Justice League and fell in love with Wonder Woman all over again. Which means I had to of course watch Wonder Woman again as soon as I got home, because let’s face it, that movie is awesome. So here I am, once again writing about Wonder Woman, which is exactly where I was 12 months ago. I ended the year with an article titled “2017. The Year of Wonder Women“, in which I outlined how I was hopeful that the coming year would be a notable one for women and women’s leadership. And it has been, just not in the ways we might have anticipated.

So with 2017 now coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months, and I am going to use the narrative of the Wonder Woman movie to help me do just that. As I watched Wonder Woman for about the tenth time last night, I was struck by just how timely this film truly is; as if it was written solely as a reflection of the events of this past year. Impossible of course, seeing as the script was written long before 2017 even began, but it is remarkable nonetheless. Below are some of my favourite lines and moments, and what they mean to me as I look back on the year that was with Wonder Woman leading the way.

First and foremost, 2017 was a year that women truly rose up, individually and collectively, to step into their power and use their voices. From the Women’s Marches around the country that started the year, to the #MeToo movement of the past couple of months, to FEMINISM becoming the word of the year, this year truly was a tipping point for women standing up, stepping forward, and speaking out. I’ve already written about the almost indescribably powerful experience that was the solidarity of the women’s march in January, and honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever truly come down from that high, but there were those who in the immediate aftermath of the marches questioned whether or not that event would yield any long term change. Thankfully, those naysayers have been proven wrong. At least so far. Time and time again this past year, concerned citizens, but especially women, have shown up and stepped up.

A few examples. On March 8th, women around the world went on strike as part of a protest against pay discrimination and gender based violence. In January, hundreds of thousands of people, but in particular female lawyers, showed up at airports across the US to protest the President’s travel ban. All year long women’s organizations across the country have seen spikes in donations and members, and groups such as EMILY’s Listand She Should Run have reported record numbers of women showing an interest in running for elected office. There have been many articles written pondering the reasons for the burst of energy and commitment towards women’s rights, and while many focus on the political change in this country, which of course is probably likely, I also like to think that the reason is much bigger than that. It is the confluence of many factors and I really do believe that having Wonder Woman on the big screen helped.

I thought about these possible reasons while watching the training sequence in the beginning of the film, when Antiope is urging Diana to be better, to fight harder, and to stop doubting herself and her strength.

“You keep doubting yourself…You are stronger than you believe…You have greater powers than you know…You expect the battle to be fair. A battle will never be fair.

That is a lot to unpack, word by word, line by line. First, let’s go with that big word – doubt: a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction. This was a year when there seemed to be more than our usual share of doubt floating around. From the narrative created around ‘fake news’, to the whys of mass killings, to the confrontations with white supremacists, to masses of women coming forward to share their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. Questions like Who do you stand with? What do you stand for? Who do you believe? were front and center. Upon reflection, this was a year where I felt called to step into my core beliefs and values in ways I had not been previously. I felt called to know my truth and to speak my truth, but to balance both with humility and curiosity. This was brought to life so beautifully in the Wonder Woman screenplay, as one of Diana’s favorite questions seemed to be, “Why?” She showed up asking questions before jumping to action and to judgement.

Onto the next part of the quote about strength and power. This has been the core message of every speech I have given over the past decade. My talks are most often to women’s groups, and I usually talk about my own story from small town girl, to competitive bodybuilding, to Goldman Sachs trader, and finally, to philanthropic movement builder. It is a journey about stepping into my power to be an agent of positive change for women in leadership and more generally for gender equality. I invite women to use their “power tools”, which include their voice, their platform, their skills, their networks, and their financial resources (giving dollars, purchasing power, and investment capital) in alignment with their core beliefs and values. I share my core belief that women’s rights are human rights, and using our resources to support human rights is something we all can and should do.

And yet, we don’t. I don’t. I still don’t even come close to fully activating my power. I had dinner in early December with an amazing group of women in New York City. It was post-Wharton’s gender impact investing conference where I left feeling pretty fired up about the potential to align investment capital with women’s empowerment. The dinner was hosted by an amazing woman who had started a firm in this area, and the table was filled with other well known and powerful women. We were asked to share our stories with a question around where we were now with respect to women’s inclusion and leadership, and more importantly, what might be holding positive change at bay? Most of the gathered women felt hopeful and activated, and yet there was also a sense that this was a moment that might pass and that the backlash from #MeToo might be too strong. When it was my turn, I said something I had never said out loud before. That if my power, defined as power to, not power over, was on a scale of 1 to 10, I was only operating at about a 2 or a 3 right now. There were gasps. I was considered a powerful person in the room so how could this be? What did I mean?

Well, it’s complicated, and an article in and of itself, as there are many threads to the answer. First, it is a time thing. I often try to do too much for too many, and often in a reactive and not a proactive way, which means I don’t have the time needed to really focus on my big ideas. And I have some big ones. That being said, my big ideas scare me. I have known what it feels like to be 24/7 committed to building something, making something happen, and I am at a point in my life now where I do want more freedom to not work all the time. And then there is this.

Again, back to a scene in the movie where Antiope really challenges Diana while her mother is watching. Antiope comes at Diana fiercely, with all her force, and it is at this moment that Diana crosses her arms, directs her energy back at Antiope, and blows her back, causing her to fly into the air and crash down. This is the first time she gets a sense of her potential power, and while it scares the shit out of her a little, it also is an ‘ah ha’ kind of moment. I love the look on her face, so if you missed it the first time around, go back and re-watch the video above. Her expression is fantastic.

What I found so interesting about this scene is that it shows the other Amazons shunning her to some degree. Maybe the filmmaker Patty Jenkins was making a point that this is what women do to other extremely powerful women. Let alone what the forces of patriarchy do. (Please Ms. Jenkins, if you read this, I’d love to know) This is part of the reason why I answered 2 to 3 on my scale. This might sound a little weird, but I am afraid of scaring people off or turning people off. Relationships mean the world to me and, AND, I want to be effective. Over the years I have often been told that I am “a very strong personality”, that I “overwhelm people”, and in not so many ways asked to “tone it down a little”. I am also trying to be very aware of my privilege, and not making that the basis of my power. It is a balancing act that I feel all the time.

There is also the thing about being nice. At another recent dinner with a friend, we got talking about her daughter, a 15 year old, who was being bullied. My friend said that she made a point of talking to her daughter about the difference between being nice and being kind, and about how the latter is so much more important than the former. I had never thought about it like that, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. As girls, as women, we are so often told to be nice, play nice, act nice. It is time to end the nice. Not end the kind, just the nice.

This is something that women, individually and collectively, have to come to terms with if we ever, ever, ever want to have anything close to gender equality in our world. We cannot be ambivalent about our power. We have to activate it, use it, leverage it, both collectively and individually. To be clear I am talking about power to, not power over. I am not talking about power as it supports a narrative of rugged individualism, competition, and winner takes all. I am talking about power anchored in the we, anchored in the collective good, anchored in community, anchored in fundamental beliefs around human rights, and anchored in kind. It is time, about time, beyond time, to create a whole new narrative about power in our world, and Diana has shown us what that might look like.

And the other thing. The patriarchy. Again I am going to add a definition to be super clear what I am taking about. “In sociologypatriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authoritysocial privilege and control of property.” It is a social system. I think about it like The Matrix, another one of my favorite films. We all live in a world that has been constructed around rules, laws, belief systems, and norms. Some of them make sense, and some of them don’t. Just because something exists does not make it right. This was the year when the patriarchal matrix we live in began to show some big cracks.

Think about how this was brought to life in Wonder Woman. It is when Diana stepped into her power that the world of men broke through. Until that moment the Amazons were quite literally living in a bubble. We get the foreshadowing comment right before by Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen, when she says “What have I done?” after she witnesses her daughter’s burst of power. They were safe on the island, isolated from the war that was ravaging the earth, until one of them stepped closer to her full potential. At my dream dinner with Ms. Jenkins and the writers of the screenplay, I would go deeper into the meaning behind this scene as well. Clearly there is a message in there about not only having a female superhero step in to save the world, but how women coming into their power, motivated by different beliefs, would be met with backlash. In the film Ares, the God of War, has corrupted men’s hearts, and it was the power of love that would ultimately set them free. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The last part of that quote. About expecting battles to be fair. This comes up a lot in my family as one of my daughter’s core thinking talents is fairness (if you want to understand what I mean my thinking talents, get this amazing book). It drives her absolutely bananas when hard work and doing the ‘right thing’ is not rewarded. One of the key things we have had to message to her over the years is to always work hard and do the right thing anyway. Will it be rewarded or acknowledged every time? No. But it is more likely to be, and regardless of recognition, at the end of the day, at the end of every day, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of the person you were that day. Expecting fairness is not the same thing as hoping for it, working for it, and creating the conditions for it. If you walk through the world expecting fairness, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. And yet we have to do everything we can in this world to create fairness. For me, that is what #MeToo is all about. That is the goal. No one should have to endure harassment and discrimination in the workplace, or anywhere. We should all be shocked, disgusted, and called to end what has become normalized in our culture.

It was hugely significant that earlier this month it was announced that TIME magazine named the Silence Breakers as 2017’s Person of the Year. Reading the accompanying article was an incredibly sobering and emotional experience for me. The backgrounds of the storytellers could not be more different, but that very fact only served to reveal just how shockingly widespread and prevalent the issue of harassment and sexual assault is in today’s culture. This is an issue that has been festering for decades, and while it should be noted that many brave people have spoken out in the past, 2017 was truly the year that the dams finally burst. Emboldened by the solidarity of #MeToo, brave women and men everywhere are standing up and speaking truth to power. They are allowing the truth to come out, and finally, FINALLY, people are believing them.

One of my favorite aspects of Wonder Woman’s character is that her most well known weapon is the lasso of truth, because make no mistake, the truth is a powerful weapon. Can you imagine what might have happened if we had a lasso of truth at our disposal this past year? It would have been of great use in Washington, DC in particular. This was a year when we seemed trapped in endless cycles of accusations, denials, and efforts to fact find. We are still there. I find it somewhat ironic that the creator of the character of Wonder Woman, together with his wife, developed the first ever lie detector test, hence the lasso. If you have not yet seen the film Professor Marston and the Wonder Womenalso released this year, I would highly recommend it. And just because I am throwing the kitchen sink in to this very long end of year post, if you have not yet watched the Netflix series Black Mirror, not only should you, but you may come to believe, as I now do, that we may not be that far off to having an app for that.

Which brings me to my favourite moment in Wonder Woman. Indeed, a lot of people’s favourite moment.

Gives me chills every time. In the face of the hellscape that was the trenches of World War I, and after being told that there’s nothing that can be done to help the people around her, that you can’t save everyone, Diana decides that these people, the ones right in front of her, are worth saving, and if no one else will do it, then she will. “I’m willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Such a powerful statement, and something to which we should all aspire. As Steve Trevor later confesses, “My father told me once, ‘If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something.’ And I already tried nothing.” It’s that simple. Flying men in capes are never going to change this world. It is up to us, each and every one of us, to do our part to make this a world a better place, and we can’t sit back and assume that someone else is going to fight the battles for us. Believe me, I wish there was an island full of Amazons who could just fix the world, but the fact is that’s on us. “It is our sacred duty to defend the world”, and we all have our part to play. “I can save today. You can save the world.”

As I sit here, working on this article, my daughter is sitting across from me working on her college admission essays. In many of them she is asked questions like what makes her special? How does she hope to use her education in the future? Who does she most admire? How does she think she can make the world better? These are questions we should all answer for ourselves. A part of me hates the “you can change the world” narrative that we serve up to our children, but the other part of me loves it. The part that hates it feels like we are putting too much pressure on our children too early. The part of me that loves it knows that it can be the millions of small acts of kindness that make all the difference. What I would change is the word ‘you’ to ‘we’. We can change the world. We can. We. The world is the aggregation of all that we believe, all that we hold dear, and all that we do individually and collectively. If you have seen the masses of Wonder Woman paraphernalia on the store shelves this holiday season you will have seen the core message of the film that is blazoned across a lot of it, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?

There are so many great lines in this movie, but this is one of my favorite: “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.” Ultimately, Diana chooses to lead with love, and I wish, more than anything, that we would all heed her example.

I used to want to save the world, to end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know, that only love can truly save the world.

This past year has been filled with highs and lows, but as far as I’m concerned, the potential for change has never been higher. So as we head into the new year, let’s keep moving forward, together, with Diana as our guide. Let 2018 be your year of somethings, not nothings. Let this coming year be the year of letting the truth come forward. Let this be a year of stepping in to your power, power to, not power over. But above all else, let’s choose love.

Happy New Year.

To access the Wonder Woman screenplay click here.

Wonder Woman by the Numbers:

16 years in development

$103 million opening weekend

92% on Rotten Tomatoes

$412 million domestic gross

$821 million overall gross

#1 Superhero Origin story by gross

#1 DC Extended Universe film by gross and critical reception

Top grossing film directed by a woman

#1 Movie of Summer 2017 by domestic gross

#5 Superhero film of all time by domestic gross

To New Beginnings…

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on August 14th, 2017.

I have not posted since May 25th when I celebrated Wonder Woman coming to the big screen. Finally! Friends keep asking me how many times I have seen the film. The answer? Four. And it gets better every time. Additionally, I had a blast doing so much press around my Wonder Woman collection, and I am even going to be featured in a documentary Warner Brothers is doing about superheroes. That was June, now it is August, and I am only just starting to reconnect with the world. My summer was filled with lots of college visits with my daughter, and a few weeks sorting and selling cherries roadside at our family farm in Canada. Efforts were made to keep up with everything else I do from September to June, but when those efforts left me frustrated and stressed, I decided it was time to just let it go. I realized that the world would not come to an end if I did not respond to an email, consider that new company for an angel investment, make a connection that someone asked me to do, or write that article. I did of course knock a few things off of the to do list, including this one: launching a new personal website.

Ten years ago I began to write on a regular basis. I started a small blog on Blogspot called Purse Pundit, and I began to share with the world my thoughts on the world financial markets. I couldn’t have picked a better time to do so, because as we all know, 2008 was a crazy year for the world economy, and I was soon writing several blog posts a week. Since then, my small little blog grew into my own personal website, and while I may not write every other day anymore, I have published over 750 articles in the past 10 years, both on my website and on various other platforms. Over the past decade, my writing has grown and (hopefully!) improved (thank you editor Laura!), but more importantly, it has changed focus. While I’m still happy to tell people my opinions on the market if asked, I now write about things that matter to me. I write on issues that capture my attention, on people I think are interesting, on books I am reading, on research I am consuming, and on companies and non-profits I think are awesome.

And now, I have a better website, a very simple one, that better enables me to share information in all the various categories that align with what I write about, what I care about, and how I spend my time. In the favorites section you will find a list of my favorite books, companies, NGOs, and films, with lots more to come! Under the resources section, you’ll find links to numerous documents and tools, including an aggregated list of the 400 best reports on women and girls, a manual for how to shop your values, and a guide for investing in film as a tool for social change.

While I’m excited to launch this new site, this is exactly just that. A launch. A new beginning. I will be adding more content constantly, and I hope you will continue to check in. And if you find something you like, please share it and pass it on.

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer and I will be back soon with one final post on Wonder Woman to celebrate the film’s incredible success. Then I will move on. At least until the sequel comes out.

Why Do You Give?

Jacki and HelenAs 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.

The Backstory 

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.

The Impact

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

WMM slideAnyone 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.

The Ask

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.

lineLet’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.

Matt and AllieSo 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.

question markI 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 InstituteTostanThe Global Fund For WomenThe Representation ProjectThe Media and Social Change Initiative, Culture ReframedGirl 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.

magic wand