#GivingTuesday – My FIVE NGOs for 2016

giving-tuesdayPublished on LinkedIn Influencers on November 29th, 2016

Thanksgiving. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would also add Food Hangover Saturday and Airport Dash Sunday to that list. All in all it’s a busy weekend. Between the travelling, eating, shopping, and family fun times, it can be easy to forget that the true purpose of the Thanksgiving holiday is to give thanks. There are many ways to give thanks, but one way in particular that we are able to give thanks is financially on Giving Tuesday.

Now in its fifth year, Giving Tuesday is a worldwide movement founded in 2012 by the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, which aims to amplify year end giving and philanthropy. Much like Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, Giving Tuesday marks the start of the holiday charitable season, and since its founding in 2012, this movement has spread to over 71 countries around the world. In 2015, over a million gifts were made online, raising over $115 million for charitable causes, and #GivingTuesday registered 114 billion impressions on Twitter alone. That is an incredible impact in a short period of time. That is the power of campaigns, which as a philanthropy geek I think a lot about.

For me, giving is a year round endeavor, and it is impossible to add up the hours I spend thinking about, analyzing, and deciding which organizations will receive not only my financial support, but my time and talent as well. There once was a time when I would write a large number of small checks, something I later heard someone call the ‘spray and pray’ approach. You spray a little money around a lot of places and pray it makes a difference. Today, the buzz word is ‘strategic’ philanthropy, which is fine, but a better term for what I do personally is values based, thoughtful, philanthropy. Of course I want positive impact, but I have also come to see that there is impact you can measure, and impact you can judge. For me, aligning with the vision of the organization, understanding their methodology for creating positive change, and getting to know and believe in their senior leaders is what matters most.

It should come as no surprise that the list of organizations that I choose to support have a focus on women and girls. On my recent philanthropic movement building tour in Australia, I was often asked why that focus? The answer could be an article in and of itself, and certainly has been the subject of many of my 700+ blog posts over the years, but for now I will simplify it here. I am female, and both because of personal experiences around inequities, and my extensive research around much needed gender based strategies, that is what I choose to do. Of course, everyone should choose what issue area or demographic matters most to them. And if you can’t really answer the question of what matters most to you, ask yourself this question: “If you were to wave a magic wand and change anything in the world, what would that be?” That is the question my brilliant friend Kathy LeMay asks in her book The Generosity Plan as the question to start your giving plan.

So if you were wondering what organizations are on my list this year, here are just five examples.

Culture Reframed – Founded by internationally renowned scholar and activist Dr. Gail Dines, Culture Reframed is the first health promotion effort to recognize and address pornography as the public health crisis of the digital age. With the advent of the Internet and the unprecedented access it provides to pornography around the world, we are only now beginning to understand the implications of the pervasiveness of pornography and a hypersexualized culture. A growing body of scientific research is showing that pornography is addictive, promotes sexual violence, and is harming the sexual development of both men and women. Today, 35% of all Internet downloads is pornographic material, and porn sites get more traffic every month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. As Dr. Dines states, “The pornographers are laying waste an entire generation of boys, and when you lay waste a generation of boys you lay waste a generation of girls”, meaning that this is an issue that effects us all. Please check out Dr. Dines’ TEDxTalk “Growing Up in a Pornified Culture” and please support this important organization.

EROC (End Rape on Campus) – This organization works to end campus sexual violence through direct support for survivors and their communities; prevention through education; and policy reform at the campus, local, state, and federal levels. Founded in 2013, EROC has worked with survivors of campus sexual assault to hold educational institutions accountable and advocate for the end of sexual violence on university and college campuses. Three of the co-founders, Annie Clark, Andrea Pino, and Sofie Karasek, were featured in the documentary film The Hunting Ground, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival (disclosure: I was an Executive Producer of this film), and since then EROC has worked tirelessly to ensure that survivors across the United States are believed, trusted, and supported. You can watch The Hunting Ground on Netflix, and please donate to EROC today.

Girl Up – As the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girl campaign, Girl Up engages girls to take action. Led by a community of nearly half a million passionate advocates raising awareness and funds, Girl Up’s efforts help the hardest to reach girls living in places where it is hardest to be a girl. This is an organization for girls by girls, and places a particular emphasis on leadership development training for young women around the world. This past year I have been fortunate to see this organization’s work firsthand, as my daughter was selected to be a Girl Up Teen Advisor, and I am so proud of the work she and her fellow Teen Advisors are doing to promote the welfare and development of young girls around the world. This is an incredibly worthy organization deserving of your giving dollars both today and year round.

Global Fund for Women – A global champion for the human rights of women and girls, the Global Fund for Women uses its powerful networks to find, fund, and amplify the courageous work of women who are building social movements and challenging the status quo. By shining a spotlight on critical issues, this organization rallies communities of advocates who take action and invest money to empower women. Their fearless leader is Musimbi Kanyoro, or as my children have been invited to call her, Aunt Musimbi. Musimbi is one of ten children, African born, has two doctorates, speaks multiple languages, has an extensive background in human rights, and is all around amazing. As part of Giving Tuesday, all donations made today will be matched dollar for dollar, so I strongly encourage you to donate today.

Tostan – Founded in 1991 by the incomparable Molly Melching, Tostan works to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights and to ensure that every person—woman, man, girl, and boy—is able to live a life of dignity. Over the past 24 years, Tostan’s original concepts have developed into a leading model for community-led change — a model that is now implemented in 22 languages across six African countries and is supported at the international, national, and grassroots levels. Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation has stated that after spending a day with Molly in the communities served by Tostan, “I have not thought the same way about the work I do at the Gates Foundation since that day.” Tostan is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, and in honour of this occasion, they have launched their Breakthrough Generation Program, which aims to bring Tostan’s programs to another 150 communities in West Africa over the next couple of years. Please donate and help the breakthrough generation today.

There are so many more organizations I am proud to support and champion, including the two I write the biggest checks to, Women Moving Millions and The Sundance Institute, but that would have felt a little too self serving as I hold volunteer leadership roles in both. That said, #lovethem.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Happy Giving Tuesday everyone!

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

What does it mean to have IMPACT?

Published on LinkedIn Influencers on September 23, 2013

Statistics reveal that in 2012 over $316 billion was donated to charity in the United States alone. There were 120,810 private foundations in 2010 with assets of $582 billion. Philanthropy is both something we do every day in choosing to help and serve others, and it is a huge business. The business of trying to do good. With non-profit companies continuing to provide increasingly vital services, they rely mostly on the generosity of individual donors, foundations, and other grants, but with over 1.5 million non-profit organizations registered in the United States, simply donating money can be a daunting task filled with overwhelming options. That is why many foundations are increasingly hiring professional staff members to help them be effective. Staffed or not, when we asked many women who are giving at the million dollar level what they were hoping to achieve with their giving the most common answer was this. They wanted IMPACT!

This word has gained so much prominence in the world of philanthropy that Women Moving Millions decided to make it the theme of this year’s Annual Summit in New York City. I have just returned from this Summit, and a three-day journey through The Story of Impact + The Impact of Story, and I literally can’t sleep because my brain cannot stop thinking about everything that was discussed this past week. In particular, participants of the Summit looked at the concept of impact in regards to philanthropy, looking at why people give their time, treasure and talent to help others, and what they hope to achieve through this giving. We were challenged to think about how individually we might be having impact, but also how we might as a collective. Our summit opener was no other than Gloria Steinem who asked us the question “what can we together than cannot be done separately?” Then thankfully she left us with a ‘to do’ list.

When curating this unique summit we did some of our own research on what leaders in philanthropy had to saw about IMPACT but quickly recognized we needed to pull in some outside expertise. We approached the Center For High Impact Philanthropy to see if they could find a definitive definition for the term impact, and whether or not impact could be measured in terms of philanthropy. The result is a report titled What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Impact?, a summary of which can be found here, and this report served as the launching pad for our discussions this past week in New York. Almost 100 leaders in private, corporate and institutional philanthropy were present.

Drawing its information from research, expert opinion, and field experience, this report sets out to examine the many different views of impact in philanthropy, and not surprisingly, the resulting findings reveal that there are currently many different conflicting definitions of impact, as well as the actions and change needed to achieve it. While this report yielded many insights as it studied the many misunderstandings that surround the relationship between action and change, there are a couple that stand out.

One significant insight is the description of the difference between outcomes and impact, as this was the one area where the most commonality could be found among the many different opinions. By examining the publicly available materials of non-profit organizations and foundations, this report discovered that most of these mandates distinguish between the more short term and definitive outcomes, and the more long term and abstract impact when describing their philanthropy goals. Organizations often produce easily measurable outcomes, such as 100 meals served or 50 schools receiving educational materials, but the impact of these outcomes can sometimes take years to manifest. They pointed out how important it is to understand the difference between outcomes and impact, because while donors may want to achieve impact, it is an inherently human trait to respond to the more immediate outcomes. A clear example is the incredible giving that happens after natural disasters. Is responding to that need awesome and makes a huge difference? Yes of course, but what we are talking about here is a both/and. Therefore, when thinking in terms of giving, it is important to always keep the overall impact of the outcomes in mind when deciding where to donate.

Even more importantly, this report reminds us that some of the biggest social changes occur when nothing actually changes, and instead, the charitable works succeed in maintaining the status quo. This is particularly relevant today when considering the work of women’s rights advocates in fighting against the restrictive health care measures that have recently been enacted in many states. Furthermore, the report points out that when outcomes do turn out to be ineffective, this does not necessarily indicate that the action was ineffective, but rather it is often the case that the interests of donors do not necessarily fall in line with the goals of the organizations, thereby creating an unintended barrier to success.

Finally, the report describes how actions that are undertaken with the goal of positive change can sometimes produce negative change instead. Not all impact is positive! This often occurs when philanthropic organizations operate in what is described as a top down manner, meaning that the goals of the donors are pursued without any input from the intended audience or beneficiaries. Alarmingly, this has been found to be particularly true in the philanthropic area of advancing women and girls, where many organizations fail to include female voices in the conversation about how to enact positive change. The report proposes an alternative strategy, described as the bottom up approach to philanthropy (though maybe the better terms are human-rights based, respectful and inclusive, holistic and sustainable), where the designated recipients are included in all levels of planning for the intended action for change. This would result in a more efficient process of giving, and would ensure that all resources are being used to their full potential. People ask me this all the time – “Jacki, as the CEO of an community of 200 women ( and a few good men) that give at the $1 million plus level what is the common feature of their philanthropy or theory of change?” This would be it. Many give and invest with a deep and profound sensitivity to understanding the needs and wants of the people they are hoping to assist and serve. We believe that this approach is absolutely necessary for high IMPACT and is why we are creating a report that illuminates this approach and features the stories of people you are doing this to tremendous impact. (Please contact the Women Moving Millions office for more information on this.)

So what do we gain from these insights? We know that successful philanthropy is so much more than just writing a check, but have we made it too complicated? While it is important to have specific measurements to gauge whether or not our resources are being spent wisely, how do we quantify the long-term social change that we wish to enact? If anything, this report reveals that there will never be a definitive agreed upon definition of impact giving, but the report does leave us with some sound advice. It suggests that before embarking on your own personal journey of impact philanthropy, ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. What is the difference I want to make?
  2. Is this difference meaningful to the intended beneficiaries?
  3. How will I determine if I am moving in the right direction towards making that difference?

By asking yourself these questions, the report predicts that you will engage in a more meaningful and significant dialogue that will hopefully give you the tools needed to achieve your giving goals. Sounds good, right? Let’s take it one step further and allow me to make this personal.

This past week I couldn’t wait to meet Molly Melching, founder of the organization Tostan, who was coming to be speak on the last day of the WMM Summit, and one of the reason for my eagerness was due to a quote I had read from Melinda Gates, one of the most high profile philanthropists in the world. In describing the day she met Molly, Melinda says, “I have not thought the same way about the work I do at the Gates Foundation since that day.” I wondered what it was about Molly that could inspire such a reaction from Melinda Gates, and I couldn’t wait to find out. Molly’s session was this past Saturday and I now know what Melinda meant, as simply listening to this amazing woman and her theory of how to enact change has changed my life. Her theory of change is exactly what this report made reference to.

What they do is have programs that puts rural communities in Africa in charge for their own future. Their approach is human-rights based, respectful and inclusive, holistic and sustainable. The outcomes have been amazing and need to be read to be believed. What was the GAME CHANGER for me was that I so clearly saw how it is the process that is most important and leads to the outcomes. What also became additionally clear to me is how important the leadership of an organization is. In Molly’s case she is both the founder and the leader and thus I can be 100% sure that she is holding her team accountable to implementing that process. If I were to order what I think is important in choosing an organization I would list process or theory of change first, leadership and team second and indicators of success third.

So here are my revised list of questions that I am now going to use when I am in dialogue with organizations about a major gift. (And I define myself as a social change funder.) These questions are numerous, but some key ones for me are: What is the outcome this organization is hoping to achieve? How do they define success and over what time frame? What is their theory of change? Do I understand it? Does it make sense? Do I connect with and trust the leader of the organization to make it happen? Do I feel like they are trying to sell me something or have me buy into something? (hopefully the latter) I often ask them about their failures and what they have learned from them? What is your biggest challenge in doing the work that they do? After asking all of these questions, and absorbing the answers, am I excited to be jumping on board? When I ask them what I can do to help them advance their mission do they give me an honest and clear answer? Please notice that the question “what percentage of revenues go to operating expenses? is NOT ON THAT LIST AND NEVER WILL BE.” As for the gift to Molly I pledged on the spot – “She had me at hello.”

The term impact investing may have only been coined in 2007, but the idea of wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of others in this world is as old as time. Whether you are a multi-million dollar foundation, or a young child about to make your first charitable donation, everyone wants to know that their money will be put to good use. Last year, $316 billion was given in the US with the hope of creating a positive change in this world. I am not suggesting that every $1 you give should come with a million questions, but this does mean that organizations you give your money to should not have great answers to them and be held accountable for delivering against the metrics THEY THEMSELVES suggest are the right ones. Their websites and outreach materials should have clear messaging as it relates to their theories of change, their goals, their success measurement and one of the things we hope to do at Women Moving Millions over time is help to make best practices in capturing that impact available for organizations to learn from each other.

One of the long term IMPACTS of the Federal Reserve continuing to “print money” to feed economic growth is that each dollar will do less for us. Our money is being devalued. Now is the time to think deeply about how our limited resources that flow to incredible organizations doing incredible work might have the greatest impact. Though hard to define let’s trust ourselves to know it when we see it and feel it, and trust in the leadership of organizations with a thoughtful theory of change. Yes, measurement is important, but let’s not confuse what we can measure with an outcome of positive social change. At the end of day giving should give us joy and the science is now saying it does in fact do just that.

PS – I thought our summit was going to be about IMPACT but really it was all about connectedness. Connectedness is what leads to IMPACT. That will be one of my next pieces.

Join us for an ongoing conversation about impact at #WMMimpact and follow us on twitter for updates at @wommovmillions. Also and #impact.