Rethinking Philanthropy For Women And Girls Of Color
Leadership Published Date, 2024

Rethinking Philanthropy For Women And Girls Of Color

Created By: Andrea Bastiani Archibald, PhD, Rehana Farrell, and Sapreet Kaur Saluja
March 21, 2024

Women and girls of color face barriers and unique challenges in every aspect of their lives – from education to healthcare to employment – especially in leadership positions. This Women’s History Month, we need to do more than share empty promises of solidarity or images of “girl power”. We need to drive real focus on this issue. That starts with listening to women and girls of color about their lived experiences, believing them, and trusting them to know what they need. Next, we need to engage in personal and organizational reflection, repair harm, commit to meaningful and sustainable improvements – like interrupting bias when we see it and acknowledging lived experience as expertise – and create accountability structures to establish and maintain equity.

In our own commitment to advancing equity through new, strategic, and more inclusive approaches to philanthropy, Orr Group recently gathered a diversity of nonprofit leaders from the New York Metro area to listen, understand, and trust the challenges that organizations focused on uplifting women and girls of color are facing, and collaborate on new opportunities to evolve the philanthropic landscape.

Attending organizations included Cornell University, CS for All, Hour Children, Junior Achievement of New York, New York Cares, New York Women’s Foundation, Sadie Nash Leadership, viBe Theater, Willie Mae Rock Camp, Women’s Education Project, Youth INC.

This powerful group shared their realities, offered insights, and engaged in “gracious truth-telling” to advance equity. Below are just some of the highlights.

Philanthropy, as we know it today, must change.

While philanthropy is not a monolith, traditional models are still far too prevalent and focused on their own organization rather than their greater ‘purpose.’ Though well-intended, the majority of funders perpetuate the very inequities they seek to ameliorate. Most wealthy funders and grantmaking organizations are largely detached from the communities they aim to impact, often determining and developing solutions on behalf of individuals rather than including them in the decision-making process and sharing power. There is no group that this impacts more than women and girls of color.

Participants shared that in their own experiences, funders are often more accountable and responsive to their boards than to the leaders of organizations they’re aiming to serve. Further, they favor funding programs over the capacity and sustained growth of community organizations and have little trust – especially initially – of the many women leading them. One participant shared that due to the size and revenue of her organization, she’s constantly being asked to “prove herself” as a leader (sometimes that directly with no shame!) and demonstrate immediate, short-term impact – even though we all know that change doesn’t happen overnight.

Effective philanthropy must start with trust and include partnership.

Participants echoed that true partnership with leaders and communities to develop solutions is greatly lacking. Quick to move towards solutions, this group shared powerful ideas for the future:

Many leaders expressed prioritizing comprehensive education in ‘liberatory practices’ aimed at empowering donors to challenge and dismantle systems of oppression through their funding priorities and more focused, trust-based giving; with philanthropist MacKenzie Scott being a great example of this. On a smaller and more local level, one nonprofit leader shared an inspiring story of one donor’s learning journey that overhauled their approach to personal philanthropy and made real change in the sector seem possible for everyone, not just billionaires like MacKenzie Scott.

These nonprofit leaders also looked inward and recognized where they could improve by helping donors “see” themselves in the work of the nonprofit. They noted opportunities to more deeply engage donors for feedback on strategy and demonstrate where their gifts would make a difference. They also acknowledged the need to share honestly about the work being done (including the mistakes and learning!), the work not being done, and the work that must be done to make a real difference. As one participant noted, “Your mission could become the donor’s mission when you let them in.”

Participants also emphasized the imperative of collaboration across organizations serving the same purpose, noting that ‘movements can’t be built in silos,’ and that more conversations like this that lead to partnerships are needed to drive change. If funders are truly focused on impact, there is significant power in partnerships to gather and aggregate data from multiple sources. Data can inform a more comprehensive understanding of a situation or phenomenon by drawing on a diversity of inputs from multiple stakeholders. We are stronger together, and partnerships will build resilience and learning that is critical to our collective impact.

By the end of our time together, it was clear that no mission can be achieved without centering investments in women and girls of color, and the organizations that serve them. When we do so, we can work towards more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable outcomes that benefit all of us.

Get in touch with Orr Group to understand how we can collaborate to design impactful fundraising strategies for sustainable and effective change in your community.

Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D., is a Managing Director at Orr Group. Andrea is an applied developmental psychologist and thought leader with expertise in nonprofit strategy and leadership support, and has a strong background in utilizing data-driven insights to build partnerships and design mission-based solutions.

Rehana Farrell is the Executive Director of Youth INC. Rehana applies her 22 years in the financial services industry to spearhead the leading intermediary in New York City designed to create a robust youth development sector so that all young people have access to opportunities to thrive.

Sapreet Kaur Saluja is the Executive Director of New York Cares. Sapreet brings nearly two decades of experience to lead New York Cares’ vision and strategy behind mobilizing nearly 30,000 volunteers on high-impact volunteer programs that address food insecurity, educational inequities, the environment, and a wide range of pressing community needs at more than 400 nonprofits and schools across the five boroughs.

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