Empowering Lessons From the Women’s Philanthropy Institute DREAM. DARE. DO. Symposium

It just makes sense that good collaboration leads to more effective philanthropy. The more people work well together to support a cause, the greater the synergies and impact. Since women are inherently inclined to come together, network, and discuss, support and share resources and ideas, it should surprise no one that women collaborating together produces particularly powerful philanthropy.

There is mounting evidence that women drive philanthropy — they give more financially; they invest more of their time, energy and connections in the causes they support too.  “At every age and in every demographic, women are more philanthropic than men,” explains Dr. Debra Mesch, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy. “They are more likely to support the most highly effective nonprofits because of their natural tendency to network and share information too.”

WPI: Trista Harris.
Trista Harris.

However — and not withstanding logic and data — there is not yet a broad understanding of the substantial power that women enjoy when they collaborate philanthropically. That is one of the reasons that WPI recently hosted a two-day national symposium on Women’s Philanthropy in Chicago called DREAM. DARE. DO.

Thought leaders from across the country and around the world provided inspiration and recommendations to empower more women to lean in, collaborate more, grow their combined good faster — starting with opening remarks by Melinda Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “This is our strength as women — we cooperate, we collaborate, and we innovate to amplify our voices and accelerate change.”

The following tips represent conference highlights and will help you dream, dare, do more by making better use of your collaborative and philanthropic power too.

Value Your Relationships and Build on Trust

It’s hard to collaborate without first establishing a relationship. And it’s a pleasure to grow relationships in this space.

WPI: Sloane Davidson
Sloane Davidson, Alia Whitney-Johnson, Vini Bhansali and Jacki Zehner.

“Relations are assets. We need to treat them that way,” explained Pamela Norley, president of Fidelity Charitable. Wonderful women are attracted to collaborative philanthropy too. As Norley explained  subsequent to the symposium, “These are amazing women — nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs, fundraisers and donors — who embody the theme of  ‘dream, dare and do’ in their work to shape a better world.”

Women Moving Millions (WMM) Chief Engagement Office Jacki Zehner relishes the power of collaborative, trusted relationships. Members of WMM donate at least $1 million over 10 years to nonprofits that support women and girls. WMM helps the international membership identify outstanding programs to collaboratively support too. This support is like rocket fuel to beneficiary nonprofits. “We have so much more power together,” Zehner attests.

Relationships blossom and collaboration flourishes when the parties involved trust each other too. “Change happens at the speed of trust,” declared Vini Bhansali, executive director of Thousand Currents, formerly known as IDEX.  She cited women in Nepal who have collaborated in creating 42 different cooperatives representing 35,000 women. They are now challenging the whole rural economy in that country to shift practices too.

Try Innovations, Allow Room for Failure

Philanthropists like to fund innovative solutions to difficult problems. It’s often easier to grow collaborations this way.

WPI: Sonya Campion.
Sonya Campion.

Alia Whitney-Johnson, co-founder and executive director of Freedom FWD, a new nonprofit whose mission is to prevent child sex trafficking in the Bay Area, explained that her organization “focuses on convening and collaboration to achieve collective impact.” This allows them to strengthen key players, foster collaboration among disparate groups, and pull people together to fill gaps.

But, it’s important to remember that collaboration is not easy. Philanthropic futurist Trista Harris, also the CEO of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, reminds that everyone needs to “create spaces for failure in order to create pathways to success.”

Use Giving Circles, Amplify By Connecting to Others

Perhaps the best-known and most often practiced form of collaboration in women’s philanthropy is the giving circle or collective giving network. In this model, women pool their financial contributions and make their giving decisions collaboratively.

Hali Lee, co-founder of the Asian Women Giving Circle, explains part of the appeal: “You don’t have to be rich to give.”  She adds, “Pooling funds allows people to come as you are and to give as you can.”

Giving circles appeal to donors at all levels of wealth. For instance, the Tiffany Circle (TC) of the American Red Cross, welcomes women who give $10,000 per year. Several TC members attended the conference.

WPI: Jacki Zehner.
Jacki Zehner.

Overlapping giving circles can be an even more powerful collaboration than individual ones. This is the case with Lee’s organization. In addition to participating in their local giving circle, individual women either create or are part of a larger network of giving circles. As Lee explains, “This collaboration allows them to share best practices, solve problems, strengthen the network, and grow philanthropy.” Chicago’s growing “Impact 100” giving circles, in which 100 women give $1,000 per year, are good examples of this.

Feel Your Global Connection to Women Around the World

From online microlending like KIVA.org to large scale collaborations internationally, women are connecting, giving, helping and succeeding as donors or beneficiaries more every year. The internet makes it easier.

Thousand Currents is an excellent example. Women Moving Millions has flourished because of this too. Sisterhood is sisterhood, wherever you live.

Use Video Storytelling and Collaborative Funding

Nothing moves people like a compelling story. Short videos that bring the mission of a good cause to life and make people laugh, cry, think, and want to help are more important than ever in philanthropy.

“I fund stories,” Ruth Ann Harnisch, president of the Harnisch Foundation and a producer of cinema and large scale documentaries, proudly declared. Her films include “The Hunting Ground” and “Unrest.” She encourages others to start smaller, but know they can have impact too. “The obstacles to storytelling on a wide scale are falling away. You have the media in your hand … with your cell phone. But, you need a good story to tell.”

Harnisch cited The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff, who believes that stories about a single person are the most effective. She advises, “Think about what story of that one person is that will make an impact. Who is the audience, what do you want them to know and … what action do you want them to take?”

It’s also easier than ever to fund video storytelling. Although her foundation donates to some documentaries, Harnisch also funds them on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Go Fund Me. This helps grow broader support for the story in the future.

Collaborate to Advocate

Advocacy can have the greatest impact of all, particularly when it results in policy and systemic change. Collaboration is essential to unite many voices for change together. Sonya Campion, president of the Campion Advocacy Fund and trustee at the Campion Foundation, and Diana Willen, chair of the United Way WINGS advocacy committee at the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, shared their experiences building coalitions, developing public-private collaborations to scale efforts, and leveraging the power of nonprofit board members as advocates for their mission. They are happy to give Advocacy 101 advice to others too.

Although collaboration is not unique to women’s philanthropy, because women are particularly good at it, they can follow this advice and grow the power and impact of collaboration too.