Takeaways from WFN Funder Convening

Dear Colleagues,

WFN recently hosted an intimate conversation with national funders and partners to reflect on the strategies, tools, and tactics learned from their work in 2020, and to reflect on the initial priorities for how we, as a philanthropic community, can evolve quickly to help resource once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for change.  

Now one-year post-pandemic, how do we center the unique needs of marginalized genders in communities of color? How has crisis impacted philanthropy’s appetite for a democratic process in grantmaking? What are the potential actions, asks, and disruptions to philanthropic habits that have the potential to shift power and build resilience of those most impacted? I was energized by what I heard and wanted to share some of the emerging toplines with you:  

1. Women’s Funds are Essential. In 2020 WFN launched the Response, Recovery, and Resilience Collaborative Fund (RRRCF), where funders and donors joined forces for a multi-phase COVID-19 relief effort to help keep about one-third of U.S. women’s funds from closing; the loss of which would have set economic mobility measures for women and families back decades. Data from the first round of RRRCF funding shows that women’s funds not only survived – they excelled. While the awards were relatively small, grantees were able to multiply each dollar resulting in up to 950 percent return on investment. They also moved dollars to grassroots groups up to 9 months faster than traditional institutions – while simultaneously working across sectors to strategize for the long-term. As we continue to see the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on marginalized genders in communities of color, we also recognize the profound impact women’s funds have had on their communities as philanthropy’s first responders and rebuilders.  

2. Flip the Script. We all know we need to go beyond just responding or reacting. The COVID-19 pandemic showed the fragility of our social infrastructure, and as we think about what’s next, we all agreed we needed to build back even better than before, centering the communities most impacted every step of the way. As we consider national policies and state-level work, our tactics and strategies must be broadened to incorporate narrative change as a vital component of how our work is documented. We must advocate for sustainable solutions to pressing concerns, tell the story of those doing the work on the front lines, and do what we can as funders to pave (and ease) the way. 

In 2020 we learned the importance of words. COVID-19 shined a brighter light on the health and economic disparities already happening to women and girls. And so we must adapt — we need to be more flexible in our funding opportunities, recognize and create space for our grantee partners in the field to be able to address issues around policy reform that can overhaul systemic problems.

-Teresa Younger, CEO & President, Ms. Foundation for Women  

3. Change the Rulebook. Make it easier to move money to grantees by simplifying the processes for distributing funds, generously resourcing BIPOC women leaders like you want them to win and working with high-impact partners like women’s funds and pooled fund initiatives that are utilizing democratic decision making in grantmaking.  

I challenge all of us to think about what has to happen to be community centric in our philanthropic practices: at the heart of how we operate must be trust in the local organization to understand and meet the needs of those they serve.

-Dr. Amalia Luxardo, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona. 

4. Real Data in Real Time. Lauren Casteel, President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, shared with the group how data informed their pivot to funding direct services as a mechanism for social change — including direct cash assistance — which has been instrumental in supporting women and their families through the pandemic.  

5. Make Policy Work for Us. The Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona’s used RRRCF funds for policy work that created key programs addressing childcare and unemployment issues. They have built a sustainable model for their program by working with local legislators to ensure the program is written into the state budget, ensuring its continuity by working across multiple sectors. 

6. Think Big. We have a unique opportunity to work together as donors, national funders, funder collaboratives, women’s funds, allied partners, and researchers, to achieve long-lasting, structural change that can move the needle for women and girls in the US and across the globe.  

This is an opportunity for women’s funds and gender justice funders. We’re bringing community, philanthropy, and public policy directly into all of the work that we do, which can break the cycle and create long-lasting, structural change.

-Lauren Casteel, CEO & President, Women’s Foundation of Colorado 

Thank you all again for everything you do to continue to adapt your work for the greatest impact. Here’s to being bold and asking for boldness in our alliances.  

In solidarity,  

Elizabeth Signature

Elizabeth Barajas-Román
Women’s Funding Network 
President & CEO

Letters from Elizabeth