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  • Tuesday, November 05, 2019 11:52 AM | Nancy Clark (Administrator)

    Houston, October 2019

    A few weeks ago my friend Stephanie Ellis-Smith, founder of Phila Engaged Giving, and I went to Houston for the Community Investment Network (CIN) conference, which celebrated its 15th anniversary by reflecting on its legacy of building up communities through investing their time, talent, treasure, and testimony (using our collective voice for change). CIN is national network of giving circles impacting communities of color. It connects and strengthens African-Americans and other donors of color by leveraging their collective resources to create the change THEY wish to see. The majority of their members are African-American from the Southeast.

    Stephanie had some familiarity with giving circles in general, but was generally new to this organization. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know CIN as a board member of Catalist.

    I went to Houston with the specific mission to further Catalist's relationship with CIN.  Five networks in collective giving -- The Latino Community Foundation, Amplifier (giving circles based on Jewish values), the Asian Women’s Giving Circle, Catalist, and CIN – have collaborated on a co-design project aimed at accelerating the size and impact of the giving circle sector on community transformation. (Read about the co-design work funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.) The missions of these five networks of collective giving groups are closely aligned, so rather than compete, we collaborate. We all use conferences to inspire affiliates to dig deeper into this work and to prepare the leaders to go home to their communities feeling elevated. Sometimes this work can be wonky but we came home from Houston reminded it must always be joyful!

    Stephanie went to Houston strictly to listen, learn, and observe. Though we both are members of the Washington Women’s Foundation in Seattle, WA, Stephanie didn’t have much first-hand experience with giving circles, but has always been impressed with their personal engagement in their communities and the members’ commitment to learning and each other. Her work as a philanthropic advisor has been limited to high-net-worth individuals and families who are looking to become more strategic and dedicated in their charitable giving. Stephanie says “working with family groups is in some ways similar to a giving circle, but there is something uniquely special about a group of unrelated people voluntarily pooling their money to make investments in their local community.”

    We anticipated meeting new colleagues and reconnecting with fellow philanthropists who give through collective giving grantmaking, pooling funds for community impact. But a genuinely worthwhile conference should do more than provide a few new tools and a pile of business cards.  Our goals for traveling to Houston varied, but we both were delighted that our trip to Houston yielded an unexpected joyfulness that rejuvenated us.

    What struck us the most was the level of joy and camaraderie we observed, not just within each giving circle, but among them as well. Participants gathered to share stories and best practices and to learn. Their dedication to the work and communing with a cohort of like-minded people produced a powerful aura of goodwill that was hard to ignore.

    For me, the joy came from stepping back from the work and taking stock of why and how we show up for the communities to which we belong and care about in the first place. In the opening session, Linetta Gilbert, formerly of the Ford Foundation and a founding visionary of CIN, spoke meaningfully about how to blend institutional philanthropy with individual philanthropy. And of course, this is exactly what collective giving groups do – inform the individual through group experience and then elevate the impact through collective giving. Ms. Gilbert spoke about the value of a listening tour and the power of starting any foray into philanthropy by asking “Who is absent?” How can we as philanthropists elevate community by seeking out the voices of those left out of the traditional philanthropic power dynamic? 

    Ms. Gilbert and her co-presenter Darryll Lester, CIN’s founder, said of the partnership between funders and grantees: "Spend time with each other to get to know one another before doing business". Too often institutions begin the relationship with a transaction – the grant or the donation. Starting that way sets the tone for it to become forever framed and dominated by that transaction. At The Ford Foundation and now in her recent work, Ms. Gilbert invests in relationships first. Doing so allows us to understand the landscape behind the issue and to better allocate our resources and energy. It became clear to us that it is only from this level of engagement that we can begin to envision how all American communities can grow and thrive equitably.

    For Stephanie, she found a deep sense of joy simply from the conference’s theme: “We are Philanthropists”. “It was empowering for me to be among African-Americans who proudly claim the mantle. While many debate whether the sector is hopelessly corrupt and ineffective, CIN’s giving circles harness all that is right with philanthropy and brings it into the Black community on their own terms.” Circles represented at the conference gave to individuals (from Black men and boys mentorship groups to struggling entrepreneurs or artists) and to traditional organizations. They also came to learn about innovative programs going on nationally that they could bring back to their circles to learn from or adapt for their own community.

    The learning components tapped neatly into the spirit of the conference: community-based and Black-centered. Speakers who brought their expertise to CIN included land trust advocates from the South speaking about building land sovereignty for displaced black and indigenous people, representatives from Black community foundations talking about how and where to invest a circle’s funds, and community-owned grocery store investors on how to eliminate food deserts. We left inspired not just by the work, but by the communion of the network.

    Collective giving embodies the best tenets of philanthropy. People pooling resources, sharing knowledge, and offering a hand up to those who need it brings out the best in all of us. Stephanie and I wish this blog could share the warmth of the hugs we received or the sounds of laughter we heard during those two days. Such a jolt of energy renewed my spirit and my commitment to helping people find joy in their giving through deep engagement and understanding.

    Feel free to contact Stephanie or me about our work. We will explore more of these themes at the Catalist conference PowerUP! The Spark That Ignites Change in Seattle in February 23-25, 2020. As conference co-chair I am delighted we have so many talented speakers lined up, including Stephanie, who will be presenting on women of color philanthropists.

  • Monday, September 09, 2019 8:44 AM | Nancy Clark (Administrator)

    Alabama, July, 2019

    This third in-person meeting of the Co-Design team was different, more personal, more emotional than the first two. As a team, we have been grappling, in the aftermath of our field-wide convening in April, with how strong a values statement we wanted to make to undergird the work. The question we were asked a lot in Seattle was: More #GivingCircles in service of what?  It was a great question.

    It’s easy to say that hate is not welcome and if you fund terrorists, we won’t provide support. But the real issue is, do we go further and make a strong statement about equity and justice as common values, knowing those words might not be commonly understood among potential founders or funders, and off-putting to some.

    Our friend and colleague Marsha Morgan, Chair of Community Investment Network which supports African American giving circles invited us to Birmingham for our Summer meeting so that we could meet with her Pastor, Bishop Van Moody who supported the First Step Act, and has been hosting panel discussions about Race and Reconciliation in their community. Several of us decided to fly down a day early so we could visit Montgomery as well, to see the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Justice and Peace, sometimes referred to as the Lynching Museum, in advance of our meeting.

    We visited the Memorial first. The primary structure is an L-shaped pavilion cut into a square of grassy knoll on a hill, a bit reminiscent of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. It is beautiful and haunting and exquisitely done.  The sculptures outside the pavilion are arresting and heartbreaking. Inside the pavilion, each of the 400 counties in the US in which the Equal Justice Initiative could verify one or more lynchings has an 8-foot Corten steel monument into which the names of the individual, when known, and the date of the lynching are cut. On some, there are just one or two names in large, easily legible letters. On others, there are two columns of tiny names. There is a 45-minute path you walk through this experience, starting with green lawn, some sculptures and explanatory signage. Then you enter the L-shaped pavilion.  At first, the monuments are on the ground and you walk among them, reading names and counties, as if they were people.  But soon you start to walk down hill, and the monuments are suspended, a little bit at first, and progressively higher every few yards. By the time you turn the corner and reach the end of the building, the 400th monument, you can only see the name of the county on the bottom of the monument, because they are fully hung above you. That’s where I found the monument for Duval County, Florida, my adopted home town.  There were 7 lynchings in Duval from 1909 to 1925. The name of the first and last human beings who were lynched are not known, which is heartbreaking. As Marsha pointed out, it is as if those lives simply didn’t matter. 

    The vertical monuments inside the pavilion seem to be arranged in a totally random manner.  Outside, there is another set of identical but horizontal monuments arranged, like coffins, alphabetically by state and county. It had just rained, and they shone as if they were bronze. I was able to find the Duval monument and the other 44 Florida monuments (Florida has 67 counties, so at least 22 have something to be proud of here) and read the names and dates I could not see from below. This set of monuments is available to be claimed by Counties who want to start the process of reconciling their past with their present. I don’t have a ton of hope that my community will take this on, but I do have a Tweetstorm in mind as soon as my desk is clear.

    In a very subdued car, we headed next to the Legacy Museum, which is also run by the Equal Justice Initiative, and which traces the slow but inexorable crawl from slavery to mass incarceration. Through photos, statistics, primary source quotes, original signage from buildings, video and other media the interactive exhibits make a full-throated and undeniable case for systemic racism as the backdrop to mass incarceration, the wealth disparity between families of color and white families, and pretty much every other disparity. There are also rows and rows of huge jars of multi-colored dirt, with the names and dates of Alabama’s lynching victims; the product of a project to send students and other volunteers around the state to collect earth from the sites of the documented sites of Alabama lynchings. The walls and walls of these enormous jars make quite a statement.

    Some Peach Cheesecake ice cream atop blackberry cobbler at a spot chosen by Marsha along the route to Birmingham picked up our spirits a bit. Liz Fisher, ED of Amplifier, which supports giving circles inspired by Jewish values, opined that this might suffice for dinner, but we all managed to eat later at the hotel.  Also, there may have been wine. 

    We gathered the next morning to see what our consultants had come up with since we met last:  a growth model, a financial model and a business model. What we heard was energizing, and gives us a roadmap for the future, pending funding. Our final proposal has been submitted to the Gates Foundation, and we should know within two months whether they will provide the anchor funding for a 5-year campaign to showcase, scale, strengthen and sustain existing groups, and look to grow up to 1500 new ones over 5 years.

    The Mission of what I alone call 5YC is to catalyze and connect the giving circle movement and to democratize and diversify philanthropy. The Showcase strategy will include things like a broad awareness campaign (imagine, if you will, never having to explain to anyone, ever again, what your organization does!), as well as special targeting to underserved populations; retirement communities, perhaps, or communities of color, and a HUGE marketing push.

    The Scale effort will likely include online toolkits as well as incubators that work across many models as well as consulting with philanthropic partners and corporations to build giving circle networks within their organizations and supporting new networks for affinities not currently networked (i.e., LGBTQ).

    The Strengthen initiative will involve an annual field-wide convening and other network-weaving activities. There is also an opportunity to use research and reporting to aggregate the work of the entire field

    Sustain efforts will involve communities of practice, donor education, webinars, micro-grants for Networks in formation and back end technology infrastructure for networks who would like that assistance. 

    The Co-Design team has decided to stay attached to the project through the end of Calendar 2019 to continue to fundraise and hire the ED, should we be fortunate enough to raise sufficient funds. 

    And one final note: This isn’t the only values statement we landed on, but perhaps the one we will plant our flag on, and one I am particularly proud to have been a part of crafting:

     We believe in a philanthropic landscape in which ALL donors can participate in a way that fits their ambition, values, and personality. We are committed to building philanthropic infrastructure that supports collective givers, especially those traditionally underrepresented in philanthropy so that more resources are leveraged for communities, issues, and to reduce disparities. Communities are their own best experts and so we listen deeply, respect different opinions, and value all voices.

  • Wednesday, July 10, 2019 5:44 AM | Nancy Clark (Administrator)

    Seattle, Washington
    by Kit Bakke, Washington Women's Foundation member and author

    Seattle Bytes

    We invite you take a few minutes (or even an extra day or two) to acquaint yourself with this part of our country. February is actually a good time to be here because tourists are at a minimum, so you can rub shoulders with the locals. We know Seattle’s not on most travelers’ radar, so here are a few bits and bytes that might help bring our city in clearer focus:


    Back in the 1950s a well-known local newspaper columnist led a movement he called “Lesser Seattle” that tried to discourage people from coming here. Talking up the incessant rain was one of his major tactics. But in fact, Seattle has less rainfall, about 37 inches/year, than 13 major U.S. cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Houston and New Orleans. The problem, though, is that our rain comes down slow and steady—we average 225 cloudy days/year. Even though we’re 2 degrees latitude north of Maine, we don’t get much snow either—but when it comes, we panic (why? See below).


    We’re a city of many steep hills. It’s those hills that close down the schools and keep us home from work with only an inch or so of snow. Their verticality also accounts for the electric motor assists on most of our bike-share equipment.

    Further afield, we are accustomed to seeing snowy mountains ringing our horizon—we have the Olympics (which are not volcanic) to our west and the Cascades (still active volcanos) to our east. Topping the volcanos is Mt. Rainier, the third highest mountain in the U.S. after Denali and Mt. Whitney. The first American to summit Mt. Everest was a local Seattle man, Jim Whittaker. He and his team trained on Mt. Rainier for their 1963 Himalayan success.

    Besides volcanos, our corner of the country is also known for earthquakes. Along with the rest of the west coast, we are part of the “ring of fire” that circles the Pacific Ocean. Young and active geological forces remind us that the earth is still changing beneath our feet.

    We also have an abundance of water. Seattle is said to have the largest number of boats per capita. The boundary between the salt water (Puget Sound) and fresh water (Lake Washington) is maintained by a set of locks, which are the busiest locks in the U.S. and second in size only to the Panama Canal locks.

    Lake Washington is a 20 mile long and very deep (over 200 feet) glacially-formed lake running along the eastern border of the city. On it float three multi-lane concrete bridges which serve thousands of commuters daily to and from Seattle’s eastside suburbs.

    Why floating bridges? First envisioned by an engineer in the 1930s, the idea solved two problems: the lake bed is too soft and the lake too deep to build the piers to support a conventional bridge, and the span from land to land would require the towers for a suspension bridge to be over 600 feet tall. We also have a floating bridge over a salt water inlet, even trickier to build as it must account for tidal flow. These four bridges are the four longest floating bridges in the world.


    Seattle is the only large city in the country named after a Native American chief. Local tribes lived here for centuries, raising their families and eating well off the abundant food found in the water and the forests. The first outsiders arrived in 1851 by boat to the shores of what is now the West Seattle neighborhood. Their intention was to stay, build a sawmill, raise their families and build a town, which they did.

    Like many cities, Seattle had its “Great Fire.” In 1889, started by an overturned glue pot, it burned 29 square blocks and many of the city’s wharves. No one was killed, but it’s said that a million rats died. Rebuilt mostly in brick above the ruins, you can see the remains of the old city one story down on the “Underground Tour” in Pioneer Square.  

    Seattle grew into a rough-and-tumble port city, full of gambling saloons and, during Prohibition, major smuggling operations. The term “skid row” originated here as the city’s most disreputable elements congregated in Pioneer Square where the logs were skidded down from the forests to waiting ships in the harbor.

    Seattle has a strong labor history with many strikes, including a general strike. Socialists were elected to city and county offices. In 1936 one federal official described the U.S. as having “47 states and the Soviet of Washington.” Seattle was an early adopter in the growing number of U.S. cities that guarantee its citizens a $15/hour wage.

    Washington men voted to give women the right to vote in 1910, a decade before the idea became national law. In 1926 Seattle became the first major city in the U.S. to elect a woman mayor. Bertha Knight Landes cracked down on gambling, bootlegging and police corruption perhaps a little too heavily, and she was not elected to a second term.

    Bainbridge Island, a lovely 25-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle across Puget Sound, was the home of the first Japanese-American families to be taken from their homes and interned during World War II. The federal government was worried about resistance to the idea of internment so they decided to try it out first in our far west and out-of-the-way part of the country. If you go to Bainbridge Island, you will find a historical park dedicated to telling.

    The World’s Fair hosted in Seattle in 1962 is the first such event to have posted a profit. Many of the buildings from the fair are still in use and form the core of the popular Seattle Center.

    Seattle is one of two U.S. cities holding the title of a UNESCO City of Literature. Maybe because of all those cloudy days?


                Seattle and our region is or has been the home of a dozens of people whose artistic talents have been appreciated nationally and globally. Here are just a few: musicians Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Curt Cobain, Mark O’Connor and Macklemore; artists Jacob Lawrence and Dale Chihuly; and writers August Wilson, Theodore Roethke, Timothy Egan, Jonathan Raban, Elizabeth George, David Guterson, Tom Robbins, Deb Caletti, Nancy Pearl, Frank Herbert,  Dan Savage, Neal Stephenson, and Garth Stein.

    We can’t close without naming many of the businesses that were born here and that have transformed our region. The technology bent of many of them owes a nod to Bill Boeing, who, from 1916 onward, drew flocks of engineers and innovators to his Boeing Airplane Company. Other familiar corporate faces headquartered in greater Seattle are Microsoft, Amazon, Costco, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Weyerhaeuser, Paccar, Alaska Airlines and Expedia. Seattle is also home to the largest private philanthropic foundation in the world, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

  • Tuesday, June 11, 2019 4:22 PM | Nancy Clark (Administrator)

    Orlando, June 4
    By Avani Desai

    Even when the developments might’ve been considered primitive by modern standards, technological progress has always been a definitive characteristic of humanity.  Like any new tool, technology has infinite capacity to be used in all the wrong ways—in this, atomic and biological weapons come to mind.  And even with better intentions, sometimes technological impact can still skew negatively, such as when society’s immense reliance on it harms our environment, health, or thought patterns.

    Yet there is a second face to this coin, with just as boundless potential—use for good, in intentions and impacts alike.

    There is the side of technology where good ideas and honorable intentions do indeed produce spectacular results and, in turn, help humanity evolve positively.  These developments enable citizens to succeed more easily while upholding the most harmonic, peaceful, and visionary values and ethical standards.  While in pursuit of this bright side of technology, we may never actually reach the end of the road with the possibilities and benefits—it’s both exhilarating and endless.  One thing we can be certain of, however, is that technology has the ability to consistently affect transformative social reform.

    In fact, within the series of articles entitled “The Network Revolution,” AIMatters chief executive officer (CEO) Barry Libert and his three co-authors argue that embracing this social change is a theory of being rather than one of change—“one that places a virtual network of individuals seeking social change at the center of everything and leverages today’s digital platforms (such as social media, mobile, big data, and machine learning) to facilitate stakeholders (contributors and consumers) to connect, collaborate, and interact with each other to exchange value […] to effectuate exponential social change and impact.” Though technology has already gained some ground in the improvement or eradication of certain community and social issues, including those outlined below,  there is a ways to go yet.

    1.      Global Poverty and Hunger

    It’s estimated that 11% of the world’s population still goes to bed hungry each night, but with any luck, that won’t always be the case—especially given technology’s impact already in genetic engineering advancements and improved farming methods.  More “smart farming” solutions have been made possible thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), and upgraded livestock monitoring and soil measurements, among other improvements, are helping to upgrade the efficiency, quantity, and affordability of food sources. In addition, technology on a wider scale has also created more jobs and extended job markets across the board, especially through remote work; now, thanks to the Internet Age, promoting digital literacy and internet access ensures greater opportunities for people to support themselves and elevate their financial status. As more advancements like these continue to expand resources, that 11% number will hopefully continue to steadily dwindle. 

    2.      Modern Slavery, Child Abuse, and Local Crime

    The statistics are sickening: modern slavery exists in over 165 countries in the world and annually generates $150 billion in profit. According to the 2018 Cocoa Barometer, as many as 2.1 million underage children are forced to work in West Africa alone. Unfortunately, technology has played its own ugly part in allowing for the exploitation of these children, along with those others that have been sexually abused across the world and had their images spread. Nonetheless, it’s also had a hand in trying to curb these terrible industries.  The non-governmental organization, Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, fights back with deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to identify the most vulnerable victims of child abuse and upend the platforms spreading illegal content, all while developing awareness campaigns in order to hamper abusers.  Its flagship product, Spotlight—a data archive containing escort ads, photographs, and forum data gathered off the internet—uses algorithms to analyze and proactively generates leads and potential profiles, helping law enforcement find kids faster.  Since being founded in 2006, Thorn has identified nearly 10,000 victimized children in total.

    Further efforts must be made to continue eliminating such treatment of fellow human beings—both children and adults trapped in these unconscionable conditions.  New smart procurement technology has proven a great tool, as it enables major companies to more comprehensively analyze supply chains while pairing with third-party data for better evaluations and increased transparency. Amit Mondal, vice president of Software Development at PowerSchool Group, also points out how technology also helps to foil policy brutality, kidnappings, and incidents of rape: “Glasses or IoT-enabled personal devices with face recognition technologies connected to a database of criminals may be able to proactively warn when known offenders are in close proximity; peer-to-peer, location-based emergency communication technologies can enable victims to seek help from law enforcement or others nearby.”

    3.      Climate Change and the Green Revolution

    While the use of some technologies has been paralleled with our abuse of the earth’s resources, the other side of that coin has also given us options for fighting against the mammoth problem we’ve brewed up—climate change.  “Technology can help out in myriad ways,” points out Forbes Technology Council member Leah Allen, “From making electric cars mainstream and building alternative sources of energy to replace coal to creating more efficient buildings, non-polluting air conditioning systems, and desalination systems.” Back in 2016, solar energy became the world’s cheapest energy source, made possible by the evolving technology that drove costs down. As it represents a more economical and environmentally friendly choice, the switch to renewable energies wherever possible should be a no-brainer.

    4.      Education and Employment

    Richard Margolin, chief technology officer (CTO) and founder of RoboKind, points out that apart from mere accessibility, technologies like online courses and classroom robots “allow for a higher-quality and standardized delivery of curriculum by experts who really understand the subjects being taught,” which in turn “dramatically increases access both for urban and rural classrooms that lack the resources to maintain a well-trained staff.” And it’s not just important for educating children—Siddharth Banerjee, of Indusgeeks USA Inc., commends the potential of virtual reality, showcasing it as a transformative tool for training workers displaced by automation, as it enables them to learn new skills more efficiently and effectively, with “VR-Cades” circumventing expensive trainings to save money and time.

    Yes, smart classroom technology eliminates physical boundaries and limitations for both students in school and those already in the workforce.  It opens a world of possibilities with developments in cloud, video conferencing, faster internet, advanced network coverage, budding virtual reality, and wireless technology that allows people—especially those in more remote locations—unprecedented access to a greater quantity, quality, and personalization of classes, schools, and subjects.  Those who can’t afford or are otherwise unable to enroll in a school also have access to a plethora of cheaper or free online material, including self-teaching courses via YouTube, Wikipedia, and digital libraries.

    5.      Health Care

    Smart and strategic use of technology in the health care sector can do, and already has done, wonders for patient outcomes, hospital savings and efficiency, and research across a plethora of fields.  It begins with a better understanding of biology and genomics, which then leads to better drugs and preventive measures.  With further enough advances, we may soon discover cures for currently incurable diseases—we’ve done it before (goodbye smallpox), and we can do it again.  In fact, many diseases, including hookworm, malaria, measles, and rubella, among others, are already well on the way out the door completely, having already been eliminated from large regions of the world.

    Furthermore, blockchain technology can be used to resolve security, scalability, transparency, and privacy issues within the sector.  IoT wearables can provide user-generated health data to detect issues earlier and alert emergency services faster. With tools such as artificial intelligence and robot-assisted surgery (improved diagnoses and performance), virtual health care (improved accessibility, efficiency, and speed of care), nanomedicine (improved and more precise targeting and delivery systems, helping combat more complex conditions like cancer), virtual reality (improved worker training and offering patient therapy and rehabilitation), and 3D printing (improved prototypes and revolutionized transplants and tissue repair), technology is already breaking barriers at every turn, and will continue to do so as we progress.

    Today’s world is in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or what World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab defines as the fusion of technologies blurring the lines among the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Unlike any of those before it, this revolution is one in which digital networks are upending traditional business models, enabling new ways of sharing, distributing intelligence, and creating value.

    Even with the change already wrought, there’s still a vast frontier of opportunity on the technological horizon.  As with any tool, however, it’s important to remember that our attitude and approach counts as much as—if not more than—the potential that tool has in and of itself. As eloquently noted by T.J. Cook, the CEO of CauseLabs, “in order to truly solve big problems related to the environment, sanitation, education, poverty, and other health and social issues, the goal must be to change human behavior, awareness, and attitudes.  The role of technology is to serve as a catalyst to jump-start these changes.”


  • Wednesday, April 10, 2019 1:18 PM | Nancy Clark (Administrator)

    Seattle, April 1-4
    By Paula Liang

    After four days in Seattle, three at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and one at the Seattle Foundation, I find that my primary feelings are wonderment and gratitude.  After being a part of this movement in a nearly full-time volunteer capacity since 2012, to have such influential philanthropists take notice, lift up the work, support it, and suggest to a room full of philanthropy tech platform folks  that lots more people should be both participating and supporting it is nothing short of amazing. And to the 82 people who came from around the country, to give us feedback on how we should structure that support, we are so grateful for your time, your stories and your generosity of spirit.

    But to start at the beginning: On Monday and Tuesday, April 1 and 2, through the incredible generosity of the Gates and Seattle Foundations, we convened individuals from across the country and the movement, including many funders and other key opinion leaders to sketch out the Co-Design team’s (and 6 working groups’) thinking regarding the structure for an infrastructure organization (IO). The Team includes myself, Hali Lee, also a Catalist member and co-Director of Donors of Color Network, Liz Fisher and Felicia Herman of Amplifier, which supports Jewish Giving Circles, Marsha Morgan of Community Investment Network, a network of African American Giving Circles, and Masha Chernyak of Latino Community Foundation.

    Catalist participants from L-R: Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz of Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County, Laura Midgley of Washington Women’s Foundation (WaWF) & Catalist Board, Colleen Willoughby, Founder of WaWF & Catalist, Jenny Berg, Catalist Chair & Impact 100 Cincinnati, Paula Liang, Vice Chair & Women’s Giving Alliance, Jacksonville, FL, Virginia Mills, Catalist Board & Giving WoMN, MN, Susan Benford, The Philanthropy Connection, Boston, and Hali Lee, Asian Women’s Giving Circle, NYC, also a colleague on the Co-Design Team.

    To an incredibly diverse group, across all ways of thinking about that—zip code, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, class—we started to roll out how we were thinking about what issues the IO would address, what its mission and vision would be, and how it would be structured.  And we got a LOT of feedback, all of it incredibly valuable--too much to have been distilled overnight. IO Version 2.0 is very much a work in progress, but a few key takeaways for me:

    • As powerful as it is to be “networked” in this work, some worried that we are too siloed, a problem we hope the IO will solve, or at least start to chip away at. Someone proposed a circle that combines Muslims and Jews. I feel like folks in that room will make it happen soon.
    • We thought part of our mission might be to “demystify” philanthropy. Turns out no one on the funding side is mystified by it—many are not made to feel welcome, perhaps, but they totally get it. As our own Susan Benford put it, she’s all about making philanthropy “less pale, male and stale.” There was a lot of social media from the gathering that included #IAmAPhilanthropist, which warmed Colleen’s heart for sure.
    • Democratizing and diversifying the field as part of the mission statement met with broad agreement
    • We have to make sure our values statement includes language around diversity, equity and inclusion to avoid inadvertently supporting a circle that funds hate. Who is not under the tent is as important as who is welcomed.

    We didn’t solve everything, but we made a good deal of progress, heard some great stories and recorded some others on video. Laura Midgley told a powerful story about how her own approach to her personal philanthropy was changed by a grant process she participated in with WaWF.

    As at any gathering of folks who practice collective giving, there was a good deal of hugging and crying; new alliances were formed, information was shared, I think Catalist may have picked up a few new affiliates. My favorite new friend from this gathering just might be Pastor Joseph Frierson of Greensboro, NC, who started the Young & Dangerous Giving Circle Fund at the Mount Zion Baptist Church’s Young Adult Ministry as a way to get his parishioners from ages 18-35 to become more civically engaged beyond the church walls.  He even had T-shirts that said “Young and Dangerous”.  I told him he should trademark it—he said he was working on it!  This is just one of many ideas we heard that could be radically and easily scaled—the group, not the T-shirts.

    After saying goodbye to most of the group on Tuesday afternoon, about 15 of us, including the Co-Design team stayed on for Wednesday and Thursday to participate in the Gates Greater Giving Summit, which convened 170 people under their Giving by All Initiative.  Turns out, Giving Circles are one of their “Giving Channels of Focus”.   Seriously, who knew? 

    These 36 hours were much more tech and data-driven, but we all met some interesting people and learned a lot.  The first guy I introduced myself to works for Paypal and lives in Portland, OR.  When I started to tell him about 99 Girlfriends, he stopped me and told me his wife is a member!  The conference was using a technology called Slido to let attendees react and ask questions, and we got #givingcircles trending as often as possible.  We spread ourselves out, talked to as many people as we could, soaked up whatever was offered, but we generally felt a lot less relevant in this environment. 

    But at the end of the day on Thursday, a sort of miraculous thing happened.  In the closing panel, there were three people talking about their amazing philanthropic web platforms, including one in China, and a woman named Lucy Bernholz from the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.  When it was Lucy’s turn to talk, she gave everybody a bit of a scolding about data privacy, which they pretty much expected, and then she exhorted them to stop talking about “the technology” and start talking about “the work”. When the moderator from the Gates Foundation asked if she could possibly end on a high note, she said “Sure, how about the Giving Circles and the fabulous work they are doing? We should all be focusing on that!” 

    I introduced myself to her afterwards, and when I told her how many members are represented by Catalist affiliates, her jaw literally dropped.  We exchanged cards and promised to be in touch.  Something about a book she’s writing? More to follow. . .

  • Friday, February 01, 2019 12:00 PM | Nancy Clark (Administrator)

    Brooklyn, NY November 25-26, 2018
    by Paula Liang

    • 2 Days in Brooklyn
    • 1 Fabulous consultant
    • 5 representatives of Giving Circle and Collective Giving Networks
    • Dozens of Bagels
    • $370,000 in total funding raised and
    • Hundreds of Post-It Notes later. . .

    I’m delighted to report we have a much better idea of where the Co-Design project is headed and the five Co-Design partners are united in our belief that we are aligned around a set of big picture dreams for the field. 

    To sketch out the broad strokes for those who are just hearing about this, or who have heard just a little bit, the headline is that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has taken an interest in our sector, and their interest typically comes with support and resources and eventually a ton of national attention.  They have invested $250,000 in a 12-month process to enable 5 leaders of networks to work together to design an infrastructure organization to provide support for the collective giving ecosystem.  They challenged us to raise the additional $120,00 that would be required. We were able to do so through appeals to private foundations, some of whom, like W.K.Kellogg Foundation, have supported these networks for years,  some support from the networks themselves, some good old-fashioned collective giving, and investments from US Trust and Schwab Charitable, which have generously sponsored Catalist conferences.

    The five Co-Design leads are:

    • Felicia Herman of Amplifier, a network of giving circles guided by Jewish values based in NYC
    • Marsha Morgan of Community Investment Network, a network of African American giving circles based in Birmingham, AL
    • Sara Velten of the Latino Community Foundation of California
    • Hali Lee, President of Asian American Women’s Giving Circle, a member of Catalist. Hali is also in the midst of standing up a network for high net worth donors of color. She is based in Brooklyn, and it was in her home that we met
    • Paula Liang, Vice Chair of Catalist, based in Jacksonville, and a member of two Florida Affiliates.

    And none of it would be possible without Isis Krause of Knead Partners who keeps us on task and makes sense of the hundreds of Post It Notes. 

    We have been meeting for months remotely via Zoom and have conducted 40 something interviews with members of other networks, funders, members of the broader philanthropy field, some grantees, and other stakeholders as part of the “Needs Assessment”.  When read a list of the possible supports that might be provided (i.e., technology, capacity building, funding, impact evaluation, staff support, communications/branding and on and on) almost everyone said, “Can I choose them all?”  Clearly, there are many needs.

    But the organizing wisdom came from Hali at about 10:30 on Day 1.  As I recall, what she said was, “This doesn’t have to look like anything that already exists.  Let’s build the party we want to go to.”  The work we all do is so essentially hopeful, we want to lift it up without organizing the joy out of it.  There may have been a group hug at this point.

    So, we have an idea of what we think this party should look like, we have a bit more time to refine our ideas through a series of working groups that will involve many of those we have interviewed, a series of pilot projects and a field-wide convening, April 1-2 in Seattle. The Gates Foundation has invited us to use their space on April 1.   

    Stay tuned. Watch this space.  If you know of anyone, man, woman or child, who is thinking of starting a giving circle, please give Paula a shout at  One of the pilot projects could be an incubator—we would like to see if we can stand up a bunch of new organizations before the end of the project in September 2019, to prove to the Gates Foundation and our other partners that we can deliver the goods.

    To those of you who donated to this project, many, many thanks! Catalist itself, as well as several individual members of our Affiliates made investments, all of which were much appreciated.

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