In Women’s Circle, Collaboration Reigns Supreme

Women throughout history have led numerous movements that called for economic and social change. From the generations-long endeavor to reclaim voting rights to the recent Black Lives Matter protests against racially-biased law enforcement practices, women have taken on central roles in organizing and fundraising movements that courageously demand justice. In January 2017, millions of women from across the United States banded together in what collectively was known as The Women’s March, a mighty display of female solidarity against an establishment that many view as degrading and misogynist.

At RSF, many women of various backgrounds and orientations have led and inspired our community. We see it fitting that the first grant distribution from our Women’s Capital Collaborative, a philanthropic fund that infuses innovative women-led social enterprises with diverse forms of catalytic capital, be a shared gifting circle, a collaborative process for distributing grant funds that leverages community wisdom while building trust. As part of our work to create more inclusive financial systems, we see shared gifting as an important way to shift the current power and influence structures in our communities and networks and provide greater access to capital for women entrepreneurs.

For this circle, we gathered a group of inspiring women who have either founded or are currently at the helm of a groundbreaking social enterprise. The women’s circle consisted of twelve participants from organizations with specialties that spanned healthcare and education to human rights and social safety. Everyone who participated prioritized the empowerment of women and girls as a core part of their work. On the day of the gathering at RSF’s offices in San Francisco, participants were invited to read each other’s grant proposals and ultimately divide $150,000 among the groups participating.

During the circle’s morning introductions, we were fortunate enough to be joined by three donors to the collaborative that sponsored that day’s circle. I was touched to witness women from across the gift spectrum—donors, social entrepreneurs, and RSF staffers—speaking about their personal connection and passion for addressing issues specific to women and bridging what often seems like a divide between funder and recipient. At the morning’s end, we bid farewell to our donor guests, thanking them for their trust and support of the shared gifting process.

Characteristic of most Shared Gifting Circles, we experienced an atmosphere of openness and inquiry. During breaks and meal times, the energy in the room was buzzing with conversations about shared experiences, challenges, and opportunities to learn from each other in areas from business models to software recommendations. Many of the participants expressed the sentiment that simply having the opportunity to meet and learn about other organizations that benefit women and girls was a highlight of the day. Along these lines, Megan Villanueva of the Global Press Institute said, “As nonprofit leaders, we’re all naturally inspired by one another. It was a great opportunity to develop a network of driven women working to support the rights and enrich the lives of women and girls.”

A key moment in the shared gifting process came when the participants were asked to share their funding decisions with the group. As each participant explained her own decision-making process and experience, many expressed a newfound appreciation for the perspective of being in the “funder’s seat” and making difficult funding decisions. One participant shared that the process helped her gain empathy and understanding for funders regarding the difficult decisions they have to make.

We also saw extraordinary interpersonal moments arise organically as participants expressed their gratitude for each other’s work and shared their financial grant decisions. These gestures added social and emotional value to what would have otherwise only been a financial grant transaction.

The women in the room showed an incredible spirit of generosity one could sense that day. One participant offered to introduce another to a potential donor, a rare occurrence in the nonprofit world. Another granted Circle participants access to her organization’s multimedia archive, filled with content created by female photojournalists. We heard planning begin for a diaper drive to support under-resourced new moms and an alert to a $100,000 challenge grant opportunity through Impact 100.

Lisa Truong from Help a Mother Out shared, “it felt like there was an abundance mindsight, as opposed to a scarcity mindset. Often times, non-profits compete with one another. I felt honored to be able to make decisions based on my personal values and preferences. The experience was a welcome respite from the normal process, not to mention a positive counterpoint to current affairs. I left inspired by the creative and impactful work my fellow participant organizations are involved in. We are not only grateful for the wonderful grant we were awarded but for the opportunity to participate in a more reciprocal resource gifting process.”

These sorts of personal contributions were hallmarks of this Circle. With each, these leaders demonstrated their commitment to women’s empowerment and grew a sense of trust with one another that allowed for openness to RSF’s new paradigm of grantmaking.

To see the full list of circle participants, click here

Afsana Hye is a program associate on RSF’s philanthropic services team.

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