My Passion, My Philanthropy

lauren blog photoLauren Embrey on Giving Bold and ‘Now’
Author: Lauren Embrey (Member, Women Moving Millions)
Originally posted on August 9, 2016 on Women’s E-News

“There is no such thing as a lesser person.” That is the motto of the Embrey Human Rights Program at Southern Methodist University, and something I innately knew from birth.

When I was young, I wanted to drive a moped, but was told I couldn’t “because I was a girl.” I did not understand this. When I was a few years older, I was asked to train for the Olympics in swimming, but my mother’s response was, “Why would you want green hair and big shoulders?” I didn’t understand that either.

Then at the elite girls’ school I attended in Dallas, my hometown, the message changed. I was taught that I could accomplish anything any man could. I was not to consider myself “lesser” in any regard, and definitely not because of my gender.

Read more from Lauren here.

What’s In a Name?

What’s In a Name?cynda blog image
Author: Cynda Collins Arsenault (Member, Women Moving Millions)

As someone who grew up reading Little Women and Five Little Peppers and feeling that the way to happiness was to be poor and struggle together, I had “issues” with people who had money.  Attending Berkeley in the late 60’s only confirmed those issues.  When my husband’s business began to be successful, I definitely struggled with being part of the 1%. As I began my philanthropic journey, I saw no reason to have my name on donations and reveled in my “anonymity”.  I felt that by giving secretly I was beyond the “ego trappings” associated with the feel good component of philanthropy. But gradually as I became more serious about what money can actually DO and saw how other women were stepping into their power to have serious impact, I recognized that being public had its advantages too.

I like to think that I bring my whole self into my philanthropy. It’s not just about writing a check but trying to think strategically about the world I would like to see and how I can contribute to it. I am personally involved with most of the organizations I fund and firmly support their missions by sharing the work they are doing with others. This often means leveraging my donations.  I have found that by sharing my passions with others, I am often able to bring in additional funding for the organization.

I have also found that through my membership in affinity groups such as Women Moving Millions, Women Donors Network, and Beyond Our Borders I learn so much from the other women. I gain new insights into funding strategies, I learn about new opportunities and I experience the power of collective funding for greater impact. I am proud to have my name associated with others.

When my husband and I first started our philanthropy, I spent a couple years reading, researching and trying to figure out what to do. I read about social change, philanthropy, evolution, evaluation, peace, etc. and had an “aha” moment when I recognized that we live in a world that has been “male” designed. From a species viewpoint, there may have been a reason for this (strength, linear focus, survival, etc.) but now the world desperately needs what women have to offer (nurturing, collaboration, communication skills, etc).

This is not about women claiming their place at the table of existing power structures.  It’s about reaching that tipping point of women who create a paradigm shift to bring about a world that is more just, sustainable and peaceful. I want to be a part of that world and so I am proud to put my name out there and be “all in for her”.  Won’t you join me?

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Cynda Collins Arsenault is co-Founder and President of Secure World Foundation, an operating foundation working for the secure and sustainable use of outer space for the benefit of humanity and contributing to global stability on Earth. She focuses her personal philanthropy on women, peace and security. She is active with Women Building a Just Peace Circle in the Women Donors Network and part of the Women, Peace and Security Working Group of the Peace and Security Funder’s Group. She is on the family Boards of One Earth Future Foundation and the Arsenault Family Foundation.

Giving Out Loud

natalie lrGiving Out Loud
Author: Natalie Lynn Rekstad (Member, Women Moving Millions)

As I mark my 50th year on earth, I reflect upon a harrowing and rich “soul curriculum” that fuels a passion for impact, particularly around issues facing women and girls.  In short, our deepest passions often spring from our deepest wounds. 

I discovered this truth early, moved to action by seeing a filmstrip in my 3rd grade classroom of starving children in Africa.  By then, I’d already had my share of deeply painful experiences and I found it baffling that the teacher would share haunting, heartbreaking images with a room full of eight-year-olds, yet offer no way to help solve the problem.  I staged backyard fundraisers, which led to the realization that I didn’t have to sit with heartbreak, but could take action toward creating a better world.

A notable discovery was that I was resource-rich in a way that had nothing to do with money; in fact, at the time, my mother, four siblings, and I were living on food stamps and other government assistance.  While today I have financial resources added to my arsenal, my heart of service, strategist brain and grit trumps my bank account in terms of the level of impact I’m able to have upon the world.

This resource-richness is a cornerstone of effective philanthropy.  Giants like Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Melinda & Bill Gates, Abby Disney, Pierre & Pamela Omidyar and more have two key things in common:  They lead with humility and are strategically outspoken about their giving.  By putting a very public stake in the ground for the issues they want to help solve, they awaken others to their own potential as change agents.

Yet as I consider the journey toward impact, I admit my motives were not always lofty.  Having founded and run an arts-based nonprofit for a decade, I found it was a vehicle for recognition and accolades, landing me on magazine covers and in the national arts press.  I loved being behind the podium, aware of a “Look at me” quality that I grappled with.  It wasn’t a “Look at me, I’m so great” missive; it was a “Look at me, I have worth” plea.

The stories that shaped that need to be seen and valued are all too common among women of my generation who spent their early years being marginalized or worse. The more I suffered through those identity-shaping experiences, the more I developed a “Not on my watch” warriorship on behalf of others.  Yet, after bequeathing my nonprofit to the Denver Art Museum in 2011, I became an increasingly private person.  My ego sated, a servant quality to my philanthropy reemerged.  I found myself among the throngs of women who shy away from philanthropic recognition, feeling it sullied the purity of the intention.  I found peace in the decision to back away from the spotlight.

Within a year, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado invited me to share my story publicly to help inspire others to bold action and giving.  I initially declined for a number of reasons many private philanthropists identify with; but at the end of the day, I have a strategist brain and a voracious appetite for impact.  While I gave financially and served quietly, I realized I had taken my two most powerful resources out the narrative:  my voice and my ferocity.

And I felt like a hypocrite.  All my life I knew, deep in my bones, that if I lived during the Civil Rights movement, I would have marched.  If I had lived during the Civil War, I would have spoken out against slavery.  Yet, by flying below the radar, I stopped inspiring others to think about their resources, financial and beyond, diminishing my own effectiveness.  There is nothing to be gained for causes by keeping quiet about philanthropy, as it is a powerful call to action for others.  It is also an indescribable joy, bringing kindreds together in a fulfilling and world-changing way.  In the words of social impact leader Jonathan Lewis, “It’s as much fun as I have in public.”

The causes I care about need me to take my full space in the world.  I ultimately got out of my own way, taking bold action toward greater impact by launching Black Fox Philanthropy and joining Women Moving Millions.

While I don’t seek the spotlight, I no longer shy away from it because it isn’t really about me.  It’s about living a fully expressed life as a woman in an era that needs every woman’s voice at the table, at the podium, and in the halls of power that shape our world.  Together, we are a FORCE.

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Natalie Lynn Rekstad is an innovative strategist who helps raise vital funds for social change organizations around the globe via her consulting firm, Black Fox Philanthropy.  She is a frequent panelist, speaker, and resource for a variety of organizations on the topic of philanthropy.

An active supporter of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado since 2007, Natalie now serves as a Board Trustee, and her firm funds the scholarship “Black Fox Scholars,” rewarding high school girls for excellence in philanthropy.  Her ultimate vision: A world where men and `women lead together with full opportunity and equality. In addition to being a Women Moving Millions member, Natalie is an MCE Social Capital Guarantor, infusing $1 million in microfinance to women throughout the developing world; and is on the Global Advisory Board of World Pulse.