Natalie Rekstad on Claiming Your Superpower as a Female Philanthropist

The following post is authored by friend of Women Moving Millions, Kiersten Marek of Inside Philanthropy.

“What box?” Natalie Rekstad has a reputation for being an “outside-the-box thinker” who is so innovative, the box is no longer relevant.

She has advised dozens of local and global nonprofits, including the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, Campus Election Engagement Project, Pencils of Promise, Bridges to Prosperity, and World Pulse.  With her gift for reaching the hearts of donors to make big things possible, I wondered if she had any advice for women with lesser financial resources who want to become more involved in philanthropy.

“You have to look at your own life experiences to find your purpose, to figure out what unique perspective and power you can bring to bear on an issue,” she said. “So if you don’t have a lot of money, maybe the best way to be a philanthropist is to start giving in a way that feels vital to you, that feels essential. You might start by giving your time and gain experience from that,” said Rekstad, in a recent interview with Inside Philanthropy.

Read the original post here.

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?


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.


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.

“Band of Brothers”: The Very Young, Very Male Face of Boston’s Church Planting Movement

emily njAuthor: Emily Nielsen Jones (Member, Women Moving Millions)
Originally posted on July 20, 2016 on Missio Alliance

Did you know that since the year 2000, over one hundred church plants have been started in Boston, by over ten networks, most of which recruit young men from other states? Whereas the leadership table for women in evangelical churches here in Boston had been slowly expanding, these church planting initiatives being imported from other states have sadly shifted the tide.

The majority of these church plants are part of a growing “men’s movement” which defines spiritual leadership as exclusively male and sees the discipleship of men as the center of its church growth strategy.

Read more here.

In philanthropy trust is far more than a five-point word

The following post is authored by our partners, Debra Mesch, Ph.D., Director, and Andrea Pactor, MA, Associate Director, Women’s Philanthropy Institute

Trust Image WPI

Trust may be a five-point word in Scrabble but to nonprofits, it is priceless.  And, to women’s funds, trust in the women’s fund is a clear motivating factor for donors to support them as our new report, Giving to Women and Girls:  Who Gives, and Why? illustrates.

Researchers have long held that social capital, including trust, is an important factor in philanthropic behavior.  In our study of high net worth women who belong to a giving network, we found that high net worth women in general are more likely than their male counterparts to have a greater deal of confidence in the ability of nonprofits to solve domestic or global problems (50.4% vs. 33.8%).  The study also found that women who belong to a giving network have more confidence than women who do not belong to a network in the ability of nonprofits (54.2% vs. 47.4%) and individuals (54.5% vs. 39.9%) to solve domestic or global problems.

Now, for the first time, empirical evidence affirms that trust also matters to women’s funds donors.  Our study, Giving to Women and Girls:  Who Gives, and Why? found that donors to women’s funds saw these organizations as having particular expertise and trusted them to distribute grants effectively.

Donors reported that they gave to women’s fund because they

  • believe the women’s funds have the best connections and know which organizations in the community are doing great work;
  • trust the women’s fund will do the right thing; and
  • trust the women’s fund to deliver the desired result.

Trust is one factor that motivates donors to support women’s funds.  Our study also found other factors such as personal experiences and a desire for gender equality in society.  One donor was drawn to support women’s funds because they are “underfunded” and “underdogs.”  She mentioned as motivations for her support that these organizations “still aren’t even with men’s organizations.”  Another donor stated she supports women’s funds because “We have to have women who are empowered and have economic stability to be able to provide the next generations with stability.”

The more nonprofits understand what motivates donors, the better able they will be to meet donor expectations and to engage donors according to their interests. Building trust is reciprocal from the nonprofit to the donor and from the donor to the nonprofit.  While our new research illustrates the importance of trust in women’s funds to donors, more research is needed to better understand donors’ perceptions of that trust.

What factors contribute to building that trust?  What are best practices for nonprofits to build trust with donors?  What do donors look for in trusted nonprofit partners?  What happens when that trust erodes from either side?  How important are timely communications, accountability, transparency, and statements of impact to strengthen that trust?

This research report, Giving to Women and Girls:  Who Gives and Why? is the first in a series of studies we are working on with support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  We look forward to sharing new findings with you over the next several years.

Elca Grobler Found Her Calling Working With the Women of India

elca grobler group photo

Elca Grobler Found Her Calling Working With the Women of India
Author: Elca Grobler (Member, Women Moving Millions)
Date: April 2016

They say a dream is something you want to do but a calling is something you have to do.  I can still clearly recall the moment I met Bibi and was confronted with her life, her reality. She was being trained as one of our very first PeaceMakers and was sharing her own personal story of domestic violence. She spoke about the brutal daily physical violence by her husband, of frequently being locked up and starved and continuous sexual abuse. My heart was ripped open and has never been fully put back together again. Sadly, I found Bibi’s story all too common in India, and the stigma and shame around abuse meant that there were few services to protect women and girls.

It was 2011, my husband and I both ‘resigned from our careers’ in Sydney, Australia and moved to India with our three young children. Not knowing what I was going to do, but compelled to work in women’s empowerment, I started talking to women across the country about their most urgent needs. I was hoping to use my background in finance to design a program around financial literacy.

Having completed a Masters in Mathematical Statistics, 3-year Investment CFA and MBA and worked in Risk Management, Investment Banking and Funds Management in Johannesburg and Sydney the majority of my career, I had never expected my ‘stars-aligning’ moment to happen in the slum areas of the Old City in Hyderabad, India.  Yet there I was, faced with the most serious human rights issues in India and I knew, I could never again look or walk away.

Four years into this journey and through the support of my team – who continue to bravely lead innovative programs, that many are unwilling to try – evidence shows My Choices Foundation is making a real difference. Our two programs, Operation PeaceMaker and Operation Red Alert, work toward addressing two of the most pervasive and resistant to change human rights abuses – domestic violence and human trafficking respectively.

Operation PeaceMaker was founded in early 2012 directly addressing shocking statistics that close to 50 percent of married women suffer domestic violence. It’s a grassroots initiative that provides 100 percent free counselling, rights education and legal aid to victims of domestic violence. We train local women, called Peacemakers, to work in their communities and meet the challenges of domestic violence in a way that does not disrupt family, culture and religion.

Today Bibi is one of our 70+ PeaceMakers in the field, for her and many others this is their first skills training and job and a huge step towards self-empowerment. Collectively, we have already successfully helped more than 2,300 cases of domestic violence, invested over 80,000 hours of field support to victims and reached over 10,000 school girls. We currently have Counselling Centres in 5 strategic areas around our state, with more planned to open shortly. These centres are a place of refuge, support and counsel for many women & girls.

Working with these courageous women and girls each day, I personally draw courage to continue my work from the strength they have not to only help themselves but also to step up and help those around them too.

We strive for excellence in everything we do at our Foundation and firmly believe in the power of technology to harness the younger generation and include men in all our work. Our recent campaign won the Grand Jury Award for Women Empowerment at the Social Media for Empowerment Awards, 2016 and garnered the support of big name celebrities like world #1 batsman, South African cricketer AB de Villiers and Indian cricket captain, MS Dhoni.

An inevitable next step in our journey in India was to expand our work into the area of prevention of sex trafficking. Operation Red Alert addresses the horrific statistics that India is home to over 14 million of the world’s 27-30 million slaves, with around 80 percent of these victims being sold into forced sexual exploitation. The average age of an Indian girl trapped into a life of sexual slavery is now only 12 years old! Only 1 percent of these girls will ever get rescued – which is why Operation Red Alert’s main focus is on prevention and why we have launched India’s first national anti-sex trafficking helpline.

Human Trafficking is a cause that demands great urgency. I believe that if we don’t do better research and get better organised than the traffickers, then it is a cause we will never win. Operation Red Alert’s programs and messaging are based on the findings of groundbreaking research we commissioned through the Behavioural Architects of Final Mile (who have worked with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Indian Government and more). This research is being presented at ESOMAR in Tokyo this year, and we hope it will also inform other NGO’s work and help build a coalition effort to end trafficking.

Our team has developed what we call a 2-day ‘Safe Village Program’ in which we connect with all the stakeholders involved in the protection of the girl: the father, mother, young boys and the girls themselves. We have created the concept of a Guardian girl – in which we get young girls to ‘sign a pledge’ that they themselves will be the guardians of each other. In the 6 months since we started the Safe Village Program we have already rolled out over 140 program visits, in which we have equipped over 200,000 people across 4 regions. We’re currently operating in 3 states of India and will be starting in our 4th state, Karnataka, in June alongside our existing programs.

For me, one of the most gratifying parts of our work is when we are thanked by the girls themselves. We have received over a thousand calls already on our helpline and the majority of these calls were from the families thanking us for the work we do and empowering them to be informed and equipped on how to prevent trafficking. Just recently a young 12-year old girl stepped forward after our program and had the courage to speak up and ask us to help her stop her forced marriage planned for April 20th.

There is still a lot to do and each day brings its own challenges, heartaches and joy. Living in India is not easy at all and the work we do has a way of slowly creeping into your soul  – but the courage of all the girls we work with everyday gives us endless joy and strength and I cannot see myself doing anything else!

Elca volunteers all her time and energy to My Choices Foundation and is also one of the primary funders. She is pictured in the middle of the photo above.