Last week, I co-hosted a group of thirteen thirty-something women to my home to discuss philanthropy and how we could each increase the impact of our giving.  The idea was to create a safe space for women who we knew were active in or thinking about philanthropy to exchange their thoughts and ideas on their philanthropy.  The goal was to learn from one another’s experiences and hopefully to ultimately increase the impact of our collective social sector actions. The women represented a range of experiences and knowledge around philanthropy and the social sector.  Some women were just beginning their journey and wanted to know how to get started or how they could become more involved.  Other women had taken jobs in the social sector and had integrated philanthropy into their careers.  And some women had increasingly become more involved with issues they cared about through serving on boards, volunteering, and even starting their own non-profits. It was a dynamic group of women to bring into a room together.

We stared out the conversation by going around the room and sharing some of our personal stories. At first I worried that this wasn’t tangible enough for people, that we needed to get into more substance and less personal narratives, but, as I listened, I realized I was deeply moved.  Some of the women, even those who I had known for years, shocked me with their stories.  They were doing such incredible things and yet I had never even known about their work.  I walked away from the evening wishing I had more opportunities to hear about what these women do in the social sector and thinking about what I had learned.  For me, there were three things that I keep thinking about:

  • We don’t talk about philanthropy enough—it was a treat for me to hear about the activities these women were involved with and I was shocked that I didn’t already know some of the amazing ways my friends were making our world a better place. I was also so proud and amazed by their work—why didn’t we talk about these things more?  These women were true leaders in their communities and doing really important impactful work and yet for some reason many of us had never shared our stories around philanthropy.  I keep thinking what a waste this is for all of us, we can learn so much from each other. Through our stories we can also inspire others to get involved and take action.  We need to talk about and be proud of what we are doing! I hope the women at my house walked away a little more willing to share their work and know that just by talking about what they do they can be a leader and make a difference by inspiring others.
  • Philanthropy is a journey—Putting thirteen different women in a room together made this incredibly apparent. Some women had just starting their journey and needed guidance on how to do this while others had already been experimenting or taking deeper dives into social sector activities.  No one in the room felt like they had arrived at a destination, claimed to be an expert, or knew what their involvement might look like a year or two from now.  It seemed more important that the women were thinking, experimenting, using their skills, learning, and feeling like they were somehow making a difference.  It also seemed that as women went through this process their yearnings to increase their impact also increased. How inspiring to know that you can start a philanthropic journey at any point in your life and that as you get deeper you will only continue to become more inspired and become more involved.
  • Philanthropy is so much more than just giving money—Throughout our conversation the topic of money was barely touched. People talked about the organizations they were most deeply involved with as those that they volunteered with or had a deep connection with.  The women seemed to define charity not as giving money but as giving themselves meaning time, networks, expertise, and then money.  Women were finding a deeper meaning their charity work and were drawn to places where they found this meaning.  This notion is inspiring because it means that all of us can be a philanthropist because we all have something to give.  It also means that for those that are thinking about giving away money in a meaningful way, that it will be most meaningful when you get involved and offer more than just money.