Washington Area Women's Foundation

Women Moving Millions: What giving a million gave me in return.

Today marks a huge day in women’s philanthropy—the official launch of the National Women Moving Millions campaign.

This campaign is the first time that women’s funds from around the world have come together—through the Women’s Funding Network—to raise more than $150 million for women’s funds around the world.  From women giving $1 million each.  In all, the campaign is designed to infuse women’s philanthropy with enough money to bring its totals to the $1 billion range.

But the campaign holds special meaning for me, since $1 million was my first significant gift to any organization, and it was a big step. My $1 million gift was an investment in Washington Area Women’s Foundation, and I sincerely believe that it changed me as much as it changed them.

Neither of us were very seasoned at the time, in 2004. They were a young organization still, and it was the first time they made a really big ask of a donor. And it was the first time I stepped up to really act upon my vision, on my true passion not only to give, but to really shift my community.

It felt bold, it felt daring, and it felt risky when I made my $1 million contribution to Stepping Stones, an initiative with a range of strategies to create self-sufficiency for women, especially single mothers.

A new initiative. An untested initiative.

I had no idea if it would work. I only knew that as a single mother who went to law school when it was tough for women to do so, it felt right to invest in other single mothers, women who may not have the resources I did.

Today I think back on that gift, and I remember my thinking when I made it. How I had just read Rambam’s Ladder by Julie Salamon and learned of the Eight Stages of Giving, or the rungs on the ladder.

Salamon provides a thoughtful exploration of each one of Rambam’s steps, from the lowest kind of charity-giving (begrudgingly), to the highest form–the gift of self-reliance, so that the recipient, through a loan or a job, will not have to ask for help again. 

The highest rung is all about charitable actions aimed at breaking the poverty cycle and enabling the poor to establish themselves as independent and productive members of society.

But many things were flying around in my head.  How much to give?  How do we know if our gifts are being used wisely?  Is it better to give anonymously? 

Rambam argued that giving at the highest level often requires that you don’t remain anonymous. So I made the decision to actually use my name.

This gift went far beyond writing a check. It was a way of seizing my own power, of taking responsibility for a significant decision and investment, and it required me to jump in, to learn, to become an incremental part of the success of this initiative.

Today, Stepping Stones is on fire. It’s changing lives every day, providing women with training and access to jobs, the opportunity to save money and buy their own homes. The women emerging from programs funded by Stepping Stones are changing the landscape of their own lives, and of our entire community.

When I sit and listen to the stories of women who have transformed their lives by entering fields in construction or law enforcement, fields they never thought they’d be capable of entering, I can’t help but see myself in their stories.

Because whether you’re a philanthropist or a single mom working towards a better future for your family, we are all changed when we do something outside of our comfort zones, bigger in scope than anything we’ve ever done before.

Women Moving Millions is so exciting for me not only because it’s a first, and it’s bigger than anything anyone has ever imaged for women’s philanthropy, but because I see such potential in the women who will emerge, many for the first time, to step up and invest their success, their wealth, their resources, their voice—with power, with certainty, with impact—in other women.

I know the adventure that awaits them, and I can see, just from my experience here in Washington with The Women’s Foundation and Stepping Stones, the rippling impact that this is going to have on our communities, on our country, on the world.

Women’s philanthropy—and the power it has to change lives and communities—is about to be lit on fire. And we’re all about to feel the warmth and light of it.