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With Kavanaugh Hearings as Backdrop, Nonprofit Leaders Call for More Grants to Curb Sexual Assault

At a gathering of philanthropic supporters and charities in Los Angeles on Friday, nonprofit leaders called for donors and grant makers to commit more money to efforts to combat sexual harassment and violence against women.

Grant makers need to step up, speakers said at the #MeTooPhilanthropy session hosted by the Akonadi, NoVo, and Rosenberg foundations. “All work right now is women’s work,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, during a panel discussion on race and gender.

Graves said that women are integral to all sorts of causes — such as stimulating civic engagement, improving labor conditions, and shoring up democracy.

Foundations should understand that the causes and movements they fund are connected to work that women have been doing for a long time, Graves said.

“I think you now need to understand that it is women’s work,” she said.

Open Question

The meeting, which was broadcast on Facebook Live, was held a day after Christine Blasey Ford, a Palo Alto, Calif., psychology professor, fielded questions during a gripping Senate hearing about her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a high-school party in the 1980s. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.

Ford’s testimony and the drama surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination were cited often by speakers at the gathering of charities, representatives of 75 foundations, and individual donors.

“Right now the movement to end violence against women and girls is leaping like never before,” said Pamela Shifman, executive director of the NoVo Foundation. “As the events of the last week have shown us, progress is fragile and lasting change is far from guaranteed.”

The #MeToo movement has already changed the world, Shifman said.

“But philanthropy’s role in supporting this movement — that’s an open question. The answer lies in our hands.

Less Than 2% of Grants

The NoVo Foundation hosted similar meetings in New York in April and London in July.

In an interview Thursday, Shifman cited a finding from a 2008 study from the NoVo Foundation that less than 2 percent of grant-maker funds go toward work to address violence against women. “This past year, #MeToo has really been a wake-up call across every single sector, and it needs to be a wake-up call in philanthropy, too,” said Shifman in the interview. “What we know is ending violence against girls and women is essential to every foundation’s mission.”

Charges of Complacency

Grant makers that are not financing groups that seek to end sexual assault should ask themselves why, said Joanne Smith, founder of Girls for Gender Equity, a New York group that promotes the well-being of girls and women.

“You really need to reflect on why you are so complacent and how it is that you are in that position of power and privilege and won’t move or budge,” Smith said. “What have you internalized that doesn’t allow you to value the change-makers and value the shifts that survivors are telling you every single day need to happen within the movement?”

Smith called on donors and foundations to invest in the work activists and nonprofit leaders are already doing.

“You don’t need to create and innovate brand new things,” she said.

Smith touched on a common frustration for nonprofits asking foundations for money: that too many stipulations are attached to funding.

“Allow us to experiment and move the money where we need it without all these requirements,” Smith said.

Building a Movement

Other speakers said that the broader movement to support women needs to get more organized.

Alicia Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, suggested that the groups working against racism and sexual assault are not as tightly organized or well-financed as conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation. “We’re not resourced enough in the right ways to actually make it so that there’s a rhythm,” she said.

Investments needed to be made so that in key moments, “we can be like a choir. A good one, a gospel choir.”

Timothy Sandoval
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

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