January 24th, 2011
January 24th, 2011
I was afraid to be bold in my 20s. The first leap I took was moving from LA to NYC – far from my family of origin, to have the space to become myself.
My husband and I started a family foundation in 1991 because it seemed like a good thing to do. The next year I went on the NY Women’s Foundation board. On this board you don’t just read proposals, you go to Coney Island and talk to ex-heroin addicts about HIV and Prostitutes. I learned a ton.
I didn’t travel far when our four kids were little, but I traveled to all sides of my city. In New York, it’s all here. My leash made me go micro before macro. I saw the local political landscape. I got onto a zillion nonprofit boards and volunteered in little organizations. I got to see what people were stressed out by, whether lack of serviceable office equipment, or rats and guns.
When I finally traveled overseas, to Liberia and Egypt, I was stunned -- both by the severity of the problems, and by how people had the same struggles all over the world. The issues at job-training programs in Morocco were the same ones I heard in New York. I’m glad I first took the time to learn deeply about the problems at home.
With our family fund, called the Daphne Foundation we did something smart. We took the time to list the grantees that really moved us and thought about why. During the reflection process it was torture to say no to requests, but we needed time to get clear. We discovered that we liked to focus on ‘adolescent’ organizations: groups that are no longer “the flavor of the month” for funders but they haven’t reached yet institutional stability. Equipped with this focus, we went seeking our life partners. We have been funding some of the same groups now for 10 years. The Daphne Foundation, now endowed and giving $850,000 a year, has been a third of my total giving.
I recently self-financed an incredible film by and about women peacemakers in Liberia called Pray the Devil Back to Hell. I am happily using my last name to get it publicity, glad that I can put both my money and privilege to such powerful use.
The position I am in in life is sometimes challenging. I don't enjoy that many people are terrified of me, if not because I'm wealthy then because I have a famous family name. The more people are afraid of or intimidated by me, the less they tell me the truth and the harder it is to truly connect. Every room I walk into I am seen as holding the checkbook to solve everyone¹s problems. Sometimes I feel like I'm going to die from all the people who want money from me. But if that's the price for engagement and self-respect, I'm willing to pay it.
A lot of people give away the froth on their cappuccino. Why stop there? Over the past ten years, I give all the income I don’t spend. I’ve given away about a third of my net worth, although it has come back to me as quickly as I’ve given it away. I’ve started making million dollar grants payable over four to five years.
But bolder giving isn’t just about grant size; it’s about being out in the world and working with other people. I’m a far richer person because of it.
| Northeast | 40 to 59 Years Old | $10-$25M | at least 50% | Inheritance |
| International | Social Justice | Impact | Passion | Joy |
Posted on April 26th by Peter Choo
I have viewed PTDBTH several times and our organization, Rebuild Africa, which is working in Liberia has benefited from the impact this documentary has made in informing others of the recent history of Liberia and the dignity and power of its people, especially its women. Thank you for your philanthropy in its many forms!
Posted on January 28th by Anne Ellinger
Wonderful call yesterday with Abby! You can listen to the recording on Bolder Giving's Past Events pag.e (This will be probably be called "Archives" on the redesigned site -- coming soon!) On the call I named several resources about constructive cross-class dialogue and promised to write them here:
Organization "Class Action": www.classism.org
Book "Class Matters" by Betsy Leondar-Wright
Book "Bridging the Class Divide: And Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing" by Linda Stout (also google her past and current organizations)
Training work of the organization "Be Present"
Feel free to name others!
Posted on January 27th by Christopher Hayes
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on giving.
Your skepticism of the idea of limiting risk when giving by only funding well-established organizations and proven concepts is refreshing to hear.
The GELL Project @ PS41 would not be happening if we did not have supporters willing to take a chance on a new idea. Oddly, business and finance people often ballyhoo innovation and know that risk management runs parallel to the opportunities risk offers. In fact, they are able to hold these conflicting thoughts in balance when it comes to making a buck...and yet, when it comes to philanthrophy, first-of-their-kind enterprises by "unproven dreamers" are dismissed far too easily, as your Liberian Light Bulb story illustrates all too well. Heck, if they'd told that to Edison back in 1879 where would we be now?
Now that The GELL Project @ PS41 is under construction, I am getting calls from others, including manufacturers and business people, who want to replicate the concept elsewhere. One group even wants to build another NYC GELL Project pro bono in an underprivileged neighborhood. So now the challenge has morphed, from getting it done, to getting the NYC School Construction Authority to scale -- which is no less daunting but equally worthwhile.
So thank you for encouraging people to step outside their comfort zone and fund people and ideas that will have real impact and value, regardless of whether it was a "sure" thing to begin with.
Posted on January 26th by Rita Henley Jensen
I am not a donor but what is called in the trade a grantee. As such, I have met many wonderful, profound, creative donors that make me grateful that I have had a chance to be in the funder-seeking role and ahd the obligation and opportunity to reach out to them. I have known Abby for nearly ten years now and each and every time I speak to her or hear her speak, I am grateful again that I have had the privilege. I hope you all feel the same way.
Rita, editor in chief, Women's eNews
Link to our piece about Abbby:
Posted on January 21st by Linda Springer
Thanks for sharing the development of your giving approach. At Cleveland Social Venture Partners, we help individual donors (our partners) get in touch with their values and learn to give smarter, and we provide operating support (financial and free consulting) to nonprofits.
We call it engaged philanthropy. I plan to share your essay with out donor volunteers.
Cleveland Social Venture Partners
an affiliate of SVP International