The giving circle movement in the United States has grown rapidly in recent years and gained traction nationwide, even while other forms of individual and household giving have shown decline. According to Nonprofit Quarterly, there are currently around 1,600 giving circles in the United States which have reportedly given out about $1.3 billion over the past two decades.
Catalyst is proud to have several vibrant giving circles included in our membership community. In recognition of Women’s History Month we recently sat down with Women Give San Diego’s co-Presidents (Stephanie Korszen and Sara Vaz) to learn more about what drives their work, moving from funding with a gender lens to an intersectional racial and gender lens, and the magic behind their giving circle model.
Q: How have Women Give San Diego’s priorities evolved over its history? In the past year?
A: (Sara) While we have adapted our grantmaking processes over the years, we have remained steadfast in our support of programming impacting the economic self-sufficiency of underserved women and girls in our local community. In the past year, we recognized that the pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to our nonprofit partners. We quickly pivoted our grantmaking strategy to provide general operating support rather than programmatic support and moved up our timeline to get the funds quickly out to our partners. We have been headed down the path of trust-based philanthropy for years and the pandemic sped up our evolution in this regard.
Q: What are the key barriers you see to women achieving economic self-sufficiency in our region?
A: (Sara) While the barriers to full economic participation by women were many before the pandemic, they are even higher now. Women bore the brunt of the challenges the pandemic has posed in regards to involuntary job loss and voluntary job loss to care for children no longer in school. The job losses and economic setbacks that women are now facing could take decades to recover from. We are doubling down on our support of programs that enable all women to still participate in the economy, including funding child care and virtual learning support.
Q: The WGSD model is unique in that you are not only working alongside grant partners, but you’re also serving one another through mentorship and relationship development. Can you talk a little bit about your approach and the philosophy behind it?
A: (Sara) We were founded with a very unique, inclusive model, recognizing that women just starting out in their careers could not afford to be members of traditional women’s giving circles. Our membership donations are based on age tiers so membership is attainable for women at all levels. Having a diverse and inclusive membership allows for rich mentorship opportunities and deep personal relationships. In 2020 we really recognized that our membership was not as diverse as the communities we serve so we have worked hard in the last 12 months to jumpstart our fellowship program and provide a series of very meaningful DEI trainings to our members and leadership team. This is work we will continue to have a deep focus on in the coming years.
Q: What is one thing you wish all funders did/knew when it comes to funding with a gender justice lens?
A: (Sara) That you have to be intentional about it. Women Give San Diego was founded because at the time no other women’s giving circles in San Diego were funding programs that focused entirely on women and girls. The amount of philanthropic funding that goes to organizations and programs that focus on women and girls is tiny. We are very intentional not to stray from this important work and to advocate for dollars to be spent on this work.
Q: Can you speak to the intersection of gender and racial justice? How does WGSD prioritize racial equity?
A: (Sara) We are recognizing that we have a lot of work to do here, as many other organizations have also realized over the course of the past year. Again, it is the intentionality that is critical. We’re working to ensure that we are looking closely and reaching out to fund programs run by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) women, and programs that serve BIPOC women and girls. This is a critical focus for us this year and will be in the years to come.
Q: You are both women working in traditionally male-dominant fields for your day jobs. Have your personal experiences helped shape your work with Women Give? If so, how?
A: (Stephanie) Being in the medical device field with engineering degrees, I’ve grown accustomed to having to work harder and mention my credentials more, as compared to my male colleagues. It reminds me of how much more work there is to be done to level the playing field, in terms of supporting economic self-sufficiency for women and girls. Beyond my individual experiences, the unique membership composition of WGSD aims to bring together a wide range of perspectives, including those in the nonprofit sector, others in industry, some who are retired, consultants…the list goes on.
Q: Did you have female role models growing up who helped shape your view of what’s possible for your own lives? Who were they?
A: (Stephanie) I feel lucky to have had many strong female role models growing up, including my mother who paid her own way through an engineering degree (when very few women were in the field) and then went on to pursue her JD. She’s navigated her way through male-dominated workplaces, and also taught me that it’s okay to step back from your career for a bit to prioritize personal life and family – or not, women don’t have to conform to any preconceived child-rearing mold! I learned about the importance of philanthropy and the power of giving circles from her, too. The best part of becoming successful on an individual level is the increasing ability it provides to help others reach their full potentials.
Q: You’ve got a crystal ball looking 20 years into the future. What has changed for women in our region?
A: (Stephanie) Ideally, we’ll have narrowed the wage gap – particularly for Black, Indigenous, and women of color in our community. I’m hoping that we see more women-owned businesses, as well as more women in leadership positions. With continued work from WGSD and other organizations in our community, I envision that we’ll have made progress towards providing more services and support to lift up underserved women in our community. The pronounced impact that the pandemic has had on women has set us back, but will hopefully motivate us to work even harder.