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The nonprofit sector is the third-largest sector in the country, however, that hasn’t translated to robust change for communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic instability of recent years. This disparity has sparked a rallying cry: It’s time for philanthropy to change.

The Boston Women’s Fund recently held this year’s first virtual gathering in our Getting Proximate Series: The New Faces of Philanthropy. This vibrant roundtable event featured four women of color working to revolutionize the philanthropic sector: Chastity Bowick, Executive Director of Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts INC; Dr. Makeeba McCreary, President of The New Commonwealth Racial Equity & Social Justice Fund; Lisa Owens, Executive Director of The Hyams Foundation; and Giselle Ferro Puigbo, Executive Director of Brookline Community Foundation.

United by their fight for liberation, our panelists discussed their vision for disrupting philanthropy by dismantling harmful systems to create real, lasting change in communities of color. Here are the night’s top highlights.


Changing philanthropy to better serve community partners requires a mindset shift Dr. Makeeba McCreary called “unphilathropizing” — creating new practices that differ from how philanthropy has traditionally operated. It’s easy to reflexively fall in line with “the way things are done” in the sector, but one step toward breaking from the norm is to develop a habit of re-examining your day-to-day actions. What do you need to do differently to create different outcomes?

“In a healthy and productive way, I’m constantly questioning myself in the day-to-day,” says Giselle Ferro Puigbo, Executive Director of Brookline Community Foundation. “When I’m having conversations or making decisions, I think: ‘am I being complicit or am I actively doing something different?’”

Reimagining Partnerships to Create Balance

The simple truth that community organizations rely on foundations for financial support creates a power imbalance that, if left unexamined, can hinder an organization’s ability to thrive and drive change. It’s time for foundations to view grantees as true partners and acknowledge that community leaders have the expertise necessary to best address the problems they’re working to solve. The panelists referenced the saying, “do nothing about us without us” as a driving force in their work. As foundations determine how funds are allocated, people with relevant lived experience must have a seat at the decision-making table.

“I don’t see a lot of me in philanthropy, and that’s something I want to disrupt as well,” said Chastity Bowick, Executive Director of Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts Inc. “I’m tired of going to these organizations and experiencing the same thing: a cis-gender white man telling a person of color how to distribute resources to a community that they’re from. There are so many different things that we need to disrupt that I think: can we just tear the whole thing down, start over, and rebuild it?”

Lasting change comes from balanced partnerships. Foundations can move in this direction by rethinking how they structure their relationships with grantees. Consider alternatives to processes that require your grantees to ask for resources or prove that they’ve earned your financial support. Instead, Dr. McCreary suggested, you could ask each grantee how they would like you to measure their success.

Lisa Owens, Executive Director of The Hyams Foundation, centers the foundation’s partnerships on asking “What do you need from us, and how can we best support you and your work to build power?” and “What do you need from the rest of philanthropy? How can we use our relationships to organize other funders and philanthropy to build a strong movement?”

Owens takes this position with Hyams’ partners: “We are with you for the long haul. We are with you until we win. If we are with you until we win, then we don’t need all the bells and whistles. We don’t need you to prove your existence.”

Address Long-term and Short-term Needs

Understanding the root causes that drive the needs people have today is critical. This makes creating long-term strategies while meeting short-term needs necessary for change. One approach is to aim for driving multi-generational impact — What would you do differently with that goal in mind?

Funding organizing is another method. Community organizations working on base building are by necessity addressing both long- and short-term needs. While meeting individuals’ daily needs like housing, transportation, and health care, these organizations are also working to change the very systems that caused the challenges their communities are facing. While receiving services, individuals are organized into a long-term movement that builds their leadership and creates capacity for them to organize their community, which begins multi-generational systems change.

Lastly, supporting infrastructure is immensely helpful, as well. Funding communications, IT, and development staff today can impact communities for decades.

Tips for Successful Leadership in this Sector

The panelists agreed that their roles require ample support, which can be an anchor if you find yourself facing the “glass cliff.” Create your own safety net comprised of people inside and outside of philanthropy. Consider setting up a weekly call with a colleague to discuss your challenges and your wins. Lastly, board support is important, too. Their understanding of white privilege, systemic oppression, the root causes of inequities, and the identity-related challenges you may encounter in your leadership role can help bolster your success.

Closing: Black Joy is Revolutionary, too

The evening closed with each panelist sharing how they are finding Black joy. Some discussed the power of countering disheartening mainstream depictions of Black life by sharing and centering positive, beautiful Black images, photographs, and art. Others found joy in letting their authentic self shine in spaces not traditionally meant for people of color and knowing that doing so opens doors for others. One panelist is creating a collective for women of color in philanthropy and exploring how they can best support one another.

The way forward requires bold ideas, radical imagination, deep listening, and each other.

Thank you to all of our panelists for sharing their wisdom and to our partners at PNC Bank, who sponsor this Getting Proximate series! To hear more on disrupting philanthropy and how lived experience impacts each of our panelist’s work, watch our conversation in full here.

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Updated: Dec 1, 2021

Through this newsletter issue, we launch a new chapter in our history and we are pleased to share that story, together. Read on to learn more about our progress in the last year, meet our board members, staff, and partners, as well as discover how you can help keep our momentum going.


“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

— Lilla Watson, visual artist, activist and academic

Thirty-eight years ago, five women dreamed of radically transforming the lives of women and girls. Their fervor sparked a flame for uniquely serving the Greater Boston community, a flame that is needed now more than ever and that we are keeping lit today through our dedication to discovering new ways to make an impact.

With the unwavering leadership of our board, this year, the Boston Women’s Fund strengthened our donor base, added eight new board members, doubled our staff, and began exploring a youth leadership initiative. We also held six convenings with leaders creating systemic change to unite the grasstops with the grassroots. Together, we discussed race, the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, the racial reckoning, and the importance of funding women+ and girls-led programs, and we listened to and learned from the transgender and immigrant communities on how to be better allies. Additionally, for the first time in our history, we were able to provide an automatic second year of funding to our grantees and welcomed three new grantee partners, including an intermediary that supports Black elderly women. I’m thrilled at all our grantees and team have achieved!

As I close my first year as executive director, I’d be remiss to discuss what we’ve accomplished without also sharing what I’ve learned. This year has offered key lessons that I will surely take with me.

I quickly learned that if you have not fundraised, you really should not give fundraising advice. (Natanja of past years, I’m talking to you!) During my 15 years in philanthropy, people asked for all kinds of fundraising advice, and I gave it freely — without ever having raised significant dollars! Albeit from the privilege of representing a fund (this work is 10 times harder for grassroots leaders), I’ve since come to know the depth of skills, operations and planning that fundraising truly requires.

Secondly, this year reminded me that people matter over problems. In building relationships with our grantees amid a pandemic and racial reckoning, BWF could no longer do “business as usual.” We had to create space to authentically check in, ask “how are you really doing?” and share in turn. Our eyes are focused on liberation, but we can not be liberated without healing the wounds we’ve all developed over the last 18 months. We will continue to deepen our relationships with all who partner with us and we’ll do so while holding their humanity first.

Beginning work as a new executive director of color is difficult enough, much less amid spotlit police brutality and a pandemic. But despite these challenges and my proximity to them, I feel incredibly lucky to be here, right now, in this moment, to lead an organization that has never wavered in its beliefs and values the innovation and solutions that come from our community.

We are indebted to our grantees and all who support us. The incredible accomplishments we made this year were only possible because of you. I hope you enjoy reading some of the highlights.

In Solidarity,

Natanja Craig-Oquendo

Executive Director

Together We Convene Our Voices - BWF Newsletter (Digital) (1) (1)
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Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Getting Proximate Conversation Series presents: The New Faces of Philanthropy. A conversation on the impact of lived experience, disruption in the sector, and the fight for liberation.

Here is the link to RSVP to our next convening - hope to see you there!

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