As Black History Month comes to an end for 2022 and we launch into Women’s History Month, Cause Effective reflects on the complicated history of people of color and philanthropy. Inspired by the Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow, Cause Effective will be dedicating space through our work to highlight our incredible clients. Most notably, we are reflecting on how they have been resourcing their communities. The rich history of identity-based philanthropy and fundraising, and female-led philanthropy, lives within these innovative, mission-driven, community centric organizations. The EcoWomanist Institute (EWI) and the Unified Vailsburg Services Organization (UVSO) exemplify this philosophy through their fundraising successes that are rooted in the unique value and impact of their missions.
The EcoWomanist Institute (EWI) is a nonprofit providing restorative and healing justice to communities, founded by Black women FOR Black women and women of color around the world. The mission of the EcoWomanist Institute is to increase the inclusion, ecological awareness, and environmental leadership of African American women within the ecospirituality and ecojustice narratives. Cofounded by Valerie Rawls and Veronica Kyle, their combined expertise at the intersection of sustainability initiatives and gender issues is extensive. Veronica participated in Cause Effective Preparing the Next Generation (PTNG) program, Focus on Fundraising, which is offered to executive directors of color. Through the coaching component to that program, Cause Effective was able to deepen the engagement with EWI.
One of the EcoWomanist Institute’s core programs, the Emerging Leaders & Mentorship (ELM) program, aims to nurture the growth and leadership of Black women in sustainability and environmental justice. Environmental injustices disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities, yet they are often under-represented in mainstream sustainability circles. Additionally, typical leadership programs almost never adequately address the unique needs and skill set of Black women in environmental spaces. Customized to meet the needs of cohort members, the program is designed to ensure that at the conclusion, participants are adept not only at successfully navigating policy, community, and economics needed to support their collective work, but also in cultivating resilience—personally, professionally, and for the communities they serve.
Through the giving circle model, EWI uses collective philanthropic action for the benefit of the communities they serve. “A giving circle is a simple but profound model for like-minded folks to pool their time, talent, and treasure, and decide collectively where to give. EWI is using this method of engagement to share and advance the work of the EcoWomanist Institute. Say the co-founders and co-visionaries, “Via our EWI Giving Circle, we are able to integrate philanthropy and social impact with existing relationships and our community of members and supporters. The $20,000+ generously donated last year supports all of our programs including EWI’s Black Women Emerging Leaders & Mentorship (ELM) program 2022 cohort.” Joy Webb, who is leading this effort on behalf of EWI and has been doing intentional collective giving work for over the past decade, has shared that “a giving circle’s impact goes far beyond just dollars—members truly become advocates and change-makers for their chosen causes.”
Another Cause Effective client, Unified Vailsburg Services Organization (UVSO), has a long-standing mission “to create a stable and compassionate community.” Timelessly relevant, their mission captures the commitment to be responsive to the ever-evolving needs of the community. Reflecting on philanthropy, UVSO’s leadership, led by Executive Director SanDonna B. Jones, sees philanthropy as a mutually-beneficial partnership between funders and grantees – an investment in changing people’s lives. There’s no us-them or hierarchy.
Anchored in Newark, New Jersey, UVSO offers a myriad of services including after-school programming, affordable housing management, neighborhood planning, community organizing, and food distribution with a partner agency – Tree House Cares. UVSO’s early childhood education component embodies the comprehensive impact that UVSO has in the community and seeks to expand. With two (2) daycare centers and two (2) pre-schools, UVSO serves hundreds of infants, toddlers, and children – and their families. Although child development and education occur within the classroom, the life-impacting work is also achieved through conversations with parents, understanding and working to address students’ non-academic needs (i.e., the “whole child”), serving as a resource for families, and more. The early childhood education program (similar to the food distribution initiative to address food insecurity) was a significant relief to families during the pandemic. Children needed their academics, parents needed reassurance that their children were safe, and both needed some semblance of normalcy. Reopening in a hybrid capacity early in the pandemic afforded families stability and peace of mind during an extremely unpredictable period, and enabled parents to return to work. This important intervention epitomizes UVSO’s mission to create a stable and compassionate community.
Stay tuned throughout Women's History month, and the rest of the year, as Cause Effective carves out space to highlight our client organizations, current and alumni, who represent diverse missions and subsectors, while also focusing on the richness of intersectional impact within the communities they serve.