Before Strategy Was Strategy

By Crystal Hayling

Crystal Hayling’s long and committed career in philanthropy includes a stint as the program director for the Los Angeles Women’s Foundation. The Los Angeles Women’s Foundation and the Women’s Foundation of San Francisco merged in 2003 to become the Women’s Foundation of California. Most recently, Crystal served as the President and CEO of the Blue Shield of California Foundation. In this blog post, which appeared on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, she addresses the critical question, why should I give to a women’s foundation.

When I was fresh-faced and just starting to work in philanthropy at a woman-focused community foundation, I made lists. I would write down the problem or issue I wanted to tackle, then make a list of reasonable solutions. For example:

Domestic Violence

  1. Make it a crime
  2. Lock up the criminals
  3. Get women legal services for safety & to pay for the divorce
  4. Provide counseling for the kids
  5. Get mom a job

Then I would look at the money I had available (never enough) and divide it equally among each of the reasonable solutions. Confident I was doing all I could to address the problem of family violence, I talked earnestly with the board of directors about the importance of our “multi-faceted” approach.  (Now, that word looks quaint, but trust me you used it a lot in the 80′s too.)

Next, I would turn to the giant map of Los Angeles we’d hung on the wall and divided into what we called neighborhoods, but which were really more economic descriptors than geographic locations—South Central LA (Compton but not Ladera), Westside (Venice, but not Santa Monica), Hollywood (but not West Hollywood).

We would push pins into the places where we made grants—red for violence prevention, blue for economic development, green for arts, etc.—and we aimed to distribute those pins fairly and evenly from the San Bernardino mountains to the shining sea.

I did due diligence – financial assessments and site visits – on every organization that received a grant. We gave project but not general operating support. And we considered ourselves partners with the groups we funded.

And that’s how we did it.

This was what we called our strategy if someone had asked us that question, which really no one ever did. Far more frequently, what people wanted to know was “why should I give to a women’s foundation?”

Why I could talk about passionately:

  • Because the status of women is a barometer of equality in any society
  • Because if women flex our giving muscles to demand that solutions have a gender lens we will develop better solutions
  • Because women are the backbone of financial decisions in most families and communities
  • Because well-educated women give a lot more of their joint wealth to their husbands’ alma maters than they do their own
  • Because sisters are doin’ it for ourselves.

The list went on and on.

At the core of the answers to “why?” was a belief that women didn’t want to be saved. Women wanted tools to make good decisions for themselves and their families. Women wanted the opportunity for hard work to result in something more than 63 cents on the dollar.

Read more on the Center for Effective Philanthropy Blog.

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