Integrating Feminism Into Philanthropy - Exponent Philanthropy
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Integrating Feminism Into Philanthropy

For society to advance gender equity, intersectional feminism must become part of the mainstream narrative and mindset. Philanthropy is our opportunity to be change agents, so that this statistic increases: Just 1.9% of philanthropic dollars go toward women and girls, according to the “The Women and Girls Index: Measuring Giving to Women and Girls” from the IUPUI Women’s Philanthropy Institute. Even less funding is specifically allocated for women of color.

It is crucial to understand that feminism without intersectionality is not true feminism. Intersectionality, a term coined by Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, allows us to address and understand how intersections of oppression affect women of color, undocumented and immigrant women, women with disabilities and gender-nonconforming individuals of color. Integrating intersectional feminism is an intentional process and every funder has the tools and resources to make it happen.

Let’s Discuss the Barriers

The first step to integrating feminism is to let go of the fear of the word. Many people still feel uncomfortable identifying as a feminist, much less integrating the word into their work. However, it is something that a lot of funders are already doing, proudly! Help your board and staff by having a conversation about what feminism actually means.

Funders fear being perceived as political, or violating 501c3 rules, especially right now. A lot of issues, like the Violence Against Women Act, used to be considered bipartisan. But that doesn’t mean they are political just because they’re perceived as political. We don’t have to be afraid to fund issues that used to be more neutral. AND it is OK to fund political issues. We are change agents, after all.

Integrating intersectional feminism is not discriminating against men. This work is trying to remedy systemic inequality against marginalized groups, like women and especially women of color, who have been denied access to resources, services, educational and extracurricular programs, both historically and present day. To narrow the gap between privileged and marginalized groups, we need programs specifically designed for people who have been historically discriminated against and ignored. For example, a Girls in Engineering program that seeks to increase representation of women of color in STEM is not discrimination against men. It’s filling a gap.

Starting at Home

  1. Make sure you’re paying women and gender expansive individuals in your foundation as much as men in the industry, and that you’re paying women of color as much as white men and women. I asked for a 16% raise when I realized our feminist foundation was inadvertently paying me less than a man! Use Exponent Philanthropy’s Operations and Management Report as a starting point.
  2. Ensure that women of color are in leadership positions on your board, in your staff and on your advisory committees, and amplify the voices and leadership of women of color in your community, in your media, and in your broader philanthropic network.
  3. Add Gender Lens Investing to your investment portfolio or change firms to do so. Ask your financial advisor to screen out sexist companies and proactively fund companies led by women of color.
  4. Create or enhance gender equity policies in your company, such as:

Apply an Intersectional Lens to Your Giving

You can apply an intersectional lens to your giving in the following ways:

Audit Your Portfolio

Conduct an internal audit of your current portfolio to see how you can integrate gender and racial equity into what you are already doing. For example, how could you integrate intersectional feminism into economic success or homelessness? Create an RFP that specifically looks at relationship abuse, because 50% of women who are homeless have experienced relationship abuse. Or fund training on relationship abuses for staff that work at a shelter.

Encourage Grantees

Encourage grantees to integrate intersectional feminism. Many nonprofits are concerned about discussing their feminist initiatives out of fear that they will turn off funders. Encourage your grantees to acknowledge and highlight their intersectional feminist efforts in grant applications and reports, and to be proud. Put a note at the bottom of every RFP and LOI that says, “We encourage you to discuss your intersectional feminist programming, goals or approach.”

Grant Guidelines

Have grant guidelines that include gender and racial equity in every RFP, such as:

  • Programs must address the needs of low-income and underrepresented women and women of color
  • Preference for applicant organizations in which women are the primary decision makers, particularly women of color
  • Preference for applicant organizations that integrate gender equity into their personnel policies, such as robust parental leave, childcare, flexible work schedules and relationship abuse workplace policies

Funding Categories

We wanted to make sure that women from all walks of life have access to tools to advocate for change in their own lives. Yet right now, a lot of elite universities hold feminist academic discussions. This is what led us to supporting gender studies programs in community colleges.

Create intersectional feminist grant categories, such as:

  • Community College Feminist/Gender/Women’s Studies, Girls in Engineering, Legal Advocacy for Immigrant Women, Reproductive Rights and Justice, Women’s Economic Justice, Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls, Women in Public Policy, Media Literacy, Women Reentering the Workforce, Transitional Housing and Legal Services Programs for Survivors of Relationship Abuse, and #Metoo

Enlist Experts

If an intersectional feminist topic is not within your area of expertise, ask others, such as nonprofits, local professors, and programs that work on these issues. Pay them for their time and consult with local groups to make sure that what’s in your RFP makes sense for your community. Don’t craft RFPs without explicitly seeking out expertise — when you don’t consider nuance, there are unintentional, negative consequences. For example, when looking at legal advocacy for relationship abuse programs, one thing we include in our RFP is screening out perpetrators of relationship abuse, so perpetrators can’t get a restraining order before the survivor.

Pay Attention to Language

Be aware of the nuances of language. Don’t be condescending or paternalistic. We worked with a community foundation that talked about “giving girls the courage to leave abusive relationships.” While the intention is right, it is the wrong framing: many girls and women have the courage but lack the resources or fear retaliation — and the impetus for accountability should be on abusive partners in the first place. The language should focus on asking boys to stop being abusive, rather than inadvertent victim blaming.

Intersectional Feminism for Low or No Cost

You can integrate intersectional feminism into your philanthropy for low or no cost in the following ways:

Leverage Resources

A local community college asked us for a $900,000 grant to fund an engineering center. We said we would consider it if they integrated a $25,000 Girls in Engineering program, and included a plan to increase representation of women, specifically women of color, in their tech and engineering program. They said yes. This one move forced a change in the narrative in their community. And all their annual reports, press releases, and communications focused on women in STEM.

Add It to the Agenda

Add an agenda item to your meetings and ask your grantees to do the same. One of the community colleges who we partnered with to enhance their gender studies programs didn’t have any institutional money to contribute to the program. We asked them to come up with in-kind strategies to show their commitment. We suggested adding an agenda item at their regular meetings on what they’re doing for people who identify as women at their college. Do they have night classes for working mothers and parents, who are primarily women? Do they have any outlets for activism around issues that affect women and LGBTQIA+ individuals? Are they thinking about safety on campus around sexual assault and an avenue for justice in those cases?


Create collaboratives to bring together groups with shared goals for gender and racial equity. We paid for lunch and coordinated meetings for our Girls in Engineering grantees and our Gender and Feminist Studies grantees for three schools to gather and share challenges and solutions. Be an example and invite other foundations to join you on initiatives and funding opportunities.

Get Excited About Integrating Intersectional Feminism

There are many fears about what is happening in the world right now for gender and racial equity because of the current political climate. And many people feel helpless. But the beauty of being funders is that we’re not helpless — we can do something about it.

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About the Author

Nicole Baran is the founding executive director and board member of the Peggy and Jack Baskin Foundation, focused on reaching gender and racial equity. Nicole started in 2005 and lectured at Stanford University in the program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies for 13 years. She has a BA and MA from Stanford University and a MSW from Washington University in St. Louis.


  1. Diana Kutlow

    Great article, especially for the very specific and real-life examples that were included. At Hands of Peace, a nonprofit that brings together Israeli, Palestinian and American youth in dialogue, we are facing cultural issues around feminism and gender identity that vary between and within each group. Would love to worn with a Foundation interested in working with the half of our 700 alumni who identify as women to strengthen their connections and cross cultural understanding.

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