By Alyssa F. Wright, Artist, Activist and Author
Feminist was not a word you could say in my house growing up.
Whenever I mentioned Gloria Steinem or Angela Davis, my mother would throw a fit. I was repeatedly told, ‘how evil these women were’ and disruptive to ‘our way of life’, implying it would somehow interfere with our conservative Christian values in New England if women got paid as much as men or had access to affordable birth control. As I write this, I’m staring at a letter I have from my mother, one of our last communications in about five years, that states “your heart is misguided and you are being used to push an agenda” because I used to voice concern at home over friends I had who went on birth control to stop violent pain from endometriosis or got sexually harassed at their jobs.
I struggled with my relationship with my mother, before ending it in 2013, realizing that the ‘disruptive’ behavior of the Gloria Steinems of the world led to things like women’s safety and economic security. What woman in her right mind would want those two things for other women, right?! It became so obvious to me that my values were quite different.
That said, it was a proud moment when I pinned up my first Gloria Steinem poster in a little apartment in Northampton Massachusetts the week before my twentieth birthday. It was beyond powerful, adding her likeness to my living room wall, lighting a candle and reminding myself that fierce women came before me and so therefore, fierce shall I be!
My childhood days sparked a fire in me to fight for the safety and security of my fellow sisters on this globe, knowing I would always work to stand up against the systems that harmed our global sisterhood. I started in the arts, as an actor, activist & fundraiser, raising money and performing in progressive theatre productions throughout Eastern Europe. Moving to a social change fundraising firm in the Fall of 2011, I would spend the next few years working with dozens upon dozens of organizations from Utah to Uganda, creatively raising money, coaching development teams and making sure that therein, we always remembered this work was not about us, it was about the millions of women who needed agency and kindness to realize their full potential.
That said, I’m still fundraising. I’m still organizing and recently, I went marching.
So now here I sit, at 28 years old, faced with the Trump Administration threatening to destroy everything I’ve watched my mentors work on for decades and my young colleagues combat with grit and heart, 24 hours a day, seven days a week over the last few years.
Here’s what I’m realizing about all this after the Women’s March: it’s time to get FIERCE.
Below are my first few tips, whether you are a Development Director for a women’s rights organization or just feel called to fundraise better this year for a women’s cause that you care about. I think we all know that we can’t wait any longer to scale the reach and impact of our work for women and girls.
March on, Fierce Feminist Fundraisers!
Fierce Action #1: Talk about bold philanthropy in your family, especially if you’re white.
As a white woman, this is a big one for me. White women, we need to get better at talking about money within our own families and, discussing how we are moving it to causes that champion non-white women. One of the first questions I get when approached at the end of a fundraising training is “How do I ask my brother (father-in-law, cousin, grandmother, etc..) to prioritize social change in their philanthropy?” Nine times out of ten, it’s a white woman asking me this.
So here’s how: be honest as to why it’s hard to ask from the start of your first conversation. State why your afraid to ask for money and eliminate the anxiety around it from the beginning. Try starting with, “I’ve been nervous to discuss this with you for a while, but I feel a sense of urgency now to powerfully fund the mission of __________. Would you be open to a conversation about a gift this year to this work?”
Whether it’s a formal program that needs to grow to combat racial injustice or an arts- oriented project you just feel compelled to tour to the rust belt of the United States, do not be timid in asking for what you need to bring it to fruition. I know it’s scary to start this conversation within your family. Believe me. I’ve done it twice and each time I shake and sweat. But I know that I need to do it to create real change in the racial wealth gap.
According to Pew Research Center, the gap is just continuing to widen, with white households being thirteen times the median wealth of minority households. If you’re a white woman, learn to talk about transformational philanthropy within your family and let’s make sure we all rise up together. For more resources on how to do so, I encourage you to check out the work of Movement Netlab.
Fierce Action #2: Highlight the artist as activist
According to a recent report on Inside Philanthropy, one of the hottest trends on the rise is funding the artist as activist. Since funders are already looking to this space, build it into your conversations and programming. Feminist organizations need to be BOLD this year in messaging and mission. Inviting progressive artists to the table and highlighting their work in unique and compelling ways will not only open the door to new funding relationships, but also create a space for you to explore further within the mission as well.
Fierce Action #3: Be of true service to a cause
In the past few months, I’ve had friends in social change share that they are deeply considering whether or not they are fighting for the cause that is closest to their hearts. I do encourage reflecting on your own passion and purpose but I also believe that this is a time we, as feminists, must realize we are called to powerfully serve our vulnerable sisters. Ask yourself, “Is this work of service to the women in my community as much as it is what I want to be doing?” The answer may surprise you but dig deep and take a dignified approach to your own change making this year. Make it about more than just your personal passion. Surrender to the needs of your community and find joy in doing so. I do. Every. Single. Day.
We are #StrongerTogether. We need to #BuildMovements. So let’s get #RaiseBigMoney.