WIN CIRCLES: Book Club
Next Book Club: January 6, 2021
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.
This is a cross-cultural look at the ways that hierarchy, and hierarchical structures permeate and color our lives, and how caste has become synonymous with race in the US.
The Art of Relevance—Part II
WIN Book Club Discussion, 28 October 2020
Participants: Lynne Herndon (chair); Kristine Moore; Isabella Hinds, Laura McCabe; Maureen Vasquez; Leigh Johnson; Virginia Hager; Janet Stiegler
The Art of Relevance, by Nina Simon, has important implications for WIN and other nonprofits. This second meeting to discuss the book focused on how we can open our doors to more members, particularly people of color.
Several WIN members have asked over the years why we can’t get more African American women in WIN. One response they heard from Deloris Rhodes (active in NHC’s United Way, Democratic Party, and GLOW) was that she was aware of WIN and realized they are doing good things, but it was “not relevant to her priorities.” Maureen referred to Simon’s point that people weigh two factors when considering joining a group or attending an event: How much meaning does it give me? How much effort will it take? So you have to provide that meaning with as little effort as possible. And the effort you are willing to expend depends on how committed you are to the outcome.
Janet noted that Buffy Schwartz and/or Renee Gurganus (both of whom gave Zoom presentations on collective giving groups) pointed out that African American women typically like to work together to give to the underserved in their communities. They are attracted to groups with more “hands on” activities.” We might use our assets to enhance the hands-on opportunities that surface with the groups we support with funding. Or maybe our focus should not be on trying to get them to join WIN, but asking them serve as advisors/nonvoting members on our Board so we can better understand what matters to them and the people they serve.
Virginia Hager said people of color may be more interested in racial equality and social justice issues. Maureen thought that, if that were the case, the titles of our areas of giving (Education; Environment; Arts and Culture; Health and Wellness) may not resonate with diverse groups. They may favor issues to do with poverty and women and children. Kristine thought we tend to have a bias toward women and children in our grant giving, even within our four categories. Isabella suggested we run our Grounded Giving statement at the nonprofit community and ask if it resonates with them. (A Zoom Philanthropy Team meeting has since been scheduled for 16 November for this discussion.)
Lynne and Janet noted that we may see several grant proposals this cycle that explore social justice through art. Will such proposals make some WIN members uncomfortable? They may, but they may also have the greatest impact. Leigh said she actually joined WIN to be put in an uncomfortable position and broaden her perspective. Others may feel the same way.
Lynne said that some black artists we have spoken to say they are creating art, not “black art.” Isabella argued that whoever we give grant money indicates our priorities. We need to look hard at communities that have been less central to our giving than they used to be. WIN has a bias against the largest institutions, because our impact would be diluted and we also favor organizations that have a history of giving in the area they propose funding for.
Kristine shared that the Cape Fear Garden Club took on the controversial decision to do away with their antebellum dresses. They called and wanted WIN support, but it wasn’t clear what help they wanted. Should we collaborate in some way? Does that label us politically? We need to avoid being seen as advocates for any one political direction, lest we lose our 501.c.3 status.
Laura talked about using the Art of Relevance at the Arboretum, whose Board is white, retired, and heterosexual. They have some “almost comes” in the Hispanic and LGBTQ community. Next year they would like to get a Latino on their Board. For Black History Month the Arboretum Board had considered recognizing Black botanists. But the Black community said it was more interested in devoting the month to showing Black art in the gardens or creating a Grandma’s garden with jazz music. This was another example of listening to the community you want to recognize to find what they want and not assume you know what they need.
June, 2020: The Art of Relevance
The Art of Relevance, by Nina Simon, offers points that we can apply when evaluating organizations for grants, but it also has important implications for WIN. What is our impact in the community, and how might it be improved? How open are our doors to outsiders, and once inside, how do we keep people engaged and willing to share their skills?
The Book Club highly recommends this book to any WIN member who wants to learn how we can expand our relevance and become acquainted with the strategic choices WIN would face if it decided to be more than a 'one core, one door' funder.
Following are the key discussion points that surfaced as they relate to Simon's assertions (in italics).
Relevance and Community: "Communities are made of people with shared dreams, interests, and backgrounds. The more you understand them, the more easily you can unlock relevant experiences with them. You can build a bigger room together."
If we define relevance as "understanding community's needs," WIN still has some work to do. Placed on a continuum ranging from funder to philanthropist, WIN leans closer to the funder side. We are good at evaluating specific projects and measuring their potential impact, but to become true philanthropists, we should be helping to build the capacity of the organizations we fund. How do we help them improve their effectiveness and meet the needs of the broader community? What challenges do they face? To what extent do we help new organizations get started or get their footing?
WIN needs to get out and learn more about the potential organizations we want to fund. We can't just do that by accumulating a list of organizations with a particular focus. Only by immersing ourselves and listening will we get the right organizations to apply for our grants.
The WIN Circles, a subset of the Philanthropy Committee, are a step in the right direction towards getting to know the nonprofit organizations in our community better. Members of the Art and Culture Circle, for instance, are interviewing Rhonda Bellamy tomorrow for an overview of the Arts and Culture scene in NHC. It will also interview eight to ten leaders in various art and culture focus areas to understand where our funding might have the most impact.
Does having four areas of focus that rotate each year (education; environment; health and wellness; arts and culture) dilute our efforts to know the community's needs better? WIN established the four categories several years ago to counter the perception that we only funded projects of value to women and children. The different focus areas allow WIN members to become better informed about a specific area of philanthropy that they recognized was important but weren’t likely to investigate on their own. One book club member still leaned towards favoring women and children. Another thought the four categories were too broad, and that we did ourselves and the community a disservice by not narrowing our focus.
Opening Doors: If your work lives in a locked room with a tiny door, with only a few keys out in circulation…it doesn't matter how powerful the experience is inside the room if most people cannot or choose not to enter.
How might WIN attract new members? Should we be wedded to having each member contribute $600 each year? Can we lower the threshold or have people pay in installments. How would this affect the grant pool?
We might consider "junior membership" if the "effort" to be a full member is too great and discourages some people from joining.
Can women put in more work than money to be members? Can they offset a lower membership fee by giving volunteer time to one of the WIN committees?
Identifying the Almost Comes: Don't look for any outsiders. Look for those "almost comes"—people who might be inclined towards your content and your experience but for whom the doors are invisible or unappealing.”
Who are our "inside-outsiders," those WIN members whose social and personal lives exist within a different community that we would like to attract?
Can we do more to improve WIN's racial diversity and attract more women of color with a philanthropic interest?
Some people serve on the boards of other nonprofits whose input would benefit WIN. We should come up with a list of such people that we would like to approach. Ask them what they know about WIN and what barriers they see to joining.
A member cautioned that it might be hard to do a lot of external recruitment during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that we might focus this year on strengthening WIN internally.
Touching Hearts Inside the Door: Relevance gets people to…walk in the door, but it is meaningless without powerful programming on the other side of the door. If the door doesn't lead to valuable offerings, if nothing touches people's heart, interest fades, and they don't return."
Why don't some WIN members renew after one year? What aren't they getting once they walk into the room? For some, it is the cost of membership ($600 a year), but others say, "It wasn't a good fit." They don't explain what they mean by that.
How do we get more WIN members to participate on its committees? One member felt that we needed more active internal recruitment. She claimed that some people are interested, but we need to tap them on the shoulder. They miss out on some powerful experiences, such as serving on the Grants Committee, and we miss out on their expertise and knowledge by not recognizing them.
We need a database with WIN member skills and interests to better identify people for different tasks and committees and create fun activities that appeal to more WIN members' interests.
One Core, Many Doors: the strongest—and most difficult—path is for an organization to have one mission but many ways for people to participate. It takes open-heartedness and humility to open many doors. It takes trust to hold it together. The stronger your core, the more you can reach out with confidence.
Some people are attracted to WIN for the philanthropy or "process" piece, while others prefer the social/networking benefits. (Some people fall between the two.) The process piece, especially as it relates to reading and analyzing pages of grant proposals, is more work than some members are willing to give. They want to get their “meaning” with less effort. We have to find the right balance.
Can WIN mentor younger women in college or the nonprofit community? Many nonprofits sponsor college students for credit, and these students learn valuable skills in marketing, communications, finance. Conversely, companies often send their experts out in the community to provide mentoring on their client's turf. This engagement also increases the company's visibility, credibility, and understanding of community needs.
One member shared her experience of bringing the concept of philanthropy to schools and engaging them in philanthropic projects. Another suggested we mentor a high school or college student willing to develop our database of WIN member skills and interests.
2019 Area of Giving: Environment
Monday, April 20, 4-6 pm
BOOK: Greta Thunberg’s “No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference
This will be our first virtual book club meeting, so come relaxed and ready for an adventure
Please email Isabella Hinds at firstname.lastname@example.org for info on joining in!
January, 2020: The World is Blue
At its fourth meeting on January 13, 2020, the WIN book club discussed The World is Blue, by Sylvia Earle, first published in 2009. Although somewhat dated, the book had several thought-provoking messages.
Club members then segued into issues related to our local waters and resources, including fighting off-shore drilling, the defeated Titan project, the ongoing port expansion and its ecological impact, and the Wilmington Railroad Realignment Project. It discussed how these and other issues might surface at our environmental panel on February 4th: the State of the Environment in Coastal North Carolina. Suggestions were made for additional speakers and events in the spring to further educate WIN members on philanthropy and the environment.
November, 2019: A Path Appears
At its third meeting on Nov 4, 2019, the WIN book club discussed A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, published in 2014. The book, focused heavily on the developing world, made some points similar to those in the Doug Balfour book (Doing Good Great), such as working with locals who know the terrain and looking for the long-term impact a gift may have rather than just celebrating the fact of giving.
A Path Appears also talked about the benefits of hybrids—for-profit organizations assisting nonprofits to build scalable and sustainable models. Often nonprofits lack the corporate skill set (marketing, administration, training) that a for-profit can offer. When a nonprofit underinvests in overhead, it cuts corners in ways that can undermine its mission. Some are able to find donors who can pay for their overhead, allowing them to focus more on mission.
The book also made the case that assistance is most effective when it empowers women and helps young children. According to Kristof and WuDunn, more than 90 percent of education dollars in the United States are spent on individuals after the age of five, while 85 percent of a child’s core brain structure is developed before age five—something that affects the child for the rest of his life. Some WIN members said this fact convinced them to give more to organizations devoted to younger children than they have in the past.
While the book offers up many stories of transformative changes in the lives of those who have given or been given to, some of the more compelling chapters were devoted to the neuroscience of philanthropy. For instance, we all have an individual set point for happiness, around which we tend to fluctuate slightly, depending on what happens in our lives. One of the few things that actually raises this set point for happiness is giving to a cause larger than ourselves.
The group wondered, “Why did they write this book?” Our answers ranged from “they wanted to inspire us” to “they needed another potboiler.” But everyone agreed that our own habits of giving were in part changed by the ideas in the book and also by the authors’ practical suggestions and lists of organizations one can contribute to in the concluding chapter.
As always, the club tried to apply the discussion about the book to WIN’s activities—women’s empowerment in NHC, the revolving areas of our grants, our definition of impact, our grant criteria for “environment,” and our own feelings about gratitude. One positive outcome is that WIN’s book club will sponsor a fund-raising event for Team First Book at its annual holiday party in December.
Next book: The World is Blue by Sylvia Earle, date TBD in January.
Janet Stiegler, Lynne Herndon and friends at the November Book Club meeting
October, 2019: Soaring with Fidel
The book club found “Soaring with Fidel” by David Gessner a pleasure to read, a great story, and educational, too. Fidel is one of several ospreys outfitted with a telemetry device, and Gessner, obsessed since childhood with ospreys, follows his winter migration from Cape Cod to Venezuela. His journey takes him to several key passage points where flocks of osprey soar south on the energy generated by thermals and updrafts. During his odyssey, he meets many other birders and builds a community based on one passion: to see yet another osprey, to understand their habits, and to puzzle out how and why they take their extraordinary annual journeys.
Gessner is a master storyteller with a wonderful, self-deprecating humor, and it is simply fun to read about his adventures in travel as he hits all the migratory birding hotspots. Along the way, he meets an array of other people obsessed with ospreys. A theme that surfaces regularly in his story is excitement and happiness that comes with having a quest, an obsession with something. "It was exhilarating to simplify life into a quest. How often in this scattered, compromised life to we get to focus on one thing? How often do we get to immerse ourselves fully?" At the same time, he recognizes that reducing life to one thing is not actually limiting. Quoting John Muir, he says, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
Secrets known only to dedicated birders become the reader’s treasured information, but Gessner makes the science approachable for the lay person. It was also rewarding to see the magic that happened when both experts and amateurs came to gather on the osprey-watching platforms. "When things were going well..., it had the feel of a successful cocktail party, with strangers interacting and calling across the deck to each other, everyone doing something he or she truly enjoyed with like-minded people."
Underlying the story of his travels is a narrative about the need for periods of "nesting" and "movement" (avian and human) Gessner draws a parallel between osprey migration and human travel. "Migration," he notes, "is the real worldwide web, the closest thing that nature has to connecting the entire planet."
The story also illustrates how the passion of birders led to activism: it quelled the use of DDT in the 70s, which almost decimated the osprey population. Now these raptors are supported by a human chain from North to South America. Other human-caused dangers to ospreys are overdevelopment (which wipes out nesting sites), shootings (especially in South America), being hit by a car or truck, and electrocution (when they land on power lines during the rain.)
From one of Gessner's contacts we also learn about the economics of birding: birdwatching is an $8 billion dollar industry, more than hunting and fishing combined. When you try to convince a place to put land aside for environmental purposes, you have to emphasize the economic benefits.
Gessner begins his book by saying it is not a book about birds, but about the pursuit of human happiness. By the end of the book, when Gessner observes Fidel back in his nest again after a 7,000 mile journey, he shares a range of feelings about him: admiration, wonder, kinship, and definitely happiness. This is a deeply charming book which can be read on more than one level. For environmentalists, it will be enough to know that passion for ospreys is alive and well.