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Jun 28th, 2023

Insights from BIPOC Women in Philanthropy

Why creating a culture of wellness matters.


Gohar Chichian
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From leading major foundations and corporate giving programs to working on the front lines of social service organizations and community-based groups, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) women in philanthropy are making an invaluable impact. Yet, BIPOC women in philanthropy are shouldering a huge burden at the cost of their own well-being.

How intentional is your foundation in supporting women and BIPOC women in philanthropy?  Internal foundation staff strategies, external grantmaking, and community building are strengthened by putting well-being first. We hosted a candid discussion with BIPOC women in philanthropy on how to start, elevate, and broaden support for roles and voices for women of color in philanthropic work.

The conversation was led by Sha-Kim Wilson, Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships at the Tides Foundation.

Our guest speakers included:

  • Aiyana Marcus, Senior Program Manager, Charlottesville Area Community Foundation
  • Amanda Andere, CEO, Funders Together to End Homelessness
  • Chika Onwuvuche, Program Officer, Washington Area Women’s Foundation

Watch the recording here.

What are the key challenges that BIPOC women in philanthropy face?

BIPOC women in philanthropy are trying to carve out time to help others in their community, while also making time to take care of themselves. There is a pressing need for equity work, yet the need for rest and wellness cannot be ignored. Otherwise, leaders are prone to burnout.

Sha-Kim: We shouldn’t even need to have a session like this; we’re already in the work every day to shift systems….and then we have to ask for permission when it comes to receiving understanding for our well-being, both physically and mentally.

At Tides, we’re all about shifting power. It’s a monumental lift, but we are dedicated to getting it done. We have to have an understanding of what’s needed in terms of resources. We’re exhausted, we fight fights every day, and it’s hard to dust ourselves and get back up because we've been doing it every day of our lives.

The awakening and uprising around racism in 2020 ignited a movement of equity and justice work, but has since declined, presenting new challenges for women of color years later.

Amanda: The world woke up to what we've been saying for a long time. The way we've done things didn't serve us well. People talk about the 'great resignation', the 'great recession', but I'm more concerned about the ‘great regression’. Since 2020, are people moving away from their commitments to equity?

Everyone was talking about Black Lives Matter, but now we're shouldering the fact that people said they saw us, but only for a moment. We want something to change. We're trying to figure out how to navigate and lead this work in a way where we can show up for people, in a way where we don't make this a movement, but a moment toward liberation. It's exhausting. As leaders, it's about making space for us to be in the community. And yet we're back into the pace of a world where I'm struggling to even show up for the people that I want to show up for.


What does wellness look like?

BIPOC women in philanthropy have long been underrepresented and overlooked. As the sector strives to become more diverse and inclusive, it is important to recognize the importance of creating wellness for BIPOC women in philanthropy. For these women, wellness involves creating a safe space for dialogue, collaboration, and advocacy. This means having access to resources and support to help them achieve their goals. It also involves having equitable representation in leadership and decision-making roles.

Holistic wellness looks different for everyone. It's important to define what it means to you—and to make space for it in your daily life. Developing a culture of well-being is also a generational issue; often, philanthropic leaders feel guilty for taking rest and taking time to put themselves first. Many are accustomed to doing everything at once and running on fumes.

For our speakers, wellness means:

Amanda: Wellness starts with true rest, and understanding that you aren't created to labor alone. You're created to have joy. Wellness is a state of being where I can be my authentic self, in ways that are vulnerable but also joyful. Your wellness is dependent on you showing up at this moment and letting people see you. We often use rest as a reward rather than a birthright, and that’s where we need to change in thinking about our wellness.

Aiyana: Rest as a birthright is resonating with me. For me, well-being is the input, output, outcomes, and how we get there. For me, well-being is, how can I, my colleagues, or my organization create conditions where I can practice joy? How can that be a way of life? If I am free and my authentic self, if we have shared language and an agreement that this is the norm, then I can better right that ship when it goes astray.

Chika: It's about institutions creating conditions for wellness, and us listening internally to our bodies. It's about modeling wellness to folks around me so we can create a cultural shift around rest. How do you create a space where others can talk? It shouldn’t be rest to fill someone else's cup, it’s because I need to breathe, eat, and do things that are a necessity in life for me to engage in joy. Model and create those spaces for those around you to be vulnerable and share in that space. What are things I'm doing to contribute? I need to listen to what my body and soul needs. Find what wellness is for you.


What are organizations doing to support BIPOC women in philanthropy?


Does the world of philanthropy provide a safe and supportive space for individual well-being?

Amanda: I do not feel like well-being, recovery, rest, or rejuvenation is valued in philanthropy. What's valued in the nonprofit industrial complex is working so hard that you harm yourself. Our work does not represent right now how to resource people, organizations, and communities to be well. We’re so concerned about impact, theory of change, policies—all important things—but if we get to liberation and justice, housing and healthcare for all, and we’re too exhausted to live in the joy and our freedom, then what was it for? There's small moments of grantmaking and resourcing for rest and rejuvenation, but it’s not happening on a larger level.


What can philanthropy do to create a culture shift around well-being?

The importance of investing in BIPOC women in philanthropy is undeniable. The mental and physical well-being of BIPOC women in philanthropy is closely connected to the success of nonprofits and their communities.

What should philanthropy be doing differently for the next generation? What does a sector shift toward wellness look like?

Chika: We know that young people are not prioritized in decision-making happening around their lives. Girls have higher rates of anxiety, depression, of almost anything, you name it. We’re so advanced technologically, yet we can’t resolve wellness. There’s a lot philanthropy can and should be doing to fund young people to make decisions for their health.

There shouldn’t be a fight for trying to center young people in places like healing circles where they can talk about their feelings. There’s a lot of talk around resources for young people, a social worker here or there, but that is rooted in capitalism. There’s medical insurance people have to navigate, they have to go through the welfare system/parents/guardians, creating many barriers to even access that. There aren’t enough of us, Black women, in that space to provide coverage.

We need a larger community-centered approach in problem-solving: how do we fund and uplift more healing circles and spaces for young people to gather? How do we ensure mental health and wellness is included in the curriculum so young people can learn about their bodies? We know these things exist but we have to fund them. Having conversations is a great first step. There are resources out there, but we have to put that into the hands of young people well-equipped to address wellness.

There needs to be a cultural shift in how we think about work. As adults, we have ideas on what it takes to be a successful person; young people are showing me that version of success doesn't align with them.

Chika believes shifting the narrative of work starts with:

  • Instituting four-day work weeks
  • Generous time off so people can focus on their personal lives
  • Increasing paid and maternity leave

With the use of social media and technology, young people are pivoting. Social media is one of the ways Black girls congregate—so how do we engage people in a less harmful way to be able to communicate and engage with folks from all over in how they practice wellness? 

Aiyana: Our foundation regularly participates in caucusing work, with open source consulting to help on internal equity work. We have caucuses for Black women, Black people, and other racial ethnicities and identities. We have this space to come and be ourselves, to be transparent, in a place that is facilitated properly and appropriately by people who understand the deliberate work to incorporate well-being into the organization. We also have helpful organization policies around PTO and taking time off.

Externally, the foundation is being intentional about putting funds directly in the hands of Black and brown folks in our community, whether as direct income or funding for specific programs and movements led by people of color. We’re looking at how we come together, rest, and repair, and demonstrate that we’re in solidarity with the community.

In addition to a cultural shift, what can philanthropic organizations include in their wellness policies to take care of their teams?

Chika: Extended time off. I believe in the ability to step away. What does it look like to support folks across the spectrum to do what they like? We have these confines of time, but the energy I’m giving this week is not the same as the energy I'm giving next week. How can we respond to our bodies?

Aiyana: Sabbaticals. If you have a fellowship, you should be able to scale back the time of your full-time job. There's so much brilliance, we can come up with even more amazing innovative solutions if we have that time to research or dedicate ourselves to doing something that’s not our everyday work. Rest and innovation.

Amanda: Sabbaticals. I believe it should be every two years. Some type of intentional rest. Also, creating a culture where we work to get work done, not just sit out the clock. That means some weeks it's two days, some weeks it's five days, and we trust people to manage and prioritize themselves. and not be so tied to having to show up just to show up. It's less of a policy and more of a culture change.

One key part of a culture and policy shift is the importance of modeling. The more individuals and organizations develop a culture of well-being, the more it will be normalized in the sector as a whole:

Amanda: More of us have to be talking about it. There is an opportunity to practice vulnerability with your board and staff. People have to step up. It shouldn't be all on you.

Chika: We need to see it be modeled from leadership. If your leader can model the well-being practices that you want to see, you're more likely to engage in the same type of behavior. I was lucky to work in a place where each month we’d get additional leave time. These are internal policies that can be changed more easily. Be liberal with the way you give that time off. 

Aiyana: The culture of the organization has to allow space for this. I am not the CEO or top leadership, but I'm in an organization that values folks across the board regardless of title. We're also thinking about this as it relates to grantmaking by supporting organizations being led by people of color. If there are people of color in the organization that are leading the work, and aren't necessarily leadership of board members, then this still counts!


About our speakers

Sha-Kim Wilson
Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships, Tides Foundation

With over 20 years experience as a sales executive, Sha-Kim has built her career being a client advocate and trusted advisor for midsize to large organizations across the globe. She is the founder of Helen’s Hands, a non-profit organization that advocates for Alzheimer caregivers. Sha-Kim received her undergraduate degree from Florida International University, MBA from University of Phoenix, and is currently pursuing her PhD in Organizational Leadership.

Amanda Andere
CEO, Funders Together to End Homelessness

Amanda has spent over 15 years working in the nonprofit & public sector as a leader committed to racial and housing justice. She served as CEO of Wider Opportunities for Women, a national advocacy org. She's a board member of the United Philanthropy Forum and Equity in the Center and also serves on the Leadership Council for the DC Partnership to End Homelessness. As a former Co-Chair of A Way Home America, Amanda is a co-conspirator in their work to end youth and young adult homelessness.

Chika Onwuvuche
Program Officer, Washington Area Women's Foundation

Born and raised in Washington, DC, Chika is committed to ensuring area residents are afforded equitable resources and services to live self-determined productive lives. She is a champion of youth-led initiatives that empower for systems-change and manages the foundation’s youth and safety grant portfolios with support for advocacy efforts of collaborative grantee partners. Chika has a bachelors in poli-sci and social work from UW-Madison & an MS in social work from UPenn.

Aiyana Marcus
Senior Program Manager, Charlottesville Area Community Foundation

Aiyana manages the development, implementation, and evaluation of grant programs along with other resource deployment strategies that support an ecosystem of trust-based, equitable philanthropy. She is also a community-focused artist with 20 years of experience promoting the authentic storytelling of Black lives, including writing, directing, and producing four of her original plays. Most recently, She Echoes on the Vine premiered at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in 2021.


Join the Catchafire community


Visit our events page to RSVP for upcoming foundation programming and discussions like these. Catchafire is committed to creating learning moments for partners and thought leaders in philanthropic work to further the impact for all communities. We know that when we learn together, and listen and support one another, we have the opportunity for meaningful connections that can make a difference.

If you’re a grantmaker and would like to learn more about equipping nonprofits in your community with responsive, high-quality capacity building support, let’s connect. Email us here.


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