A Gathering of Givers: New Jersey women are redefining philanthropy in abundant ways.

March 11, 2019

“I love this sea of women’s faces!” cried New Jersey’s First Lady, Tammy Snyder Murphy, as she arrived at the podium on March 8 at A Gathering of Givers: New Jersey Women Making an Impact, a celebration of women’s philanthropy at NJPAC.

“You are part of a long line of women who have moved New Jersey forward,” Murphy told the sold-out crowd of 300, gathered in the lobby of Prudential Hall to share inspiration and ideas about how harnessing the growing financial power of women has and will continue to change the face of philanthropy.

Hosted by the Women’s Association of NJPAC (WA) – as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations – in partnership with the Community Foundation of New Jersey and Impact100 Essex (a giving circle that pools the philanthropic resources of women in Essex County), the event was held on, and was designed to celebrate, International Women’s Day.

Murphy used the forum to talk about her launch of Nurture NJ, a statewide campaign to reduce infant and maternal mortality across all races and ethnicities. The push kicked off in January.

“The fact that New Jersey is 45th out of 50 states in maternal health? Unacceptable,” she said.

Female philanthropists of all stripes spoke throughout the event, from members of the WA, to women who directed their families’ foundations, to women who ran large nonprofits.

“We’re calling this a Gathering of Givers,” said John Schreiber, President and CEO of the Arts Center, in his welcome to the group.

“But it’s really a gathering of do-ers,” he said. “People who know that changing the world is a team sport.”

Schreiber noted that without the WA and in particular its nine founding members — including one founder, Gabriella Morris, now the Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at UNICEF USA, who’s still a WA Trustee and was a speaker at the event — “it’s not at all a sure bet that NJPAC would be here today.”

The day highlighted the many ways in which women donate, or direct charitable funds — and the ways that they approach giving differently from their brother philanthropists.

To begin with, as WA Managing Director Sarah Rosen pointed out, women are extraordinarily generous, no matter their circumstances.

“Women are more generous than men, regardless of age, education, race or other demographics … women give almost twice as much of their wealth away as men,” Rosen said.

“And we don’t just give, we become actively involved in the organizations we support. We don’t just write checks; we invest our time and talent. We serve on boards, we raise money and we engage our friends and our family.”

What does that deep involvement look like? For Hali Lee, co-director of the Donors of Color Network and the morning’s first featured speaker, it took the form of the Asian Women Giving Circle, a group she co-founded, based on the Korean concept of the geh. A geh is a community savings group, in which everyone contributes money to a pot, which is then given to each member in turn.  Lee’s group makes that practice a purely philanthropic one: Everyone who belongs to the Circle gives as much as they can, and the pot is given to Asian women and girls using the arts to effect social change.

The process of gathering the funds, and giving them away, is decidedly social, Lee pointed out.

“Because a successful geh must have at its core both trust and a healthy dose of fun,” she said.

“Community is everything,” said Jane Wilf, during a panel discussion among four women, each approaching philanthropy from a different place. Wilf is a trustee of the Wilf Family Foundation.

“Get involved in your community – it has done everything for me and for my family,” she said.

Others pointed out that both fundraising, and finding ways to direct philanthropic funds where they’re most needed, require exceptional grit.

“You’ve got to be able to file nails on your arms” to get the money where it needs to go, said Ellen Weisbrod Lambert, who is involved with Mothers Monument – another group aiming to reduce incidents of maternal mortality – but who spent her career directing the philanthropic arms of PSEG and other major corporations.

It took “lots of filed nails,” Lambert said, to get PSEG to fund a laundromat at Newark’s West Side High School, so that students who were being bullied for wearing dirty clothes could wash their gear at school, for free. But she got it done, and the success of that project not only landed West Side Principal Akbar Cook a couple of appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, it also led to a further $100,000 from Cheerios to keep the new facility in detergent and dryer sheets.

Among the many women who shared their insights about making a difference through fundraising and philanthropy were Shané Harris, Executive Director of The Prudential Foundation; Tamara Harris, Executive Director of CASA for Children of Essex County; Kim Jacobs, a trustee of the Reitman Foundation; Elisa Charters, President and Founder of Latina Surge, and Margarethe Laurenzi, Director of Leadership Grantmaking and Engagement at the Community Foundation of New Jersey.

“The power of women is the power that you feel today in this space,” said Marcia Wilson Brown, President of the WA, as she bid speakers and audience farewell at the morning’s end.

“In this room are the people who are going to turn the world upside-right!”

A version of this article appears on NJPAC.org.