Balance seen as key to women’s giving

By Elizabeth Floyd

RALEIGH, N.C. — The state of women’s giving in North Carolina is strong, and for its diverse donor base, striking the right balances can make it even stronger.

That was the message from Valeria Lee, outgoing president of the Golden Leaf Foundation, to a full house of female philanthropists at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh convened October 15 by the North Carolina Network of Women Givers.

In its second year, the conference works to promote the statewide movement of women-led funds and giving circles.

Summing up a morning of knowledge-sharing and networking, Lee characterized herself as a “flood-control expert,” navigating the deluge of information the women already possessed.

“I know that there’s not much you don’t already know about this work,” she said.

While encouraging her audience to be more strategic in their giving, Lee also emphasized the expressive function of philanthropic work.

“Some of us get real strategic when we get an appeal in the mail and say ‘I’m gonna write a check today,’” said Lee, emphasizing that giving must always be personal.

Lee, a former program officer at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, said she personally believes she has leveraged limited resources to their utmost potential.

“Philanthropy is really about enabling change,” she said. “In my case, I like to support causes where a lot of good comes from a little bit of good.”

She also underlined the importance of supporting other women in their work, especially in the nonprofit sector, and to be careful not to get mired in the tendencies of society to undervalue this work.

Women givers should trust female grant recipients as professionals and, in exchange, expect professionalism.

“Don’t get so caught up in the bottom line, thinking ‘That’s just charity,’” Lee warned. “This is too often considered the type of work we don’t have to pay for. Like housework, it’s just the work women do.”

Claim what you do, she said, after drawing a familiar portrait of traditional philanthropy, where even though a woman may have written the check, the scholarship fund gets named for the son.

But she also said women should keep in mind that they also need to know when to hover in the background and “be part of the cheering team,” helping to publicize the good work being done.

Most important in striking that balance between taking credit and working behind the scenes is to “deal with your power needs,” Lee said. “Many of us can get caught in the power of my check and my giving.”

A final crucial balance, she said, lies in finding the right combination of new and old.

“Sometimes we look at the traditional and we just feel like it’s so old hat,” she said.

Take risks, she said, but “don’t forget the old as you look for the new.”

Valeria Lee, is the outgoing president of the Golden Leaf Foundation 

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