A Movement to Stop Mass Jailing

It’s no news that the U.S. has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. However did you know that, among the states, Ohio has one of the highest number of people behind bars, plus one of the worst prison overcrowding problems?

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio’s prison population is rising, threatening to set “an all time historic record of incarcerated Ohioans.” Curiously, this is happening at a time when the overall crime rate in Ohio has gone down roughly 15 percent.

The Ohio Transformation Fund wants to stop the state’s default to mass jailing, particularly of young people and people of color. Although they are one year into workprison-370112_960_720-1jnnp28, this funding collaborative may become our best replicable model for how to mobilize funders around criminal justice reform–something this country is ripe and ready for.

Read my article in Exponent Philanthropy’s PhilanthroFiles to get an inside look at how this funding collaborative works.





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Lessons Learned in Storytelling

Elaine-StoryU-SF-300x241I’m officially obsessed with storytelling. For more than a year now, I’ve been working with Get Storied, an advisory and training company dedicated to transformational storytelling. I recently had an opportunity to attend a live event we launched in San Francisco called StoryU. Read more the event and find out my top 7 Storytelling Takeaways here

My wish is to bring this work more prevalently into philanthropy – helping donors, grantmakers and support organizations lead with captivating, actionable stories that leverage their good work. 

In what ways is your foundation or organization sharing its story successfully? The field needs your ideas. Drop me a comment here or email elaine@fourwindswriting.com. 

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International Women’s Day: Giving to Women & Girls

“It was late afternoon when 14-year-old Reshma was getting ready for her wedding at a beauty parlor in the Old City of Hyderabad. Reshma was one of 33 brides, all under the age of 18, to be married that night in an illegal ceremony at 3 a.m. Reshma thought marriage was her only option until she met the girls of Global Fund for Women grantee partner, Shaheen, at the beauty parlor. The girls, all survivors of forced marriages, search beauty parlors in the Old City, looking for others just like Reshma who are preparing for weddings they don’t want.”  – Read more at Global Fund for Women

I share this story with you in honor of International Women’s Day. Mostly as a reminder at how far we still have to go for women across the world.

We live in modern times. Our lives are filled with technology and we can communicate across the globe faster than we can blink. In most countries, women vote, work and own property. We marry (or not) and have babies (or not). Do we really still need a day that pushes women’s rights? Yeah. We badly do.

As long as there is inequality, violence and oppression happening to women across the world, we need reminders like International Women’s Day. We need the world’s attention, even if it’s for one day, on issues like rape, domestic abuse, sexual assault and harassment. Human trafficking. Female mutilation. Girls denied education and forced to marry. And women still (still…) earning an average 15% less than our male colleagues.

International Women’s Day celebrates the political, economic and social achievements of women worldwide. (Here’s a quick and interesting history of IWD here. And above, you can watch a fun video compiled by Google, celebrating the day.) It also is a call to action on the work that needs to be done.

It got me wondering about the funders out there who have been tirelessly fighting for women and girls’ equality all along. Here are the three I admire most, with a summary from their websites:

  • Mama Cash Foundation – In 1983, five feminists sat around a kitchen table in Amsterdam and started an initiative that would develop into an international grantmaking organization that supports women and girls around the globe in their fight for equal rights. Courageous women and girls who, in the face of often challenging circumstances, make themselves heard, take risks and bring about fundamental changes. Read more.
  • Global Fund for Women – The Global Fund for Women was founded in Palo Alto by three bold women, who were convinced that women’s human rights and dignity were essential to advancing global agendas for social, economic, and political change. Frustrated by traditional philanthropy’s lack of interest in funding women’s groups and human rights, they forged a new path, founding an organization that would fund women-led organizations directly. Read more.
  • Dining for Women – In the fall of 2002, Marsha Wallace, a former nurse and mother of four from Greenville, SC, read an article about a group of friends who met for potluck dinners and collected donations for needy families using the money they would have otherwise spent in restaurants. Marsha was struck by the idea of using “dining out dollars” to help others, and the idea of Dining for Women – now a global giving circle – was born. Her simple, but powerful idea has since improved the lives of women and girls worldwide, who often live on less than $1 a day. Read more.

Want a list of more international funders who focus on women and girls? Click here or visit the Women’s Funding Network.

To all of you funders and freedom workers out there who work daily for the rights of women, and the safety and education and empowerment of young girls…I bow in thanks and respect to you.

Which are the funders of women and girls’ issues that you admire? Drop me a line in the comments and let me know.

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Telling Your Story on Social Media: Family Funders Share Tips


Family foundations are a modest bunch. Most prefer operating quietly in the background, out of the limelight, away from any undue attention. What this means is that, many foundations—particularly those that keep their operations on the smaller side—have been slow to take advantage of social media.

This is starting to change. Foundations are finding that social media is important for advocating for the causes they care about, and deepening community connections. In a recent National Center for Family Philanthropy webinar Telling Your Story to Maximize Community Impact, four funders how they use social media, and why.

The most compelling reason: “If you don’t define yourself, others will define you,” said Jay Ruderman, president of The Ruderman Family Foundation. Sure, social media means putting yourself out there—which, for family foundations, can mean increased exposure and more funding requests. Yet foundations have a tremendous power to leverage the stories they tell—and their stories can help grantees. Here are more lessons learned:

Social media is leadership. 

“If you feel important about an issue and put your resources behind it, social media is a great place to advocate for it, and engage with people globally on it,” said Lora Smith, communications officer of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem. “We can reach anyone, anywhere, in a way we weren’t able to do 10 years ago.”

Social media is storytelling.

The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem has come up with a creative way to get their grantee stories out there. They invite grantees to be guest bloggers, and they pay per post. “We give grantees an honorarium of $200 per blog post, as a recognition of their time,” said Smith. “This gives them a place to share their success stories and what they are learning. We provide the platform and audience, and grantees speak for themselves.”

Kate Wolford, president of the McKnight Foundation in Minnesota, agreed that social media is a great place to share stories. “We help our grantees shine through their communications—that’s what we’re all about.”

Before you share something online, Wolford said, think about what you want to accomplish. “Think audience, think goals, don’t think tools,” she said. In other words, figure out the story you want to tell—and why you want to tell it, and then find the best way to communicate it.

Social media is a conversation.

According to Vince Stehle of Media Impact Funders, “social media is a conversation, and should be treated as such.” It’s more about your tweets and posts—it’s how you respond and interact and add to the bigger conversation.

Here’s a helpful tip for anyone: On Twitter, if you use all 140 characters that’s allotted to you, it makes it hard for someone to re-Tweet or reply effectively. “Think of what you’re writing as a haiku. Leave a little room at the end to invite people in,” said Ruderman. “It’s more effective when your network makes it to their network.”

Social media is personal and professional. 

It’s okay to show a little personality sometimes, even for a professional foundation. If you’re all businesslike, all the time, it might get boring for the folks who follow you. Consider once a week or occasionally sharing something to engage people in a more entertaining way.

“People are attracted to passion, and passion shines through whether it’s in a Tweet, a blog, an op-ed or an interview,” said Ruderman. “Show what your passionate about on social media, and you will build awareness and connections around an issue.”


How are you getting your message out there on social media? And if you’re a funder, how is it helping your grantees? Please share your comments and ideas here.

[Note: This webinar recording will be available starting the week of March 3rd. Check NCFP’s Family Philanthropy Online to learn more.]

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7 Ways to Save Yourself from Your Smartphone

Do you ever wish you could go back to the 80s?

Do you ever wish you could go back to the 80s?

Okay, be honest. Have you ever slept with your smartphone at your bedside? Checked your e-mail while waiting in line? Lost hours scanning news feeds on your Facebook or Twitter accounts?

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. If you’re like most people, you have a love–hate relationship with technology. You love how accessible and connected we are nowadays, yet you wonder if all this connectivity is actually productive—or healthy.

The Conundrum of Connectedness

Let’s face it: We’re all busy, all the time. There are e-mails, texts, and voicemails to answer; alerts and comments to manage; links, tags, posts, feeds, filters, usernames, and passwords. And please, not another pop-up! We navigate a dizzying number of tools every day, and it takes work to manage all this connectedness. Plus, it’s hard to break away from the allure of a lighted screen and the promise of something new.

These days, many authors and bloggers promote periods of unplugging. There is even a movement called NationalDayofUnplugging.com that encourages people to shut down their mobile devices for a 24-hour period. You may have heard others refer to it as a “media diet,” an “Internet Sabbath” or a “digital detox”—a time to dial down the noise, and instead relax, reflect, go outside, or go within.

Promoters of the unplug movement say that being constantly connected has its consequences. It zaps focus and productivity, increases stress, disrupts sleep, stunts creativity, and (as we all know) makes driving dangerous.

But does one 24-hour period of tech-free time make a difference, long-term? Do we need to go to an extreme to manage our own behavior?

Technology and Mindfulness–A Place for Both

Soren Gordhamer, author of Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected, writes: “The great challenge of our age is to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own wellbeing, effective in our work, and useful to the world.”

Gordhamer founded San Francisco’s Wisdom 2.0 Conference, which now in its fourth year attracts more than 2,000 people. The live event brings together prominent business and technology leaders (from companies like Zappos, Twitter, Google, and Facebook) with well-known teachers from contemplative communities (Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Roshi Joan Halifax). Together, they talk about the best ways to incorporate technology and mindfulness into our lives and our workplaces.

“What the culture is craving is a sense of ease and reflection,” said Gordhamer in a recent New York Times interview, “of not needing to be stimulated or entertained or going after something constantly. Nobody’s kicking out technology, but we have to regain our connection to others and to nature or else everybody loses.”

7 Steps to Finding Balance

Here are seven small but meaningful changes you can make to keep your productivity high, your spirits happy, and your technology use in check.

  1. Define what balance means to you. Take a few moments to answer these questions in writing: (1) I know I am out of balance when… (e.g., I’m not able to find time to reflect, or go for a run, or cook for myself, etc.) and (2) I know I am in balance when… (e.g., I feel in the flow of life, I’m taking care of my health, I have lots of energy, etc.). Now compare the two. Notice the times when you feel in balance. How can you spend more time in that space? What kind of support do you need to make that happen?
  2. Set personal boundaries. Decide when to access information (e.g., certain days, times, or places), and when not to. Balance is about choice, and it’s okay to sometimes say no to all the possibilities that await you online.
  3. Batch your tasks. Maybe you only check e-mail at certain times each day. Or you screen your calls, responding to voicemails only when you finish your current project. You can alert people to your schedule by using an auto-responder (although keep in mind: creating extra email in others’ inboxes may be more aggravating to them than having to wait a few hours for you to respond).
  4. Write balanced to-do lists. At the beginning of the day, list everything you have to, and want to, get done. This keeps things out of your head, and, ideally, will help you organize your day. Include all your work, family, and personal responsibilities, and also include at least two “self-care” items you want to do just for you. At the end of the day, cross off what you got done, and notice your choices—what you made a priority, and what you didn’t. Then adjust your behaviors going forward to bring yourself more into balance.
  5. Use technology tools to moderate and manage. There are plenty of tools and apps available to help you manage distraction and even schedule time to relax. Some ideas: Track your computer use via TimeDoctor.com. Set up an online Mindfulness Bell, which reminds you to stop what you’re doing and breathe, stretch, get a glass of water, or take a walk. Turn off your e-mail, text, and Facebook alerts. Use Outlook to block 30 minutes of time for yourself. Or set up inbox filters to block or manage nonessential e-mails.
  6. In the words of spiritual teacher Ram Dass: Be here now. If you’re at work, work. If you’re with family or friends, be with them. This is just common sense, but usually in an “I know I should, but I never actually do” sort of way. There is lost opportunity in living our lives at only half-attention, and multitasking rarely gets us anywhere faster.
  7. Keep your perspective. Ask yourself, When I look back on my life, what will I be most proud of? Or, on a smaller scale, At the end of the year (or quarter or month), what will have made me the most happy? Keep perspective on what you’ll be grateful for in the future, because that will help you make better choices in the present. Will it be an empty inbox, a growing number of Twitter followers, or something very different?

In the end, finding balance with technology isn’t so much about how connected or disconnected we are. It’s about being intentional in how and when we connect, and why. Remember that, even in this ever-demanding digital world, you have the power to decide—and act on—what’s best for you.

The above is an except from an article I wrote for the Association of Small Foundation’s Essentials Newsletter, published in the Winter 2013 (Issue 4) Technology edition. To read the full article, visit ASF’s website

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Share the Love: 10 Ways to Be Generous Today

On Valentine’s Day two years ago, Sasha Dicter started an accidental movement by setting one simple intention: to say YES to anyone who asked him to give. He called it Generosity Day.

His idea was this: Let’s rebrand Valentine’s Day as a day of “sharing love with everyone.” Let’s get away from the cheesy Hallmark cards and flowers (although admittedly, I love that stuff) and get to the *heart* of what Valentine’s Day really is: the real-deal, down-to-earth, day-to-day, smile-at-strangers, help-someone-in-need, give-what-you-can, be-kind-to-everyone kind of love.

When I think of this love, I’m reminded of the definition of philanthropy: philein – to love + anthropos – human being.  A desire to help humankind. There are a few easy ways to wake up to this kind of love, to practice everyday philanthropy…and it’s within reach at any time. A few of my favorites:

1) Give when you are asked to give

2) Leave a bigger tip than usual

3) Help a stranger

4) Pay someone a compliment unexpectedly

5) Write a note telling someone how much you appreciate them

6) Smile at everyone you meet

7) Donate (more) to a cause that means a lot to you

8) Clean out your closets and donate clothes, books, toys

9) Leave a public bathroom a little nicer than when you found it

10) Be patient with yourself and others

All acts of generosity count! Small acts. Big acts. Just as long as you give of yourself willingly and happily.

Here’s a sweet video put together by the volunteer team promoting Generosity Day:

On this day celebrating love, how will you be generous? Drop me a line and let me know.

Find out more ways to be charitable on Valentine’s Day.


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In This Moment of Loss – What You Can Do

Zen LifeYesterday I glanced at the online news early in the day and saw the words “shooting” and “school.” I intentionally slapped my Mac shut because in that moment I couldn’t face it. I had a feeling it was bad. Only late last night, after I put my 10-month-old safe and sound to sleep, did I dare look. In the stillness of dim light, as I listened to the quiet muffle of my baby breathing, I wept.

This is a moment in time when the world stops and asks the unanswerable Why? I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be the parents, the family, the friends, the community of those who lost their lives. But I do know how I feel, even from a great distance.

We all share in this.

Certainly there are things that could be done on a policy level to prevent, at least mitigate, something like this from happening. I’m sure our community of philanthropists, donors, changemakers, and other giving, caring folks will be addressing this in the days and months to come.

But what can we do today? That’s what I’ve been asking myself. What can we do to care for ourselves and our loved ones, and *give* to those who lost their lives, to those who grieve them?

Most gratefully, I have a circle of amazing compassionate friends. One of them – Toi Lynn Wyle of Zen Life Coaching – has mobilized a way for us all to connect with ourselves and each other in this deep time of loss.

She’s asking folks to join her in pausing – every hour, on the hour – in meditation or quiet – to send some healing to those affected by the tragedy.

I’m sharing it here, and if it calls to you as it does to me, please join in. Maybe you can’t do it all day or all weekend, but you can do it once. Maybe you’ve never meditated before and think it sounds a little woo for you. In that case, just take a breath. One focused, deep breath. That’s something that each and every one of us can do.

Will a moment of quiet, a breath, bring back the children who are lost? Will it take away the pain and suffering of an entire community and country? No. But what it might do is heal the hurt in our own hearts so that we can create more space to love ourselves, love one another.

Read the inspiring message from Toi Lynn, here:

  • I believe we are all connected.
  • I believe that we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
  • I believe that authentic love ignites on the inside, and moves out, not the other way around.
  • I believe that if we spread that love, in whatever form it takes for us, it can inspire the ignition of authentic love in another.
  • I believe war begins inside of the heart. This war in the heart turns outward to make war, horrible, destructive, ugly war on our partners, our friends, our loved ones, on people “not like us”, on other countries, and yes, war on a little school in Connecticut.
  • I believe this is a pivotal time for this planet, one where we can consciously choose to heal ourselves, our nations, the oceans, the atmosphere, the world.
  • I believe it is always a choice, and that we do choose each moment, whether consciously or unconsciously. We make choice between love or fear. It is that simple. Love or Fear.
  • I believe that days like today can be the wake up call to love even more.

Beginning yesterday 4:00 pm PST every hour, on the hour, I began to stop for a few minutes to light candles and meditate. And it continues today and tomorrow.  I will allow myself to feel the pain, lean into it and not run from it, breathe in all that pain and war right into my heart, allow it to transform to love and peace, and then send it out, release it to all the dark corners of our planet.  This is my Sadhana, my dedicated practice this weekend.

Come join me, in spirit, or on Facebook if you desire.  If we meet there, read from the bottom up.  There are some hope giving words there from so many.

I love you. I might not know you. But I love you.

Toi Lynn


Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.
The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.
What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.
If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.
Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.
-from Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon
Translated by Stephen Mitchell


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