October 25, 2016
Jacki Zehner and Helen LaKelly Hunt at Women Moving MIllions Jacki Zehner and Helen LaKelly Hunt at Women Moving MIllions

"I can promise you that women working together – linked, informed and educated- can bring peace and prosperity to this forsaken planet."    – Isabel Allende

by Cari Stein, TTC Executive Producer

Women working together accomplish great things.  That truth is embodied in Women Moving Millions, a group of 265 philanthropists, ALMOST exclusively female but including some men too. Individually and collectively they are taking on some of the most difficult challenges facing women and girls internationally and the United States.  Issues like child brides, refugees, education, pornography, sexual assault and harassment, gender equity just to name a few.

Women and Philanthropy was a topic, To the Contrary tackled 17 years ago (watch at 8:44)  at a time when there was scant attention to a slowly emerging trend. We interviewed female donors and women who ran women’s funds, a relatively new phenomenon at the time.  Our TTC survey found Americans didn’t know women controlled a slight bit more (51.3%) of the wealth in the country and they were starting to flex their philanthropic muscle.  

What a difference 17 years can make.  I recently secured a front row seat to a conference of visionary women committed to big, bold, impact driven giving to women and girls.  It was the Women Moving Millions Summit in San Francisco. Journalists don’t normally get an invitation to the summit. Perhaps it’s due to cultural norms that make women uncomfortable with bragging or seeking accolades for their philanthropic work. The charitable work they do is not about having their names on buildings, although in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”  It just isn’t what these women seek to accomplish with their money.  Or maybe they worry the publicity would result in a deluge of unsolicited asks.  But in light of the great needs women and girls have today and a consciousness that stepping up and being visible about their gifts is inspiring to others, WMM opened its doors so I could get a peek into the world of Women Moving Millions.  

Women Moving Millions was co-founded by Helen LaKelly Hunt and her sister Ambassador Swanee Hunt. These sisters grew up with little or no knowledge of their wealth.  LaKelley Hunt says if you’ve ever watched the  television show Dallas, you’d understand what her life as a dutiful daughter was like, at least before she took an active interest in her financial portfolio.  Talking about Women Moving Millions she says, “WMM is like a sleeping giant. For centuries women of wealth seemed to sleepwalk through their days—donating to their husband’s alma mater, boy’s schools, and to organizations that often wouldn’t allow female leadership.”

But that was about to change. When Helen and her sister Swanee Hunt started WMM the goal was to raise 150 million dollars for women and girls. LaKelly Hunt adds “Then WMM named it. Swanee, Jacki Zehner, Chris Grumm, Lauren Embrey, Tracy Gary, Margot Franssen and Monica Windsor  —each of these women gave voice. Echoing each other they spoke the giant’s name. They—along with many others—aligned their values and vision with unheard of volumes of giving.”

“By giving language to it—by recognizing the way women were holding themselves back—we were able to wake this sleeping giant. And the world will never, ever be the same.”

The campaign exceeded expectations raising 182-million dollars in two years. LaKelly Hunt doesn’t take much credit, she generally downplays her role but if you talk to the women of WMM they say the organization would not have been if not for her way of bringing people together.  (LaKelly Hunt still focuses on relationships but now works with her husband Harville Hendrix  where they use the most up to date neuroscience to heal marital and community relationships. More on how those relationships are part of a feminist agenda in future posts.) 

Big and bold giving by women to women and girls proved to be a successful campaign. So what now?


Enter Jacki Zehner.  Zehner is a woman you can’t help but admire and want to be around.  She’s fun loving. for example at the conference she got up and “performed” a rap song and danced and made everyone feel welcome. But don’t let Zehner’s joie de vivre fool you.  She is a woman super seriously committed to giving back and empowering women and children.  Among her successes at WMM was co-founding the WMM film circle with another resolute member Ruth Ann Harnisch.   The Film Circle supports media projects by and about women and advances the social impact of that media.  Zehner is also looking to add social impact gender lens investing to her portfolio.

Zehner was the first female trader to be invited into the partnership of Goldman Sachs, but for the past five years she’s devoted herself to Women Moving Millions as a volunteer.  She’s helped turn a campaign into a sustainable organization. When  we spoke Jacki found herself getting emotional  about how important WMM is to her. She explained that’s why she brought her son and daughter (one high school and one college student) to the summit.  Jacki, like many women felt the tug between staying home for the family and having to be away because of her work.  She wanted them to see exactly what their mom was  helping to build while she spent time away from home. 

When Jacki shared that with me, she had no idea that this summit would be even more of a turning point for her in her work with WMM.  The next day Zehner got on the stage with humility to ask the members of WMM to help keep the organization moving forward. She found not only members, but staff and guests ready to stand up, commit and pledge to support women philanthropists. 

More than one hundred high energy extraordinary women attended the summit.  If one could harness all that dedication, intellect and ability to realize their goals, there’s no telling what could be accomplished.  Each member has her (or his) own singular fascinating story about getting involved, what they hope to achieve and what it means to them.

Women like Lauren Embrey of the Embrey Family Foundation. Her attraction to WMM stems from a desire to be on the cutting edge of philanthropy, and as she explains, do it right. The Dallas Women’s Foundation approached Embrey and her when it was a fledgling foundation.  Their ask - a 250 thousand dollar donation.  She liked the organization and thought at the time it was better equipped to perform the required due diligence and vetting of worthy women and girls non profits and do it in an impactful way.  Embrey convinced her board and then made a call to the DWF.  What she told the Executive Director was a bit shocking.  She said the grant got approved but not for 250-thousand.  It was approved for one million dollars. Embrey is proud that WMM was her impetus to give bigger and bolder.

Embrey says she can get in at the seed level with amazing and creative ideas like the “Name It, Change It” campaign to call out sexism. It’s where she believes she really can make a difference; where there’s no proven track record just a great idea and great leadership.  Just an aside, “Name It, Change It” was the brainchild of a To the Contrary panelist Siobhan “Sam” Bennett who is now running for Mayor or Allentown, Pennsylvania.

I heard there were some male members in Women Moving Millions.  I sought one out and found Jim Greenbaum.  I wondered how he got involved.  Greenbaum told me he always wanted to give back.  In fact he entered the business world with the goal of making enough money to give back in a big way.  He succeeded by founding, building and then selling his company, Access Long Distance.  Greenbaum has funded his foundation with 450 million dollars so far.  His philanthropic philosophy? He decided to put his money where he saw the most suffering, most need and where mainstream organizations were missing.  Even now he finds himself supporting causes where other funders are fleeing and the programs are collapsing while the need remains.

So why WMM? Greenbaum says it just so obvious to him once he realized 80% of his giving was to women and girls.  So joining WMM only made sense.

The WMM summit is considered a safe space to experiment and learn and the very dedicated staff led by Courtney Harvey makes sure it’s that and more.  Innovative programming, and networking attracts the members, who, although they are million dollar donors, are not showy or boastful.  Take for example, Cathy Raphael, a Rockwell International heir.  Raphael needed to find her philanthropic voice after finding herself iced out of decisions at the family foundation simply because she was a woman. Husbands at the time had more say.

Raphael says she was brought up knowing she had more than she needed and should give back. She told me “my parents were very involved in civil rights and the arts.  When I got to be in my 20s was right at the second wave of feminism and it was my ‘aha moment’ that the world is not what they told me in school.  And that became my civil rights movement that women should be equal. It was to my belief that that would lay the ground work for everybody being equal.”  Raphael’s philanthropy focuses on social justice reproductive rights and it’s included the founding of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania.  

Raphael finds WMM a place to recharge. She says “we’re all doing our own individual work in many different ways and it’s good to know, she’s doing that so I don’t have to worry.” 

Marcia Cardamore credits Raphael with bringing her into Women Moving Millions.  Cardamore chairs Violence Against Women and Girls circle.   When she started her foundation she recalls being overwhelmed with 1,200 applications but was only able to approve 12 grants.  That’s part of why she is part of WMM.  She says it can be hard to operate in isolation likes working with like-minded people and pursuing projects and partnerships that make things happen.

Next year WMM celebrates its 10th anniversary and staff and members are strategizing how they can use their resources to create even more leverage. I’m sure they’ll once again exemplify the anonymous quote “one woman can make a difference, but together we can rock the world.”