(WOMENSENEWS)–For me, philanthropy has been a form of liberation. It has also been a journey.
At the heart of it is a partnership–a partnership with my husband that extended into a business and now has grown into an expanding involvement in philanthropy in our home city of Dallas.
Almost 30 years ago, my husband and his business partners opened the first Container Store, in a northern suburb of Dallas. I was deeply involved in starting the business; getting merchandise on the shelves and organized, and working in the store from day one until my first child was born. My husband and I maintained the spirit of partnership, even after we divided the labor and he minded the store and I minded the children.
With the passage of time, the Container Store flourished–today there are 40 stores around the nation–and my husband and I developed a capability to give back to the community. But we gave randomly, and–unlike the way we made business decisions–we had no strategy, no plan, no focus. That’s when we began to be more strategic. Our first decision was to focus our giving locally. Dallas had everything to do with our success, and it seemed only right for us to give in such a way as to make Dallas a greater city.
Giving in Two Directions
Then we made the equally important decision to focus our giving in two areas. We decided to fund the environment, in which my husband would take the lead.
And we would fund women and children, which had become my passion.
I had served as board chair of Planned Parenthood in Dallas and had subsequently become familiar with the Dallas Women’s Foundation, which supports economic empowerment for women and girls. I joined the board of the Dallas Women’s Foundation in 2002 and stepped up my giving; now I was giving in the five-figures, and it felt good.
The Dallas Women’s Foundation researches and quantifies the needs of women in our community and funds initiatives that address those needs. Last year the foundation gave a million dollars in grants and has an endowment of nearly $13 million.
However, it wasn’t until a few years later that my true liberation through philanthropy began.
But first, let me backtrack a bit.
I grew up in a small town in Kentucky. My mother was widowed and reared three children with little economic support. She had to budget our finances very carefully; we were never hungry, but we never had anything extra.
Siren Song Gets Louder
After college I began working, and, for the first time I had discretionary money; the allure of nicer clothes and a better car was powerful. When I moved to Dallas, that siren song became even louder: a larger apartment, nicer clothes. I was learning to become a significant consumer.
Later when I was first married–when our children were small and the business was new–budgeting once again returned to my life. But as the business grew and became more profitable, those constraints diminished.
I discovered, however, that at the same time that I was accumulating more and nicer things, there was always something else to want: bigger house, bigger jewelry, bigger car. But, buy as I might, none of these things translated to more happiness, more satisfaction or more peace. I had begun to feel almost a physical tightening in my heart around the issue of accumulating more "things."
In 2005, I attended a Dallas Women’s Foundation seminar where Lynne Twist was the keynote speaker. Lynne is the author of "The Soul of Money," an examination of attitudes toward money, and she drove home the concept of "enough."
With Twist’s inspiration, I began to give up the pursuit of "more" and felt my heart opening to the joy of giving.
Let me be clear that our lives are not Spartan by any stretch of the imagination, but I have begun the journey of recognizing and appreciating the abundance that we have instead of yearning for what we don’t.
In the meantime, my husband had begun to fund causes at the six-figure level while I, like many women, was giving smaller gifts.
‘What’s Holding Me Back?’
I was now able to ask myself: "Wait a minute: what’s holding me back?"
In 2005 I ramped up my giving to the Dallas Women’s Foundation into the six figures. Helping women and their children is the most effective way to enrich families, schools, churches and neighborhoods. I know this because our giving has provided legal help for immigrant women and their children escaping domestic violence, math and science enrichment programs for promising high school girls, a safe home for girls ages 10 to 17 who have been abused and abandoned by their families and whose alternative is life on the streets.
I also became increasingly involved in helping inspire women of means–and there is a wealth of them in my community–not only to know the joy of giving, but to understand that financial support to women lifts the entire community. Indeed, it lifts the world. This is a view that comes not just from the heart, not just from a desire for social justice, but also from the mind. It is a strategic decision that recognizes that helping women and their children is the most effective mechanism for creating positive social change. I have taught workshops for women on this subject and am currently chairing the Dallas Women’s Foundation $30 million campaign.
I’ve discovered in this journey that planning and evaluating personal philanthropy is a process, not a project. Through the Dallas Women’s Foundation, and the international Women’s Funding Network of which it is part, in the last few years I have had the opportunity to meet with other women donors and to discuss strategies and values for giving. I am beginning to evaluate my choices in giving in terms of long-term impact rather than just short-term need.
I now know that my giving, my involvement with the Dallas Women’s Foundation, actually supports women at both ends of the financial spectrum. It supports women, women like my mother, who–with support–can become true agents for social change in our community. I know also, now, that giving benefits the donor in a way that cannot be measured. The loosening of purse strings also loosens heart strings. The satisfaction in that cannot be duplicated.
Cecilia Boone, feminist, philanthropist and community volunteer is the mother of three adult children. She lives in Dallas with her husband, Garrett.
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