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In this paper, I offer a few stories of audacity. If we want to feel hopeful about
what we can do for the world and for women and through women, we might
look back. We have only to look at one moment in history, toward the end of
the twentieth century, to see the advances women made, at least in the United
States, briefly, during the 1970s.
Women’s Funding Partnerships
If someone had told me how much progress we might make simply by advanc-
ing women’s knowledge, education, and giving women a broader perspective
about what needed to happen for the world, giving them certain tools, financial
education, philanthropic education, and some analysis, certainly, of their place of
privilege in the world, I would have said, “You must be dreaming.”
I recognize my place of privilege and want to share with you my journey.
For the past 31 years I have worked full-time as a feminist donor organizer
within the context of the social change and women’s funding movements. As a
young inheritor in 1973, I graduated from a privileged institution, Sarah Lawrence
College, with a degree in mythology. This is a study of cultures and of spirits across
those cultures. I was a seeker for justice and the promise of democracy during
the 1960s’ tragedies and multiple slayings of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin
Luther King, Malcom X, and many others. I was ignited by these incidents, and
fueled by the injustices I had witnessed for African Americans in the civil rights
movements, as well in the halls of my own family’s residences. I knew nothing
about what was going on globally.
Raised mostly by African American caregivers and household workers, I knew
what community and family could be. I was determined to change the economic
injustice that I discovered existed when I learned what weekly wages these beloved
family members received, relative to my golf-playing and charitable parents, who
were part of a conspicuous wealth movement in the 1960s and 1970s. At age nine,
I learned that most of those who cared for me were being paid $75 a week, or
$350 a month, plus room and board, relative to the $10,000 a month in cheques
or stocks that my parents received via inheritance, or simply, as wealth holders.
This was a gap in a household partnership that I could not tolerate, and have
worked to change ever since. Nelly, my primary caregiver, to her death after 55
years of service to my family, simply said, “Tracy, just love people, and they will
heal over time, and so will you.” Nelly embodied the gift economy and will always
be my first role model for giving and sharing. But Nelly also exposed me to the
realities of my class and race privilege and its responsibilities, and she was diligent,
diligent in her way as a woman with a third-grade education, about being sure
that I knew that I would have opportunities with the wealth I had. She said that
I should think carefully about how to use any influence as a white inheritor that
I would have with people and communities outside the elitism and the illusions
of my own class upbringing. I was truly blessed.
I was propelled toward a vision of a just society and fueled by the social and very
personal injustices that I had witnessed of people I loved. Nothing has taken me
off that track since. I had moved from New York, and various other places that
my family had their five homes in, to San Francisco, and was so glad to find a
diverse and political community that was ripe for growth. In 1973, San Francisco
was burgeoning in its need for women-led projects and institutions, the product
mostly of women-only schools, I knew well the benefit of women’s voices and fell
quickly into both my own preference for working with and loving women. My
feminism was sparked during my own job search in my early 20s and bolstered
by the growing visibility of more and more women leaders and artists making
their voices heard and perspectives clear.
I can remember thinking that I had found heaven when in 1977 I attended
a “Women on Wheels” concert, with women musicians donating their time to
advocate prison reform for women prisoners. Given the interplay between the
artists, the passion of the music, and the poets in the room, with the hope that was
uncorked, and the mission to build a just society, I had found my tribe. I was sure
I had fallen into heaven prematurely. It was a time of utopian partnerships. I loved
and valued women and had total freedom to do so. How unusual this was!
For 25 years I worked and lived in the idealism of the Bay area, starting with a
team of others, all women, women’s building, women’s music, funding cultural
projects, local and global women’s foundations, battered women’s shelters, women’s
health clinics, children’s impairment programs, women’s leadership efforts, women
and people of colour projects, and countless projects that have protected the civil
rights of women and the disenfranchised. All in all, I have participated in the
emergence of some 400 new projects or organizations led by women, 90 per cent
of which stand across the United States and elsewhere. And I have heard annu-
ally about at least 500 new projects for over 30 years. This represents more than
15,000 projects that women have birthed, at least in ideas for creating change.
And there are millions more.
I bring you optimism. At the age of 35 in 1986, after going on over 350 site
visits to explore the viability or health of various projects, or just to learn about the
creative capital, the courage capital, and the wisdom capital of the leaders in those
organizations, I was inspired to give away my full inheritance, a million dollars,
to build a movement of more engaged donors willing to fund similar projects and
leaders who were building feminist or social change organizations.
I had a change strategy. I had a theory of change, but it had taken me ten or
twelve years to figure out what that was. It was very clear. We needed more donors
and effective leaders who saw social change philanthropy and socially responsible
investing as key leverage points in building a world that would work for more
people, and who would redistribute their wealth and power and be active partners
in that new and more civil society. I had no idea how, but I knew we needed to
dismantle patriarchy and we needed to dismantle capitalism.
We needed more women and women leaders who understood how to use
their money and their influence, and who could articulate a vision for a more
just society and influence people to get there. Clearly women would be the ones
to shape and leverage the changes ahead. We looked to the women’s spirituality
movement for our history, to give us the courage to go forward. We deepened
our spiritual practice to tool ourselves.
As I traveled in the service of that mission, I soon saw how many people
wanted, in fact, to make a difference, and who were eager and were already on
path of at least part of this mission. Little did I know that millions of women
were moving simultaneously globally to bolster and propel more change. They
are with us now.
We knew in the 1970s that we needed culture and we needed hundreds of
women’s recordings, theatre, publishing, bookstores, radio programs, community
centers, and cafes to assure that we could find each other. We knew we needed
a magazine, or a way to communicate with each other on a more regular basis.
Ms. Magazine was one place to exchange ideas, and when it failed by being too
mainstream, we were sure to publish more radical material, or to tune into our
favourite public radio stations and hear the voices recorded by Frieda Werden,
Dorothy Abbott, Maria Suarez and others who have diligently documented our
movement over the years. Worldwide women’s voices were coming forth
We had won Roe vs. Wade in 1973. We were on a roll to advance the new gen-
eration of women who wanted to work, or who needed to work in better-paying
jobs. And we knew we needed policy changes. We needed women lawyers, doctors,
politicians, and we made sure that they had opportunities. We looked globally at the
1977 Houston International Year of Women; we created a platform, we rolled up
our sleeves to join our global sisters. The women’s movement felt unstoppable.
Feminist activist, Jo Ruckleshouse, said in 1977, “We are in for a very, very long
haul. I’m asking for everything you have to give. We will never give up. You will
lose your youth, your sleep, your patience, your sense of humour, and occasionally
the understanding and support of people that you love very, very much. In return
I have nothing to offer you but your pride in being a woman and all your dreams
you’ve ever had for your daughters and nieces and granddaughters; your future,
and the certain knowledge that at the end of your days you will be able to look
and say once in your life you gave everything you had for justice, everything.”
This was for me, and still is for many of us, a kind of inner refrain that flowed in
me like the wave of feminists around me moving women towards our full potential.
We knew we needed money for all our efforts and that building women’s funds
or foundations was the surest way for women and girls to learn and control local
and global financial resources. Albeit that many of these funds had only hundreds
of thousands of dollars, we knew over time that they would have multimillions,
and we wanted to to learn how to fundraise and how to redirect these dollars
powerfully. We knew we had to change the body politic to make systems change as
well. Funding locally or funding globally women and women’s leadership seemed
an obvious place to start.
Between 1973 and 1985, some 50 new women’s foundations were established,
and there are currently over a 125,100 in the United States and 25 emerging
internationally. By 2020, I predict we will have a total of 50 women’s funds
globally. The Global Fund for Women began in 1983 and is now recognized as
the premier of these women’s funds, and has managed to redistribute some $25
million from over 10,000 donors to a 181 countries worldwide in only 20 years.
Women donors began to convene under the Women Donors Network in 1990,
through my organizing, and at the first meeting there was $2 billion present in
the assets, which the 24 women donors present were stewarding. These 24 donors
were giving collectively, although not funding the Network altogether, some $150
million, each a social change philanthropist of some kind.
This was more than all the 85 women’s funds at the time were raising and
distributing annually. I had the belief that together we could double the dollars
and donors who were sparking human generosity, and investing in political lead-
ers, and that with careful shaping we would at least create an alternative to the
patriarchy or leverage a crack in its roots through these well-connected women at
the top. These women were not just part of the top two per cent of the American
population, but at the top one-half percent globally in terms of their income and
assets. These women had influence. But did we know how to use it?
What I did not anticipate was the lack of exposure and analysis that many
women donors had, and how burdened they would become with the growing
needs of their local communities and families. Few of them had ever worked or
given internationally. We moved them in funder tours internationally on the
subject of sex trafficking, on the subject of international media, on trying to get
them to understand and see through the conference at Beijing and other global
opportunities. They are still moving out and moving forward.
The more visible these women became, the harder it was for most of them to
forge and maintain a giving strategy or their theory of change. Feminism and its
theories were not fully understood by this generation, and I was, with a few oth-
ers, a minority in our more socialist commitment. Each of these women donors,
as they become public, were besieged by thousands of requests annually, sending
most of them into greater reflection and often retreat into anonymity again. They
needed staff, but were by and large ill-equipped to manage, along with children,
their enormous responsibilities, and were resistant to their public roles in the
face of the demands of their private roles. And yet they found ways to strategize
together, and continue to find ways to move their money out.
This group is now made up of a hundred women that contributed over $12
million to the last political election in an attempt to overthrow the current regime
in America. We take no pride in the fact that we were not successful or that the
other side managed to manipulate the final figures.
Women have always been leaders in the gift economy and women donors reject
the exchange model of philanthropy, although unfortunately philanthropy has
become more of an exchange model as men have gotten more involved. But those
who do reject to this exchange model of philanthropy are liberated by the simple
joy of giving, of purely giving.
The question is, shall we keep developing alternative communities and econo-
mies? How then shall we influence men and boys and others to make systemic
change? And what are the leverage points? Women’s shelters first appeared with
the anti-violence movement of the late ’70s. Programs for perpetrators were aimed
at violence prevention, but those men who truly stepped up to change the condi-
tions of violence in America are few and far between.
Women have always managed to convene and express their passions for justice.
In the nineteenth century, women came forward at the time of the underground
railroad when the slaves were moving from the South to the North in the U.S. A
white woman would place a quilt upside down on her clothesline to signal that
food and water would be waiting in the basement for slaves seeking freedom to
the North. This often happened in the face of many of their husbands being part
of the KKK, no doubt.
Women have convened in the public sector and helped each other in partner-
ships and non-hierarchal formats from quilting bees in the nineteenth century to
childcare cooperatives, book clubs, sports teams, ladies church groups, business
and professional groups, investment groups, micro-loan groups, and then women’s
foundations. In the twenty-first century, women’s giving circles are emerging as
the preferred model of women’s collectivity. These giving circles are headed by
women with shared monies going generally to women serving or women-led
community-based organizations. Women give anywhere from $5 to $25,000. It
is up to them how much they contribute.
There are now hundreds of these in the United States and there will be thou-
sand of them. We must claim and shape them as the evolution of feminism and
as ways, just like the twelve-step programs and the women’s spirituality circles,
that demonstrate the power and collectivity of collaboration, and we must teach
and partner with these women to learn more about how to be effective social
I have been thrilled at the women’s giving circles, but I also wanted women to
give up control of the decision-making by giving to community-based foundations.
The politically powerful model is a community-based model in which donors
pool and collectivise their activism with grassroots activists, creating better deci-
sion-making, so that the donors wouldn’t be the only one making decisions, but
rather arrive at decisions through a more community-based process. The more
decisions are made with community-based activists at the table, the more we can
understand what needs to change. Either way, women learn and understand the
power of sharing and engagement. The lessons of giving up class-based control
may, for many, take a lifetime. Nonetheless, the gift of the women’s funding
movement has been a significant move for the democratization of philanthropy.
We knew that 70 per cent of women now fill the public sector. They are only 30
per cent of people working in the non-profit sector, the remaining percentage are
men. We must expect no less of the women in non-profit sector than to create
radical and dramatic change. The best way to do this is to counterbalance that
which goes on in government with that which goes on certainly in business. We
must deepen and diversify in order to make that critical change.
If someone had told me that my sense of abundance and hope would come
from giving all that I inherited and by stepping up to give over 50 per cent of
what I earned, I would say “You’ve got to be kidding.”
I know well that mistakes in judgment come with fatigue. I spent half my time
working with donors and the other half listening to those needing resources to
see how I might best connect them. I know too that making and being called
to make so many decisions involves the exploration and challenges of expressing
power. Coming from a place of privilege, we were trained to lead and to domi-
nate. When I have fallen short of my own potential as a leader, or better yet as
a partner, I have taken spiritual guidance from others who are trying to make
similar changes. Our shared difficulty as products of patriarchy with respect to
power and domination is natural. We who do want to be seen as dominators, or
matriarchs, suffer at times by not having the skillfulness or consciousness needed
to broadly redistribute power resources by holding on to our own and others’
But no one can say that we have not experimented or done everything pos-
sible to try to bring justice and feminine values to the table. True audacity is in
The key is now how to make visible the stories and dreams and work that is
going on for countless others. This will take a revolution in the media and our
use of it. We need more daring and caring women donors to advance all that had
been laid. Younger women demand our politicization and speaking up. We have
found our voices, but we are still learning to use our passion and our leadership
and our voices effectively. An amazing infrastructure has been put in place in
only 30 years. I’m the first to admit that feminist values have been cloaked or
dropped during the past 15 years of this revolution. It was intentional. We had
a choice to expand the movement and then politicize it, or face the limitations
the feminist movement had in the mid- to late-1980s. We chose to expand the
movement, and are now busy working very hard to politicize it. Perhaps we made
the wrong choice.
Given the fierce present now and the hesitations of so many, I completely agree
that we must bring back, front and center, a vision of a just society, and how best
to get there. Many agree that women are the guides to lead us to survival. I also
agree that language, how we express ourselves, and vision must be inspiring and
ignite again the passion and hopes of all citizens. Our time to save the planets
is sadly short.
The future of humanity does depend on this strategy and how we unfold it.
In the end I do not know if prayer or activism will save the world. I know I am
called with you to do both. It is very hard to face the fact that after 30 years of
full-time work in this area, the richest 20 per cent have more income, 75 times
that of the poorest 20 per cent of the world, 30 times as much as in 1960, and
that half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. But that is where we
are, and we must continue to educate and effect the radical change needed to
bring capitalism and the patriarchy to its conscience, if not its knees.
Recently in Scotland for a visit to see the physical presence of the Divine
Feminine with Margy Adam and other feminist activists, about the time of the
Iraqi prison abuses, I was given a message there, as spirits are keen to do. It was
a message about the gift economy, not tied up in the complexities of matriarchy
or patriarchy, capitalism or socialism. It was simply this: “The world speeds up,
but you must infuse your actions with the wisdom, the spirit and hope in the
honour practices of Indigenous peoples everywhere. Women and caring men
must counterbalance and stop the exponential destruction being perpetrated with
their exponential and effective good. Step up and step out, make the dreamers
and the dream makers more visible, make your vision for a just society a reality,
and get out of the fog.”
And so my journey for justice continues. Transformation is a gift delivered
through faith and feminism and action. We are on path. Let us simply invite and
engage the millions who seek our sharing, our sustainable ways, and our affirming
bridge-building to another way, a joyous, giving way.
Our task is not impossible, it is about taking what we have done and becoming
more effective spokespeople for the clear changes needed. We shall go forth. We
shall inspire others with the tenacity and solidarity of our movement. In the end,
as Jeanette Armstrong (see her article in this volume) has said, “giving is the only
way to be fully human.”
Tracy Gary transforms communities as a donor activist, philanthropic and legacy
advisor, and nonprofit entrepreneur. She has been on over 30 boards of directors and
has help to start 19 nonprofits and foundations including Resourceful Women and
Changemakers. Her latest adventure is Inspired Legacies, which helps to catalyze billions
of dollars of the public good through linking of powerful dreamers, dreammakers, and
advisors. Tracy is the co-author of Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step by Step Guide
to Creating a Giving and Legacy Plan (Jossey Bass, 2007) with new worksheets for
those planning their lifetime legacies. She credits the leadership of the women’s move-
ment and mentors like Gen Vaughan for their inspiration of her feminist philanthropy
and commitment to the women’s funding movement.