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Podcast: America’s Leading Ladies

In our blog we’ve pulled back the veil on our approach and methodologies through a largely ‘plug and play’ resources and Masterclasses so you can skillfully engage the funding partners your mission deserves.

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Our founder, Natalie Rekstad, was featured on a podcast for her inclusion in the 2019 book, ‘America’s Leading Ladies‘. The book features the stories of 50 inspiring American women, including Oprah Winfrey and Melinda French Gates.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Here’s the transcript:

Host: Hello and welcome to another America’s leading ladies author reveal. I’m so happy to have Natalie Rekstad with me today. She is one of the first authors who appears in the book among the celebrity authors, and I wanted to share with you a little bit about what her view and mission is. She sees her ultimate vision as a world where men and women lead together with full opportunity and equality. So, I just want to mention that. Welcome.

Natalie: Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here and congratulations to you as well for your inclusion in the book.

Host: Oh, thank you. You know, I just, all of us have a special story of how we got involved. So just share with us how you ended up in this project.

Natalie: It was really out of the blue. The publisher reached out, and as you can imagine, I was delighted to be in the company of women like you and Oprah and Melinda.

Host: Right. And you are in the front with them.

Natalie: Yes, that was a red letter day.  Pat (the publisher) called and said she loved what I wrote and shared I was listed just before Melinda Gates.  It was surprising and I can’t say I agree, but it was exciting.

Host: But you know, it absolutely makes sense that you would be right there because that’s what you do, right? Your mission with your own business is philanthropy.

Natalie:  Yes, and I do identify as a philanthropist. But my strategist brain outperforms my wallet and so I found that I could have far, far, far greater impact as a strategist working with global nonprofits, many of which are in the women and girl’s space. I can’t add zeros onto my checks like Melinda the way I’d love to, but that is my way of adding zeros while also cultivating a team of talent, especially young talent, that has the same vision and ferocity around impact.

And that’s one of the things that I talk about in the book submission:   Start where you are. For a lot of the young women on my team, they have this brilliance and time and ferocity. And so, they’re bringing that to the table and we need that at the table. That’s who I was 25, 30 years ago. Now I have far more financial resources than time, but my time back then on the front lines as a Big Sister or coaching for Special Olympics informs my philanthropic investments now.

Host: Yeah, that makes sense. That’s great. So, I guess I kind of a little bit pulled out what I thought was your overall message to the world, but it seems like it’s a lot bigger than just the statement that I’ve pulled out of your submission.

Natalie: Yes and no. I think you captured the essence. How we get there is we all come to it from different angles. We’re all equals on the journey whether we are a fundraising strategist or funder in the trenches as a nonprofit leader.  The latter in particular need to take their full space in the world for their value, their mission, what they’re bringing to the table as equals. Funders can’t get the work done without you. You can’t do it without funders.

The crazy thing is it’s often the nonprofit leaders who are coming into the conversation with that ‘I’m less than” dynamic in their mind because they need money; as funders, we don’t really want to participate in that conversation. We want to find out does it make sense for us to partner together? Is this ours to do together? And what can that look like? And I think then the journey together is far richer and more true.

Host: So, for like the regular person who wants to contribute, tell us just one major way that we could help to change the world?

Natalie: Well, I wouldn’t say there’s one way. The main thing is what’s uniquely yours to do? Our deepest passions often spring from our deepest wounds, so a lot of us in the women and girls space come to it from that felt experience of being marginalized. And so, what’s mine to do is being an advocate and ambassador and funder and strategist around equality and that really stems from how I came up in my family and in my culture. So that is uniquely mine to do. It is deeply part of my DNA to have a ‘Not on my watch’ ferocity now as a result of that.

However, others may have something else that’s uniquely theirs to do. It could be any number of things, such as clean water because clean water informs so much else in terms of a thriving community. Our clients work on so many issue areas:  female genital cutting, child marriage, leadership, education. All of these things – even rural farming. And so what’s yours to do? It depends upon what you connect with as an issue area because what we need is really people who really identify with something that they care passionately about, that they care deeply about – callings call for us to grow into them – that they can feel called to do and grow.

And so, I can’t say that there’s any one thing people can do but start where you are with what inspires you. I will say depending upon where you are in your journey, if you have time, give time, as I did. And then, as well, if you have a particular expertise, give that expertise. If you are heart-led, if you are a nurturer, there’s a role for you to play even as an introvert/nurturer because there’s a lot of money in loving your donors and the nurturers have an incredible role to play even though they’re the first ones to hide under the table when the conversation about fundraising begins.

Funders have a very specific role to play, but I have to say the most effective funders of all are bringing their whole selves to it – their heart, their mind, their wallet, their hands. So many of the people in my peer group, they’re on the front lines – they’re living in Liberia, they’re in the trenches. I get vicarious trauma as an empath so I’m better to not be in the trenches. I’m the helper to the real helpers is sort of where I role is, right?  I think if I were to put anyone on a pedestal, it would be the people who are really in the trenches because they have grit and brilliance to get the work done. So for just anyone, start where you are and your journey will unfold from there. And you’ll stretch and learn and grow on the journey.

Actually I do have an answer about one thing. Everyone has the ability to mentor in some way, shape, or form – informally, formally. And it’s interesting because I was in Seattle last September and our group had a “fireside chat” with Melinda Gates and she was asked that question, if you had no money, if you woke up tomorrow and you didn’t have any of the financial resources you have today, what would you do to make a difference in the world? And she said, ‘I would be a mentor to a young woman.’ I thought that was really profound. Yes. So yeah, whether it’s an eight-year-old or someone in your company who is 30 or a rising star or maybe struggling and needs to be shepherded in some way. And I think men are incredibly talented at building infrastructure that support each other and women are being so much more intentional about it, and are far more aware and awake about how that’s necessary. And so, I think the tide is shifting organically, but I think to also be intentional about mentoring will make all the difference.

Host: I really like your answer. Mostly what I’m hearing is look around your community, look around your culture or wherever it is that you find yourself and see where you can support in your current capacity and as your capabilities grow, your opportunities grow.

Natalie: And actually I like how you paraphrased it because if that means that it starts just at your own kitchen table and raising your small, young children, and maybe volunteering at the school as the pizza mom, the library mom or the room parent. There’s incredible value there. And also I kind of want to take back the word philanthropy from people’s image of the word because the true definition of philanthropy is “love of humankind.” It’s from the Greek ‘philanthropos’. And I think people think, oh, philanthropy, that’s for “them” – it conjures up, you know, that it’s white or looks male, looks whatever, whatever our stereotype is. But in fact, I think it’s time to take back the word because philanthropy can be stopping and tying a child’s shoe, right? It’s kindness. It’s love of humankind. And I think if we can start with love of humankind, then we’re all philanthropists in the true sense of the word.

Host: And you know, also to your point about women reaching out to mentor again. I think it may have been just a symptom of something we lost going from our rural, tribal condition to the more industrial, right? Because it was very normal and natural for women to be in that way with each other. But we kind of were like in limbo. Like, wait, what are we supposed to do now because everything looks different and feels different.

Natalie: So, so interesting. And I never thought about that. I hadn’t connected those dots, but I think you’re absolutely right. We’re clearly wired for connection, but when we’re thrown into a masculine construct, like the modern day workplace, then our approach is more around how do we navigate this?  This competing and being very masculine? I came up in the 80s in Washington, DC in the era of ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ and the demonization of Anita Hill by men and women – and it was this whole “It’s not enough that I succeed, you must fail” ethos.

Host: Yeah.

Natalie: Oh, I don’t know if it’s still that way. Actually, what am I saying?! I know. I just caught myself.

Host: That’s a whole different topic.

Natalie: Yes. You have a hard job probably reining us all in to not go there.

Host: No, I live outside of Washington DC, so I try to keep myself on a little peaceful cloud.

Natalie: You know, it’s funny because I have a quote that I’ve lived by for years and years, which is ‘The impossible just takes a little longer.’ But the quote that I think really tied to what I was hoping to convey in the article, the essay was, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ And it’s an African proverb. And the reason I chose that was we need to be more intentional about inviting men into the conversation about equality. I think that, we in this movement, in the second wave of feminist – we have been working in silos enormously and yet men hold up the other half of the sky, right? It’s like the famous Chinese proverb ‘Women hold up half the sky.’ Well men hold up the other half. Why are we leaving out the other half of the sky in this conversation? And things are shifting. There are some incredible visionary men who are fierce, fierce warriors for equality. And I also find that fathers of daughters are fierce advocates for equality – they’re not always for the wives yet, but certainly for the daughters.  And the data proves out if the Chair of the Board, if he has daughters, there’s more women on the board. If it’s the CEO, there’s more women in leadership, all of these things. And then the companies perform better and there is this great, incredible domino effect. So, the reality is it benefits men and boys to have this equality. It affects it on so many levels. Countries are more peaceful and economies thrive.

Host: Yeah.

Natalie: If we want to go far, we need to go together. We need to link arms with men as equals — again, as equals. We all have our role to play and they’re absolutely invited to the movement.

Host: And to put it all together and taking back the word philanthropy, we are doing it out of the love of humanity. Right?

Natalie: Absolutely. And my core belief is the future hinges upon a more just and gender balanced world. So yes, again, everyone’s invited to the party.

Host: Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time, Natalie.

Natalie: Oh, sure. What a delight. So happy to meet you. And again, congratulations. And yes, to all of you kindreds out there, welcome to the movement!

Host: Thank you so much. And you can get your copy of America’s Leading Ladies on Amazon by going to America’s Leading Ladies and support this movement and join the party. Thank you.