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Gender Equity, Philanthropy
October 2018 – present
AT A GLANCE
of the US population, but fewer than
of political leadership.
women were elected to Congress in 2018.
Women make up 51% of the population, but less than 30% of elected officials in the U.S. Although many organizations train women to run for office, the space is underfunded, and thus their ability to be flexible and coordinate with other groups is limited. Given the number of small organizations working in the field, it can be difficult for funders not deeply entrenched in this work, to determine how to best invest.
The Ascend Fund, powered by Panorama Global, pools philanthropic capital to support nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations that prepare women to run for office and break down barriers that keep them from running and winning elections. Based on a year of foundational research, Ascend developed a two-pronged strategy and will invest at least $8 million in programs over the next three years.
Focus on States: Critical policy decisions are made at the state level, so it is imperative that elected officials reflect the diverse population they represent. With 7,353 statehouse seats, in contrast to only 535 congressional seats, the opportunity exists to elect a larger number of women, particularly women of color, while simultaneously building a bench of highly qualified candidates for future federal office.
Challenge Convention & Enhance Collaboration: It is time to throw out preconceived notions of what political leadership looks like and find new strategies to recruit women from a wide variety of backgrounds and enhance their ability to reach elected office. Specifically, a unifying strategy needs to be developed across the field, and an increased focus on recruiting women who participated in the training to run in open races. In addition to funding these efforts, The Ascend Fund will play a convening and connecting role to foster collaboration between groups.
The Ascend Fund launched in 2018 with seed funding from an anonymous donor. Ascend’s grantees are organizations working to elect more women to political office. Ascend is currently working with four organizations, which focus on varied issues in this space.
Vote Run Lead offers campaign trainings for women candidates and staff, and New American Leaders facilitates trainings and fellowships for first and second generation immigrants interested in running for office. With additional resources from The Ascend Fund, Vote Run Lead and New American Leaders will coordinate their programming and work together to train and recruit women for state legislative seats.
Two additional grantees engage women more broadly in politics: Running Start trains young women in political leadership to prepare the next generation to run for office and normalize women’s leadership, while GALvanize works with women nationwide to provide support and platforms to exercise their full political agency.
“On the policy-making side, we know that women do government differently. We’re more likely to work across the aisle, to bring more constituents into the fold, to add to the policy agenda things that often women and families care about, but we’re also likely to have different and unique perspectives on the top issues of the economy and pay and jobs and health care” –Erin Vilardi, VoteRunLead (November 12, 2018, New York)
In 2018 and 2019, The Ascend Fund invested $1 million in grass-roots organizations tackling the barriers that limit women’s engagement in civic and political processes. While it is too early to assess impact, Ascend is monitoring and evaluating the organizations it is funding. Additionally, continued investment in organizations committed to gender equity will be vital for sustained progress.