In 2009, my sister and I decided to join together with resources left to us by our mother to create Two Sisters and a Wife Foundation. We had both served on the board of Halcyon Hill Foundation for many years and wanted to create a new foundation that would be more flexible and more accessible to grantees. We also wanted to give my children the same opportunity we had to share the experience of philanthropy.
After my sister died, and I got divorced, it became apparent that the name no longer fit. After considering many colorful suggestions by my kids, a student in one of my classes read the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver. Having spent over 25 years in philanthropy, the concept of not having to “walk on your knees” for a grant or for access to a family foundation, fit perfectly. The poem conveys much of what I believe about the role as a funder- that while there is a definite power imbalance in the world of grant making, it is our responsibility to create easy access, and as much respect in the process as possible.
We are a family foundation. We believe in a fair and just society. We are also aware that social justice means nothing if we don’t have a planet to live on, thus our environmental focus. Using a combination of shareholder activism to demand better corporate behavior in regard to the environment, and focusing on access to local, quality agriculture, we hope to support a shift in the way we consume the most essential resource – food.
Yearly grants total approximately $600,000; the median size grant is $10,000. We do not support traditional, large scale organizations as we feel there are far too many smaller groups who get overlooked, remain underfunded, who are often too busy doing the day to day work to be able to research where they can obtain grant money. Thus, our online application is intentionally short. It is our responsibility to evaluate the impact of the grant. Long applications and equally long reports after the grant is made, in our opinion, creates unnecessary stress on organizations. There is no need to have anyone “walk on their knees.”
My sister and I believed that while family can be messy and difficult at times, it was also a source of great joy. The same is true for philanthropy. Please let us know how we are doing, as we are a work in progress.
We are announcing our “place in the family of things.”
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.