Giving Is a Journey: Cheryl Houser Shares Hers and Why She’s Focusing More on Political Giving

WDN member Cheryl Houser joins us in an interview to share her giving journey and what avenues she’s using to create change.

You’re a relatively recent member having joined in October of 2020, so welcome, we’re excited to learn a bit more about you and your passions. Tell us about your background. What other work have you done in philanthropy and what inspired you to join WDN? 

My professional background is in communications, sales, and management; early on in the newspaper industry and then as co-owner of a multi-faceted veterinary center for 30 years. As our last son went away to college, I became interested in getting more involved in global development, having volunteered over the years for organizations serving refugees and women’s empowerment projects in developing countries. I landed on becoming a member and joined the working board for Pangea Giving, a Seattle-based giving circle that supports grassroots organizations in the Global South to improve the quality of life in their communities. I managed communications there for seven years and was a liaison for Kenyan partners for a decade. I still serve on Pangea’s East Africa Grants Committee. I’m also an alumnus of Global Leadership Forum, a dynamic community of social purpose leaders. I became interested in WDN because I wanted to become more educated about how to invest and advocate for progressive changes in my own country. I had heard great things from three WDN members I knew in Seattle.  

You joined our Participation & Representation Impact Collective soon after becoming a member, can you share more about the work of the collective and what drew you to join? 

Like so many, The Trump era jolted me into becoming more educated about US politics and policies which lit a fire in me to focus on fighting for progressive changes domestically. Hence, I worked extensively via phone banking in 2020 on the Biden/Harris campaign and down-ballot races in both Arizona and Texas. I also reached out to numerous voters for the Georgia runoffs. Talking to so many voters during this time made me appreciate how important protecting voting rights and having equal representation are. It was eye-opening for me to talk with people from marginalized communities where voter suppression efforts have been and continue to be rampant.  

After joining WDN in October of 2020 I resonated with the mission of the Participation and Representation Impact Committee (P&R) as soon as I learned about its focus on Voter Justice. Our P&R grants support national and state organizers to find solutions to protect and engage voters and secure elections. I’m so glad I jumped right in as I am learning so much from participating in this steering committee. I’m also planning on getting more involved with WDN Action having recently attended the Virtual Advocacy Kickoff for the Women on the Hill advocacy event. Through WDN Action I learned about Voices for Progress where I’m volunteering this summer as a Donor Ambassador. My current passion is fighting for filibuster reform to enable the passage of the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.  

You’re also exploring c4 and political giving. Can you share more about why you think it’s important to give both to charitable causes and political causes? 

In the past I have done both c3 and c4 giving domestically but not in a very structured way. My c4 giving had been focused mostly on election cycles. WDN Action is really helping me be more thoughtful about where, when, and how to give. I’m learning how important it is to support ground-level organizers early and think about making long-term investments where my money will help most. My goal this year is to put more time and effort into developing a personal portfolio that reflects values that are important to me. I’m committed to supporting both c3 and c4s both nationally and locally. I’m very grateful for all I’m learning from this community.  

What avenues are you using to explore in your political giving?

I am participating in as many educational sessions as I can with both WDN and WDN Action, which I have found to be an excellent resource. I also learn from the WDN Action listserv. I keep up on national and local news and subscribe to progressive podcasts and blogs. I am expanding my domestic philanthropic strategy to include more groups working for progressive change, both on the c3 and c4 sides. I’m becoming more aware of local and state issues and candidates. This is a work in progress, for sure.  

You’ve done a lot of international giving, what have you learned from those experiences as a donor that informs the giving you do domestically? 

I’ve learned that real change takes time and that supporting grassroots organizing is usually key to make this happen. Participation is important at all levels of society and the people working on the ground generally know how resources can best be utilized and targeted. I love that the WDN grantmaking model is trust-based.  

Lastly, what is a book you have loved recently? Give us one of your essential reads. 

I just finished Stacey Abrams’s new book While Justice Sleeps and loved it. It is a well-crafted political thriller and a definite page-turner. I also found Barack Obama’s book, A Promised Land to be very informative. It gave me a greater appreciation of the complexities of running our executive branch of government.

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