RespectAbility works with employers, entertainment leaders, governors, policy makers, educators, self-advocates, non-profits, faith-based organizations, philanthropists and the media to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. Because intersectionality includes normalizing the world for people with different needs, we’re glad to underwrite this dynamic group’s timely work with the entertainment industry. New standards for Best Picture Oscar(™) nominees mean filmmakers will be seeking out the counsel of RespectAbility experts. There will be a measurable difference in the number of people with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera.
When we began thinking intentionally about intersectionality, we sought an appropriate role to support emerging voices on the political stage. In 2016 we started a relationship with Higher Heights, a powerful network designed to expand Black women’s political power through convenings, webinars, training, and online events. Higher Heights Leadership Fund enlists tens of thousands of Black women (and their allies) to maximize the possibilities for Black women to lead on the local, state, and national levels. (In addition to foundation grants for the HH nonprofit 501(c)(3), Ruth Ann Harnisch supports their 501(c)(4) political action group with personal funds.)
The Ms. Foundation’s pivot to concentrating on women of color reflects our own desire to invest in women’s equality, equity and opportunity to earn money, with access to health care and child care. We underwrote some of the strategic study that led to this focus. Among our other contributions, we support the Ms. Foundation’s annual comedy showcase. We love Funny Girls of all ages!
Funny Girls — our pioneering program that uses improv as a leadership tool for girls in grades 3-8 — launches! Developed in creative collaboration with the Magnet Theater and Pilobolus Dance Theater, Funny Girls’ curriculum focuses on the skills of self-awareness, learning agility, collaboration, empathy, and resiliency. Running in partnership with social justice forward after school programs primarily in NYC, we train instructors chosen from the communities they serve. To meet the Funny Girls team, our partners and for more info on our (developing/exciting/exploding/blossoming) program, visit the Funny Girls program page.
Led by Dr. Stacy L. Smith at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, The Inclusionists study the state of diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. These pioneering researchers put hard numbers to the problems, thus creating measurable social change through the use of their research to spur advocacy, and action. We know the importance of this research and underwrite new studies that match our interests.
Sundance Women Filmmakers Initiative
Our belief that media by and about women is one of the most effective ways to shift cultural norms and raise awareness made our partnership with the Sundance Institute a natural fit. A longtime patron, Ruth Ann has given grants to the Sundance Women Filmmakers Initiative (now Women at Sundance) and recently established a program of professional coaching for each of the Momentum Fellows selected for the program. In the truest spirit of inclusion and intersectionality, most offerings are now available to anyone outside the traditional white-male-able-bodied-non-ethnic stereotype.
Exploring Disruptive Philanthropy
When we heard about the everyday people who give no-strings-attached $1000 grants to grassroots projects and their creators, we were eager to establish our own chapter with weekly grants. Awesome Without Borders celebrates the wildly imaginative, artistic, humanitarian, wacky as well as deadly serious ideas where a thousand dollars can make a difference. This microgiving portion of our diverse philanthropic investment portfolio gives us very high returns of joy.
Founding Partner of SupporTED
Soon after Ruth Ann (a TED patron since 2006) began supporting the TED Fellows program, she offered to help create a team of coaching support for the Fellows. Alongside co-founder Renee Freedman, they developed SupporTED, a pro bono coaching initiative enlisting world-class professional coaches to volunteer their services to the Fellows. Later, Renee developed the SupporTED Collaboratorium, a four-day intensive where teams of coaches and other professionals offer their knowledge, talents, and ideas to Fellows. TheHF underwrote and managed the coaching program until TED itself decided to formally offer coaching services to the Fellows. The coaching benefit was consistently rated as one of the top benefits of the entire TEDFellowship, usually dueling for the top spot with attendance at the TED Conference itself.
EDGE Certified Foundation
To be honest, we couldn’t have dreamed when we gave a grant to create systemic change globally that we would see results so soon. Closing the gender pay gap in corporations worldwide isn’t exactly a small feat. Launched as the Gender Equity Project, the first companies — including banking and retail institutions — have already been certified.
Women Moving Millions
Ruth Ann qualified for membership in Women Moving Millions, an organization of women (and a few good men) each of whom have given one million dollars or more to the advancement of girls and women. Ruth Ann formerly co-chaired the WMM Film Circle and is currently participating in their $100 million dollar campaign, Give Bold Get Equal.
Center for Sustainable Journalism
Old media was dying as ad spending evaporated. So when Professor Len Witt presented us with the opportunity to give founding funding to the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University, we were grateful for the opportunity to underwrite his vision. For many years, the Center proved the viability of dedicated funding for a specific genre of journalism, specifically, reporting on Juvenile Justice. Today the founding leaders of the Center have passed that baton, and Len’s prescient imagining of a world in which people willingly pay journalists to produce specific content is burgeoning in today’s Substack, Medium, and other avenues for compensating journalists and commentators for their work. The center’s comprehensive reporting on juvenile justice — shared through the online Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and the printed publication YouthToday — has been its most successful enterprise to date.
The Institute of Coaching
Experiencing the value of professional coaching herself, Ruth Ann recognized a need to invest in academic research for the coaching field. This led to a $2 million dollar gift to establish the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School Affiliate where Carol Kauffman, PhD serves as Executive Director and Margaret Moore and Susan David as Co-Directors. The mission of the Institute is to build scientific foundation and best practices of leadership, wellness and personal coaching.
Baruch College Harnisch Scholars
When one of the most diverse educational institutions in the country created the “Department of Journalism and the Writing Professions,” it was the perfect opportunity for Ruth Ann, a “recovering journalist” and her husband Bill, a Baruch alum, to collaborate. The result: we underwrote StudioH, a new media lab, and provided annual scholarships aimed at empowering new voices in journalism. To date, over 200 Harnisch Family Scholars have graduated from the NYC College.
Building Paths to Financial Freedom
Thistle Farms (formerly known as Magdalene), a residential program for women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction, is an excellent example of the transformation that can happen when philanthropists invest early in powerful ideas. By establishing matching funds for Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), women had the financial means to rebuild their lives. What began as a small organization in Nashville, TN became an international movement to empower survivors.
Women Donors Network
A community of progressive women who multiply their energy, strategic savvy, and philanthropic dollars to build a more just and fair world, Women Donors Network (WDN) addresses many of theHF’s focus areas. Ruth Ann joined back when the organization’s newsletter was still typed, printed, stapled and snailmailed. From its founding, when it helped women become comfortable taking control of their wealth and deploying it for social good, WDN today marshals and distributes bold multi-million dollar support of leaders and organizations driving the racial justice movement. WDN underwrites leading-edge efforts for social change, including research about who holds elected office and how to build a more inclusive society.
First Million Dollar Grant
At a time when it wasn’t common for philanthropists to speak openly about giving, More than Money (MtM) was groundbreaking for “opening the green closet.” This grant, the largest in the organization’s history, allowed them to develop a public platform where the top 5% of wealthholders could connect and learn how to be better stewards of their affluence. The MtM founders also created the 50% League (now Bolder Giving) that inspired the now famous Giving Pledge.
Bold Champion For Equal Rights
When the local chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) needed a partner who wasn’t afraid to shock Conservative Nashville with a billboard proclaiming “Someone You Know And Love Is Gay,” they knew who to call.
Promoting Microfinance for Women
Matching funds for personal saving accounts, the success of trusting women with their own money led us to consider how access to independent income could impact women internationally. By partnering with leading development organization Pro Mujer, we were able to support their efforts to connect women in South America with microloans. The women business owners were each mutually responsible for paying back the loan, creating a level of accountability and commitment.
Power of the Purse®
The Women’s Fund was established within The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee in 1994 by a committee of community leaders who wanted to invest in long-term solutions for transforming the lives of women and girls, subsequently improving the well-being of the entire community. An early supporter of the Women’s Fund, Ruth Ann helped to create and underwrite The Power of the Purse® luncheon, now the most major money-raising event for the Fund, of which she continues to support today.
A Foundation is Born
Ruth Ann’s years of reporting on social justice issues and working as a woman in the field inspired her to fund agencies working to support girls and women, the poor, and others at a disadvantage. In 1998, The Harnisch Foundation was born. It began awarding grants to nonprofits in Tennessee where Ruth Ann resided at the time.
Investing in Vulnerable Populations
Who speaks for the people with no political power? Nobody was fighting harder for the rights of the poor than Tennessee Justice Center founder and former Legal Aid lawyer Gordon Bonnyman. Ruth Ann, impressed by his leadership, funded his efforts to hold the state accountable for broken promises to its least powerful citizens.
Shattering Glass Ceilings
Ruth Ann broke through the norms of a MadMen era and became the first woman in Nashville to appear on the evening news set, a privilege only granted to men until then. (She was followed a few months later by newcomer Oprah Winfrey.) In addition to her role as a reporter/anchor, she was a talk show host at WLAC-AM, and a columnist for the Nashville Banner.