September 22, 2021

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Meet Stephanie Ellis-Smith, Philanthropic Advisor and Co-founder, Give Blck

Stephanie Ellis-Smith, originally trained to be a lab scientist but found herself instead serving as a trusted advisor to philanthropic individuals and families around the country to help them make meaning and social change from their giving. Learn more about her and her inspiring work in our newest feature.

For those who don’t know you, tell us a little about your background. 

I have always, in one way or another, tried to do good in the world. One thing people may not know about me is that I originally trained to be a lab scientist. I was planning to get an MD/PhD! I was keen to add new knowledge to the world of medicine to cure diseases like malaria and AIDS, but the universe had different plans for me. I ended up going in a completely different direction as I realized I could have a greater impact in a way that better suited my personality— getting involved in the social sector. It has been 25 years since that change and I haven’t looked back. During that time, I’ve held every seat at the table: nonprofit founder (twice over!), nonprofit CEO, social enterprise COO, foundation trustee, nonprofit board member, corporate board member, donor, volunteer, you name it. My life has been made all the better by these experiences. Today, my day job is serving as a trusted advisor to philanthropic individuals and families around the country to help them make meaning and social change from their giving. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with such thoughtful people.

What are you most looking forward to about reviewing Anthem Awards entries?

I’m most looking forward to seeing the creativity by the entrants. It aligns so deeply with my personal mantra of using what you have to drive change. I’m also excited to see the diversity of entrants, be they individuals, brands, or companies. Each have a unique ability to leverage what they have at that their disposal to make a difference in their sphere. I look forward to being inspired by novel ideas and a sense of hope for the future in the entries.

What does it take for a project or campaign to cause real-world change?

It takes having a leader or leadership team with three key attributes: vision, dogged determination, and patience. Changemeakers must first be able to envision a new world, one that currently doesn’t exists and see it so clearly that they can sketch a path toward the goal. Once the vision is in place, they must keep their eyes on the proverbial prize despite roadblocks, naysayers, and even fatigue. I always like to say that social change is a marathon not a sprint. The spirit of determination should not come at the expense of our personal well-being. Finally, real-world change is ushered in with patience. This last point can be tricky because changemakers are also typically driven by a sense of urgency. However, I see it as a delicate balance been the urgency to push forward while also realizing that the world’s most intractable problems were not created overnight; nor will they be solved overnight. 

How does your work at Give Blck support your mission?

Being a founder of Give Blck is a direct expression of my personal mission of using all we have at our disposal to drive social change. In my advising world, we call it using the “4 Ts”: talent, treasure, ties, and testimony. My co-founders (Christina Lewis and Dave Setiadi) and I marshaled each of those to build Give Blck into an entity that advances racial equity in giving and mobilizes positive action for Black lives by connecting people to causes they care about. Funding and investing in Black nonprofit organizations is a critical – yet often forgotten – piece to tackling systemic racism and inequality. Give Blck is designed to address this problem by calling attention to organizations and their leaders who are working on the frontlines of social change. Making it easier for donors to connect with Black organizations is the solution to one of the primary challenges they face when seeking Black nonprofits to support—knowing where to find them. I’m very proud of this work. 

Bonus: What’s your favorite purpose-driven project or mission-driven campaign right now, and why?

Given my work as an advisor in philanthropy to individuals with significant wealth who are looking to connect their money with meaning, I am really interested in the Decolonizing Wealth/Liberated Capital Movement. This purpose-driven project was founded by Edgar Villanueva and grew out of his 2018 book of the same name. There is a growing call to “decolonize wealth” and to liberate philanthropic capital from its traditional confines of power and increase the rate of support to those who need it most. This initiative is on the forefront of a reparative and restorative movement to move untethered dollars to marginalized communities and engage donors of all ethnicities and races in the transformative work of healing that is required to close the racial wealth gap. I’m excited by this project because of the interest I see it generates among not just my peers in philanthropy, but in my high-net-wealth clients as well. As we become a nation with an growing divide between those who have so much and those with little, movements like Decolonizing Wealth have sparked incredible interest from many who increasingly feel like the inequities embedded in our society are harming us all.