Member Highlight: Amy Mandel
The Amy Mandel and Katina Rodis Fund, based out of Asheville, North Carolina, has a very specific mission: supporting social justice work that advances LGBTQ rights, forwards racial justice and combats anti-Semitism on a global, national and local scale. While the organization supports dozens of organizations around the world, Asheville and its surrounding areas in Western North Carolina get special attention – more than 20 nonprofits in the area have benefited from the Fund's work.
Last month, in a series of posts on the website for one of the foundation's programs, the Tzedek Social Justice Fellowship, Amy wrote an extended essay on her life and how she has leveraged her privilege to promote equity.
"In hearing others describe what led them to do what they do, I have come to see the importance of telling my story and sharing publicly why I do what I do," Amy wrote as she introduced the series. "My hope is that sharing the paradoxes and questions I sit with is a step towards the transparency and accountability which are so essential for building trust and community."
The key paradox that Amy observes is that she is white and wealthy, but also Jewish, gay and has a disability, giving her a wide array of experiences.
"I have experienced anti-Semitism, homophobia, and ableism first hand," she writes. "And as a wealthy, white funder, I carry class and racial privilege. Given the circumstances of my birth, I have had access to all of the medical, educational, financial, and other privileges that are available to those of us with wealth and white skin."
Amy spent much of her early life heavily involved in student activism, the organized labor movement and the burgeoning LGBTQ rights movement. She adopted two children and met the woman who would become her wife, Katina Rodis. Her career in philanthropy, however, began in the 1980s, when funds from her parents and her own personal trust were combined to form the fund that shares her and Katina's names.
"For many years, the work of AMKRF was informal," Amy wrote. "As health permitted, I did research to find new-to-me organizations that were doing the kind of work I admired while also making grants to organizations and leaders I already knew. But the spring of 2010 brought a severe, four-year relapse of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Even with Katina’s input and collaboration, it became increasingly difficult to research best practices, maintain relationships with grantees, and develop the work strategically."
Hitting the limits of their own personal capacity, Amy and Katina began to formalize the Fund's operations, hiring multiple staff. Yet in 2017, the organization decided to "cause for the pause" – taking time off to "build a more nimble and responsive program, build more transparent systems, and deeply embody and internalize our values." Part of that pause included connecting with, and learning from, others in the field – and joining SECF.
"As the Chief Visionary Officer of AMKRF, I am primarily focused on our team building authentic relationships with grantees, stakeholders, colleagues in progressive philanthropy and members of our community," Amy writes. "These relationships help us build on our strengths, understand where we are missing the mark, and implement best practices in grantmaking."
What's next for Amy and the Fund? She says the organization's work is grounded in two certainties.
"First, I believe that I can leverage my power, utilize my voice, and direct resources to make change," she writes. "Second, I believe there is a moral imperative to redistribute accumulated resources."
Amy does not define this redistribution as charity, however. Instead, she ties it to the Jewish tradition of Tzedakah.
"It describes an essential practice of showing up in the world, always acting for what is right and just," she writes. "Charity is built upon the idea that folks who are receiving resources are less than and in need. When I think about our community partners, our Fellows, and who we fund, I do not see folks in need. I see brilliant world changers. Together, we’re working towards a better world for all of us."