As we took intentional time reflecting throughout Women’s History Month in March and the countless women who inspire us, our minds immediately went to Barbara Brandt. A fierce entrepreneur filled with wisdom and wit, Barbara Brandt blazed the trail for women in philanthropy when she began a small, local consulting firm (Barbara K. Brandt, Inc.), which provided charitable giving and strategic planning services for corporations, families, nonprofits, and foundations. Prior to launching her own firm, Barbara graduated with her bachelor’s degree from University of Wisconsin and Ohio State University in 1963. From Director of Development for The Ohio State University College of Arts and Sciences, to VP of the Ohio Health Foundation and the Columbus Foundation, to YWCA Women of Achievement in 2000, her career has run the gamut to make meaningful impact. Not to mention, has also been an invaluable mentor to Cramer & Associates and to so many other amazing women throughout her lifetime.
We recently had the chance to chat with a friend and fellow mentee of Barbara’s, Founder of Dress for Success Columbus and Chief Executive Officer of SocialVentures, Vicki Bowen Hewes. Barbara was spearheading the corporate philanthropy strategy for the popular fashion retailer brand headquartered in Columbus, OH, Express, when she connected the brand with Dress for Success after meeting Vicki. “Barbara was transformative for the organization to be able to grow and scale and serve more women in a sustainable way,” said Vicki. Like us, Vicki credits much of the confidence she built in her time with DFSC to Barbara’s mentorship and genuine conversations. “She was there for the good times and the tough times… I came from the for-profit world and didn’t know how to fundraise and engage people, but I wanted to help women. She took me under her wing and… treated me as a daughter almost. Barbara gives everything her all, and the best gift she ever gave me was raw feedback… it wasn’t always easy to hear, but… I knew that if she didn’t care she wouldn’t be so authentic.”
While we celebrate how far we’ve come, we still have a way to go – but Barbara has away of facing power imbalances head-on and without hesitation, and a knack for coaching other women to do the same. “I was navigating a lot of meetings for partnerships and sponsorships with a lot of successful men, and her ability to cut through that gender inequity and say, ‘approach this as any other meeting,’… was
invaluable,” said Vicki.
We’re so grateful for Barbara’s mentorship and tremendous work in the world of philanthropy as a strong, female leader, and were fortunate to have the opportunity to catch up with her in March. Hear from Barbara in her own words with our Q&A session below!
My passion for social justice was developed and nurtured throughout my life. My parents were constantly reminding my sisters and me that we had obligations to our community. My father set an example and held evening office hours so he could see patients who worked all day and could not afford to leave work to see their doctor. The conversation in our home was often about how fortunate we were and what we must do to make life better for others. As much as we were shielded from the hardships and tragedies of life, we always seemed to be taught we could make a difference.
My earliest philanthropic lesson came from my father’s mother who collected coins and demonstrated the act of solicitation as a joyful act. As a young teen, she told me it was a lifelong responsibility to be aware of need and to quietly respond to that need. Do not humiliate – just do what needs to be done. She taught me the basic rule of ‘making an ask!’ Believe in what you are seeking to make happen and begin with your own support in whatever form you can. Helping is not charity, it is reaching out and doing. As she said, “no fanfare needed.”
My family lived a life that taught us that doing good deeds brought true happiness because you could help make dreams come true. A new Temple, working with victims of domestic violence, and new cures for old diseases were all possible. Optimism and thanks for the gifts we had were often the core of many serious discussions. We were spoiled but knew we had a responsibility to make life fair and just for ALL people. My sister Rosanne is always thinking of what she can do next to help a person or group of people have better lives.
My 20-year-old self was at the University of Wisconsin, a liberal university with a passion for activism. The student body and faculty all made it easy to remember that there was terrible inequity in the world and that it was TIME TO ACT. So, I was surrounded by fellow students and faculty who helped me understand how to be an activist and address those inequities. The Civil Rights Movement was something many college students became emotionally tied to between 1959-1963. Our Civil Rights Law was passed in 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, so I was sure everything would change. I was naïve and not truly aware of what was transpiring in the daily lives of so many people in our country. Poverty was a relative term and racial discrimination was not part of my daily experience.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have told myself to seek all the knowledge I could to advance change and forget some of the superficial things we were saying and doing in college. I might have thought about a career devoted to insuring change. I might have spent time with non-college campus activists and allowed myself to actually feel the danger and see the real opportunity as well. But I was a sheltered young woman and not personally empowered at that moment in time. Remember, during my lifetime, I have been privy to movement after movement – Civil Rights, Choice, Women’s Movement, LGBT movement – to name but a few. Change has occurred and women my age have helped those younger to realize what can be done. It has taken a lifetime and still we are not totally where we need to be. All these movements gave women a boost and helped us feel empowered to go out and make a difference.
Consequently, I am not sure of what I would have told my 20-year-old self. I don’t think I had lived long enough and was confident enough to give guidance to anyone, let alone myself. However, I do believe that to know you are not ready for these things is also important, and I wish I would have told myself, “Barbara, you are not ready to strike out. You need to gain confidence and truly begin to see your world is not the world of many. Get educated, hold this aspiration near and dear and then do whatever you can to foster change.”
The people I have met along the way have made my life richer and better in every way possible. They opened my eyes and allowed me to see and feel what needed to be done, but also to see the joy and satisfaction they had in their lives. I have met famous people; scientists like Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of the first safe and effective polio vaccine, and feminists such a Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, both bold and influential leaders of the Women’s Movement. I have met survivors of all kinds of horrors, and I have seen what people can live through and still be kind and hopeful. I have made friends of people I would never have met if not for my career. I have had mentors from all walks of life and of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds who have educated me to recognize need and to do something about it. I have lifelong friendships and a lifetime of memories to call up and smile about because in some small way, I was given the opportunity to make life a little better for some as they made me a better person.
The people who expressed confidence in my work also helped me at every turn, offering guidance and assistance from the beginning as they encouraged me to move forward. Fortunately, the young women I meet and work with today naturally have the confidence that they need to move forward to do and become whatever they dream of. I learn as much from them as they learn from me. Women in philanthropy were not always as common as they are today. I soaked up the generous help of older male leaders and never will forget how generous they were with their time and guidance.
I will always believe that sharing with our children the whole picture of our world – economic struggles, inequities due to race, religion, education – is the best opportunity we have to change the world. I am grateful for the joy my children and grandchildren have brought to me and for the work they do every day in their careers and though their volunteer efforts to make their piece of the world a loving and respectful place to live.
My career has given me a window into the world – a myriad of friends and co-workers to
share life with and an opportunity to try to make a difference.
What more could a woman born in 1941 hope to realize in her lifetime?
Thank you for sharing your thought provoking, genuine reflections with us, Barbara!
Your mentorship and friendship mean more to us, and to the numerous other women you’ve taught, than you’ll ever know. Cheers to Barbara Brandt and to all the other amazing women out there working to make this world a better place!