December 12, 2023

Event Recap | Theory to Practice: Addressing Inequalities in the Philanthropic Sector

Theory to Practice is an ongoing series of discussions hosted by the Evans School that brings together academics and researchers at UW with practitioners in the field to explore key policy, governance, and social sector topics.

As a sector, philanthropy is beginning to acknowledge and grapple with an inherent dissonance: though philanthropy’s intended purpose is to create positive change, it can also be a driver of continued inequity and harm. The policies and structures that support charitable giving have perpetuated wealth inequalities, and the practices that many philanthropic institutions have historically employed may cause harm to the communities they are trying to support.

On December 7, 2023, Maria Kolby-Wolfe, President and CEO of Washington Women’s Foundation, and David Suárez, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Evans School spoke about systemic challenges in philanthropy as well as new models that strive to reduce harm and shift power to communities closest to the work.



Maria Kolby-Wolfe

Maria Kolby-Wolfe is President and CEO of Washington Women’s Foundation (WaWF) and a part-time instructor at the University of Washington in Nonprofit Management. Prior toWaWF, Maria served in a variety of development and communication roles at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Seattle Symphony, Path with Art, ACT Theatre, the Museum of Pop Culture, and Swedish Medical Center Foundation. She is also an experienced board member, having served on the boards of TeamChild, Rainier Valley Food Bank, Allied Arts Foundation and the Global Leadership Forum. Maria was raised in Bellingham, Washington, graduated from the University of Puget Sound, and achieved doctoral candidacy in American History at Northwestern University. Her passions and beliefs align directly with her work: Food, Art, and Justice for All.

David Suárez, Ph.D., is an associate professor and the Colleen Willoughby Endowed Faculty Fellow in Philanthropy & Civil Society at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, University of Washington. His current research focuses on social sector organizations (nonprofits and foundations) and explore show management strategy shapes organizational performance, the relationship between service-provision and social change activity, and the consequences of professionalization. Ongoing projects include research on the emergence and development of participatory grantmaking in foundations, the Civic Life of Cities – a multi-team project exploring how nonprofits contribute to the communities they serve, public-nonprofit partnerships in national parks and schools, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) practices in development NGOs, and the role of foundations in generating social change.