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Joyful Donor to Women’s Causes Teaches Other Inheritors

November 12, 2016

In charitable circles, Tracy DuVivier Gary is known as the “Janie Appleseed” of women’s philanthropy. She has spent the last 40 years jump-starting dozens of organizations focused on improving the lives of women and girls.

Among the groups that Ms. Gary — with colleagues — has founded are the Women’s Foundation of California, the Women Donors Network, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Women Moving Millions and Funders for Gay and Lesbian Issues.

Ms. Gary, 65, who is related to the Pillsbury family of Minnesota, also has a consultancy, Unleashing Generosity, where she counsels young heirs in money management and helps wealthy families organize their charitable giving. Her book, “Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan and Leaving a Legacy,” is in its third printing.

We spoke by telephone this fall. This is a condensed and edited version of the conversation:

Tracy DuVivier Gary, who is related to the Pillsbury family of Minnesota, at her home in Tiburon, Calif. She has spent 40 years helping to promote giving for the benefit of women. Credit: Brian Flaherty for The New York Times

When did you begin thinking about creating special philanthropies for women?

It started in the 1970s. After getting a degree in mythology from Sarah Lawrence College — I’d studied with Joseph Campbell — I moved to San Francisco where the best job I could find with my liberal arts diploma was at an executive recruiting firm.

It was there, for the first time in my life, that I saw how blatantly women were discriminated against. If I sent an equally qualified woman and man for a job interview, it was the man who usually got the callback. In my off hours, I volunteered at a battered-women’s shelter. I was on their board, and I was shocked at how hard it was to raise money for it.

Putting this all together, I began thinking that there ought to be philanthropies dedicated to creating change for women. That’s why, in 1979, with the help of friends, I helped start the Women’s Foundation of California.

What was different about this charity?

The central idea behind it was to locate women with money — often with inherited wealth — and mobilize their resources specifically to support local projects that were focused on creating change for women and girls. The Women’s Foundation of California became a kind of template for others. It launched a movement. Today there are about 170 such funds. Forty of them are international.

Did you grow up with money?

I would describe my parents as socialites who enjoyed their wealth and their generosity. My mother had been a stockbroker. My stepfather’s grandfather had invented the rotary telephone. They had five homes, a helicopter, a private airplane. Wherever they lived, they gave time and money — Southampton Hospital, the New York Botanical Garden. They loved doing that.

When I was 14, my parents sat me down for a talk. They said that starting at the age of 21, I’d receive a trust that would total $1.3 million. In today’s money, that would be the equivalent of almost $6 million. They explained they were giving me a head start, but not so much that I could live off it and not work. And my mother emphasized that this legacy came with obligations: “You are expected to volunteer at least one day a week and to give away 10 percent of whatever you earn.”