While Rosario Dawson may be best known as an actress and producer, she’s also a pioneering philanthropist who has leveraged her voice and platform for numerous causes, including the Lower Eastside Girls Club of NY, which offers free programming in art, science, leadership and more for girls and gender-expansive youth; V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls; and Voto Latino, the nation’s largest Latinx voter registration group, which she co-founded.
Dawson recently joined Bernstein’s Maci Philitas, Vice President and Emerging Wealth Strategist, and Anne Bucciarelli, National Director of Wealth Strategies, to share her philanthropic journey. Their conversation marked the first installment of the “Let’s Talk” series of financial-advice videos, featuring live roundtable discussions hosted on our Instagram and LinkedIn pages.
In a wide-ranging discussion on intentional giving, Dawson shared five ways people can make a meaningful difference:
1. Lead with Empathy
When Dawson was growing up, her mother volunteered at a women’s shelter. “I always thought how remarkable it was that a woman going through this tragic experience with her children had no one else to turn to but this person behind the door, who happened to be my mother,” she said. “My mom wasn't perfect, and she didn't have everything figured out, but leading with empathy made her the right person to be there.”
That instinct to help, to be there for others, grew out of an intergenerational activist streak in Dawson’s family. Her great-grandmother and grandmother marched for union rights for workers, championing the Ladies’ International Garment Workers Union. In her own childhood, Dawson participated in community-centered campaigns by licking stamps and envelopes. “That’s how you engage and show you’re grateful for what you get in life—how you pass it on to the next generation.”
2. Give to Causes You’re Passionate About
“Sometimes people feel guilted or shamed or coerced into one area of giving, and then they burn out because it’s not really their thing,” Dawson said. “I think one of the most critical elements is really leaning into, what do you care about and what do you love?”
When people give to causes that mean more to them personally, she added, they’ll show up in tough times when they’re most needed, not just when a cause is in the news. “It’s those diehards who stand by these organizations that keep them going.”
3. Build and Maintain Relationships
“One of the reasons why I like working with organizations for so long is that you get to really build together and be creative together, as opposed to just showing up here or there,” Dawson said. “We are interdependent, you know, and that should be something we lean into more. The person who’s donating money but not feeling like they’re participatory, who’s just waiting at the end of the year to hear something, can sometimes feel disjointed and disconnected.”
Dawson emphasized the importance of storytelling for organizations to connect on a deeper level with donors and volunteers. “You know, we are storytellers. It’s the most ancient tradition of human beings and that’s how we learn. All the organizations that I’ve been a part of have taken it very seriously to really build that intimacy, build that relationship, focus truly on the story. If you have that why, then the how you’ll figure out.
4. Let Giving Bring You Closer
For Dawson, being generous allows families “to just get that much closer in a way that is not about just acquiring and building something for themselves, but really about interacting with the world.” Affluent parents often wrestle with the best way to broach wealth discussions with their children. Yet philanthropy can help lay the groundwork to affect change while passing down the values families hold dear.
One of many benefits is stronger family bonds, in Dawson’s view. “Many families don’t speak about money at the kitchen table…And I love this being an avenue for connection.”
5. Know That Giving Knows No Bounds
Dawson said it’s been rewarding to support and promote change not just on the community level, but globally as well. Her own journey toward this multifaceted approach progressed in steps: “Local for me was the Lower Eastside Girls Club, national was Voto Latino, and then V-Day was my international organization.”
Being involved directly with all those causes has created a greater sense of commitment: “I knew I was affecting change and showing up and standing up for the things that I cared about on all the different levels.”
Gain by Giving
Bernstein launched the “Let’s Talk” series to create a space for people to ask questions and learn more about finances—while also fostering a sense of community. Future episodes will explore other pressing financial and investment-related questions. In the meantime, for Dawson, it all comes down to gratitude. “As daunting as some of these issues can be, there is joy in showing up. I’m grateful because it keeps me going.”