When my dear friend and creator of this inspiring website asked if I would write a piece on the subject of Women & Philanthropy, I was honored and flattered. But, truth be told, I was also terrified.
For the last four decades, I’ve had the wonderful good fortune to work as a philanthropic advisor to hundreds of nonprofit organizations in both the Bay Area and on the East Coast. Through my work, I am a strategist, a problem solver, a coach, a teacher, a facilitator and a mediator. One thing I have never considered myself to be is a writer. But when LeeAnn Monfredini asks, the only acceptable answer is a resounding “yes!” So, here goes.
While we all know the names of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Morgan and – closer to home – those of Gates, Benioff and Zuckerberg, it’s important to note that women have been the heart and soul of philanthropy in our country for more than 250 years. We just don’t know much about them or their contributions. Why? Well, for one thing, women as a general rule tend to give with far less fanfare and noise.
According to Inside Philanthropy, the history of women in American philanthropy “tells the stories of women looking for equality; of women’s efforts to assimilate into the political, cultural, and economic society; and of women trying to break free of the role of domesticity that society cast for them.”
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, women addressed and funded important issues such as the care of widows, children and the mentally ill, abolition, suffrage, the environment, the arts and public health, as well as medical school training for women. Women founded colleges (including Mount Holyoke, Smith College and Spelman College), the YWCA and the National Association of Colored Women. Women have used “creative, clever, and canny means to effect social change during times when they could not vote, hold public office or manage property they may have brought into a marriage.”
In the 20th and 21st Centuries, women have expanded their influence by supporting equal rights and employment for women, aggressive drunk driving laws, breast cancer research, economic development and leadership opportunities for women. Consider the impact of such organizations as MADD, the Ms. Foundation Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Emily’s List, The Women’s Donor Network, Women Moving Millions and unique women’s giving circles, such as Impact100 Sonoma.
In 2014, 64% of all charitable gifts were made by women. This means women contributed $92 billion – nearly two-thirds of the $143.6 billion contributed in total – in gifts to thousands of nonprofit organizations. Again, in the words of Inside Philanthropy, “Women today are a fast-rising force in philanthropy. More women are exercising leadership in shaping how money is given away….emerging as the catalysts in modern philanthropy, bringing people together to mobilize resources for different causes.”
When it comes to women and philanthropy, the most striking thing to me is how women are “all in” when they care deeply about an issue. When women decide to get involved, they not only give their “treasure,” but are also generous with their time and their talent. They are decisive leaders, risk takers and innovators. Women lead by getting their friends and families involved.
Yet, too often, the quiet power of women is overlooked. Again and again, men are afforded the lion’s share of the credit for big gifts or initiatives actually masterminded by their wives or daughters. Meanwhile, some of the most influential networkers in philanthropy operate well outside the limelight.
While most of us may know the names of Melinda Gates, Meg Whitman and Priscilla Chan, have you heard of Rose Broom, the founder of HandUp? How about Susan Desmond-Hellman, the CEO of the Gates Foundation? And let’s not forget the hard work and generous contributions of the women in our families, our friends and our colleagues.
So I ask you: What issues are you passionate about? What problem do you want to help solve? What brings you joy? What inspires you? What organization has changed – or saved – your life?
Not sure where to begin? Use the Internet to learn more about the issues, causes and life events that are important to you. Try making a list of the organizations that answer the questions above. Make a budget for your charitable giving. And then get started.
Many organizations have an online giving option (so you can use your credit card and get miles for that trip you’re planning). The old-fashioned way still works too: Get out your checkbook and mail one. If you’re looking to pool your resources with other women, you could start with your friends and family or you can join a women’s giving circle like the one a friend and I started in 2009: Impact100 Sonoma.
Whatever you do, go all in. Give your time and your talent as well as your treasure. And give a little more than you may have planned. The returns are often immeasurable.