Women’s Philanthropy: Creating the Change They Want to See

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National Philanthropy Day is celebrated annually on November 15. Women today are demonstrating an increased philanthropic role along with their political, entrepreneurial, and cultural leadership. They are leading charitable donations within their families and as research shows, many women prefer coming together to direct their dollars with intent to advance causes for which they are passionate. How women give—especially across generations—is distinctly different when compared to men. It is “giving that’s fueled with empathy and community connection.”

I will have the pleasure of presenting on women’s philanthropy as part of a featured session, The Power of What’s Possible: Growing Giving at Our Institution, at an upcoming conference for advancement professionals in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 12-14, 2020. Joining me will be Andrea Pactor, Interim Director at the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at Indiana University; Elizabeth Zeigler, President and CEO at Graham-Pelton; Ayanna Hill-Gill, NCGS Trustee and Head of School at Atlanta Girls’ School; and Brooke Trible Weinmann, Co-founder of Atlanta Girls’ School. Together we will address the questions: How can independent schools build a shared community focused on fundraising that reflects the increasing diversity of multicultural and multigenerational donors? How are women leveraging their influence and power to bring others alongside them and to make bigger gifts?

The following article, a version of which originally appeared in Forbes, was authored by my co-panelist Andrea Pactor. She provides insight into WPI’s latest research report, which dives into the question: What unique role do high-net-worth donors to women’s funds and foundations play in catalyzing support for women’s and girls’ causes?

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools


At the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI), there’s one consistent theme across various research reports: Women are leading through philanthropy, harnessing their growing wealth and influence to create the change they want to see in the world. Women give more and give differently compared to their male counterparts, and WPI is on a mission to find out more about how gender affects the way we give.

WPI’s latest report, All In For Women & Girls, shows that women’s foundation and fund donors—the vast majority of whom are women—are exemplary in many ways. Compared to general donors, this group gives more, engages more holistically, and views themselves as leaders in philanthropy.

By taking a more modern and less siloed approach to philanthropy, these donors demonstrate what it means to fully integrate generosity into their day-to-day lives. In fact, a key finding from the report is that women’s foundation and fund donors are less likely to be retired—in other words, philanthropy is something they incorporate into their lives early on.

How are young professional women using their dollars for change? And how can your organization capture the interest and energy of today’s women donors?

PRIORITY for WOMEN’S and GIRLS’ CAUSES

Supporting women’s and girls’ causes has grown as a priority among social issues, and women’s foundations and funds have been at the forefront of this movement. These organizations award millions of dollars in grants each year and contribute critical resources to raising awareness on the status of and issues facing women.

Women’s foundations and funds receive their funding from a variety of sources, including individuals, corporate sponsors, and other foundations. Around one in five of these organizations is member-based, meaning individuals donate to join as a member and have a voice in where funding is distributed.

The way these organizations enact change can vary. While many women’s funds and foundations are relatively young organizations and tend to be run by a lean staff, they excel at identifying the needs of diverse groups of women and girls. Based in specific communities, these funding organizations are skilled at bringing together local leaders to address topical issues through the lens of gender and social change.

PHILANTHROPY by WOMEN for WOMEN

Giving by women for women is very much on the rise. As it might be expected, most donors to women’s foundations and funds are women themselves.

Compared to general donors, this group is more likely to see themselves as activist donors or philanthropic leaders. They frequently serve on boards, volunteer, and seek out ways to engage with other donors.

Rather than being motivated by tax benefits or religious beliefs, these donors are often driven by giving back to the community and the belief that their gift can make a difference.

Time and time again, we’ve heard from leaders that community and connection to others are major value-adds for donors to women’s foundations and funds. Felicia Davis, President and CEO of Chicago Foundation for Women, notes, “When these individuals come together in community, they share a level of engagement, deep commitment to justice, and a zeal for learning that is distinct from other donor communities.”

As women continue to lead within their own networks, philanthropy emerges as a source of connection, influence, and meaningful impact—an opportunity that connects like-minded women and fosters leadership among rising professionals.


Andrea Pactor, Interim Director, Women’s Philanthropy Institute


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