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Women In Philanthropy

Betsy Brill from
September 14, 2009

Women are taking the lead in philanthropy, especially through organizations like the Global Fund For Women.

While the relationship between women and philanthropy has always been a strong one, it has not necessarily been highly visible. This has begun to change, and women’s influence on the practice of philanthropy cannot be ignored.

Women now control more than half of the private wealth in the U.S. and make 80% of all purchases. According to Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, women will inherit 70% of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth transfer expected over the next 40 years. In addition to controlling wealth and consumer activity, women tend to donate more of their wealth than men do. A Barclay’s Wealth study titled Tomorrow’s Philanthropist, released in July 2009, showed that women in the U.S. give an average of 3.5% of their wealth to charity, while men give an average of 1.8%.

But it’s not just who gives that is changing–there is, after all, a rich history of high-profile women contributing generously to significant causes–but it’s how they are giving and to whom that is redefining contemporary philanthropy. Private foundations and public charities dedicated to fundraising by and for women and girls have grown at a faster rate than giving by the overall foundation community. A report conducted by the Foundation Center and Women’s Funding Network found that from 2004-2006, giving by women’s funds’ grew 24%, while foundation giving overall grew by 14.8%. These same women’s funds saw double-digit fundraising gains during this period; in 2006, they raised $101 million, up from $72 million in 2004.

To a great degree, the charitable giving by women, directly or through women’s funds, focuses on improving the quality of life and opportunity for girls and women. The exponential growth of women’s funds suggests an increasing acceptance of the idea that philanthropic investments in women and girls can fuel positive change in communities around the world. It also suggests a growing interest in philanthropic models that allow donors to leverage and pool their charitable dollars in order to achieve maximum impact.

In this time of economic turmoil, there are practical lessons that we as donors can glean from the strategies and interests of a growing segment of women donors who view giving not merely as charity, but rather, as strategic philanthropy:

Using philanthropy to foster connections with family, community and the world at large

A recent Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund survey found that nearly half of women respondents felt it was important to them that their children continue their tradition of charitable giving. The same survey indicated that women donors were more likely to be public about their gifts than their male counterparts. These findings point to what I see as a desire to engage others in charitable activity and to imbue a philanthropic spirit in peers as well as in the next generation of givers. While many of us are understandably private about our giving, consider sharing the story behind especially meaningful gifts. Learning about your experience may inspire other donors to turn their attention to a previously overlooked cause, thus leveraging the impact of your initial gift.



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