Women and Philanthropy: Greater Influence and Responsibility

By Linda C. Hartley, Former Board President, Woman in Development, New York

A growing number of women are engaged in philanthropy, as baby boomers age and women outlive men by an average seven years. A wealth transfer of at least $41 trillion will take place in the United States by the year 2052, according to Paul Schervish, sociologist and director of the Boston College Social Welfare Research Institute. How much of this wealth will be controlled or managed by women? Some estimates reach as high as 70%. What are the implications of women's growing influence in the non-profit sector?

Charitable Giving
Schervish found that what matters most in predicting charitable giving is not gender, race, age, or income, but an individual's "associational" capital, their networks and felt connections and the persuasive invitations they receive to give to institutions to which they feel connnected."

"What motivates the wealthy is very much what motivates someone at any point along the economic spectrum… from heartfelt empathy to self-promotion, from religious obligation to business networking, from passion to prestige, from political philosophy to tax incentives." Philanthropy is "not the absence of self… but the presence of self-identification with others."

Mary Ellen S. Capek agrees that both men and women want meaningful engagement with causes they support. She cites a study conducted by The University of California which found that commonly assumed attributes of women philanthropists – "personal involvement, wanting to make a difference, recognition, wanting to see the results of giving, feeling responsible for giving – are as true of many men as they are of many women."

Philanthropy is "not the absence of self…
but the presence of self-identification with others.

Serious Business
Non-profits must take women as seriously as men. This is no surprise to successful fundraisers. Naomi Levine, who raised $2 billion for New York University over two decades, says that the gender shift is affecting the giving dynamic at NYU. "Women must be recognized and incorporated into campaign strategies," she says. "Looking back, I should have paid more attention to the women, and encouraged the board to recruit more women as trustees."

Susan Weber Soros, founder for the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, is a philanthropist and a fundraiser. She believes that "if you do something people care about, the funding will follow. Trust in an organization, for men and women, must be built over time."

What difference can women make?
Woen can continue to promote social change rather than uphold the status quo. They can play a larger role in creating a just and equal society – in their communities, their country, and around the world.

Economic inequality persists: 66% of poor adults are women; women ear 25% less than men do for the same work; and two-thirds of women who work do not have pensions. While a growing number of women run foundations, only 5.7% of foundation dollars support programs specifically serving women and girls.

Christine Grumm, former director of the Chicago Foundation for Women, says, "Men have always understood their economic power to bring about change – or maintain the status quo. Women have some real answers for problems facing our society, but there is not enough respect for their ideas. The reason is that we have not flexed our muscle enough in terms of money."

Opportunity and Responsibility
The word "philanthropy" is derived from the Greek root philanthropos, which means "loving human beings." The first definition of philanthropy in Webster's dictionary is "goodwill to fellowmen." Women of this generation and the next have the opportunity – and responsibility – to create a more enlightened and inclusive philanthropy, and to recapture the spirit of philanthropos.

The News of Women in Development, NY
An article by Linda C. Hartley

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To all the leaders of regional nonprofit groups who convened again last week at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts as they have annually for several years now to figure out how they can help each other as they help the people and causes they serve. The challenge this year was not much different from the one that faced the groups in the past, although it has become more daunting. As government funding sources and individual contributions dwindle in many cases, the groups find themselves working to do even more with even less. Collaboration and cooperation are the key to survival and the annual gathering helps both. Times Herald Record - March 31, 2014