Women’s philanthropy is not a trend – it is growing and is here to stay. What we are seeing, though, is that more women are advancing their work in philanthropy in powerful ways. Here’s how:
Making Bold Gifts
Visibility around big contributions from women donors has increased dramatically in recent years. Recall that Gert Boyle, the spry 90 year old chairwoman of Columbia Sportswear, first made her $100 million gift to the Oregon Health & Science University anonymously in 2014 but then was “outed” by the media. At the time she said, “Everyone had assumed that only a gentleman in this community would have that kind of money, not some little old lady down the street.”
Now, more and more women are stepping up and contributing big gifts in public ways to support the causes about which they care deeply. This trend will grow. For example, Dartmouth College received four $1 million gifts from women in the last multi-year fundraising campaign. In the current campaign, the goal is 100 $1 million dollar gifts; as of early December they were 65 percent to goal.
And, it is not only big gifts from individual donors that are gaining attention. The Impact 100 Pensacola Bay Area, the largest of more than 50 Impact 100 giving circles in the United States and Australia, awarded $1.1 million in October 2018 with $1,000 contributions from their 1,103 members. This giving circle has invested $10.5 million in their local communities since its inception in 2004.
Advancing Women and Girls
Julie Reilly, CEO of the Australian Women Donors Network, shared impressions about trends related to advancing women and girls from her six-week whirlwind Churchill Fellowship tour through the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe. She said the women’s funding community has prioritized “funding for work in sexual health and reproductive rights, particularly the broad support for Planned Parenthood, in response to the changed government policy and the associated withdrawal of funding.” Another priority she found is “support for campaigns supporting political representation by women, particularly women of color.”
The big concern that came through to her as an “outsider” was the “enormous effort and energy that was necessarily going into protecting rights and resisting the rollback of gains hard fought and won by the women’s movement over decades. Rather than being in a position of strength, able to focus on the many opportunities to further the circumstances of women, there was a sense of being under siege and holding the fort. There was strength and extraordinary courage and energy being galvanized among the existing community and newcomers to secure the best possible future for girls and women.”
The most compelling experience that inspired Reilly on her tour was the launch of the MATCH Initiative, announced in Canada in May and presented at the Women Moving Millions Summit in Seattle in September. Reilly stated, “It is a wonderful example of global leadership - and this government/national action has the potential to change so much more than most women’s philanthropy.”
Women continue to find innovative ways to build community through technology. Research has shown that women comprise more than half of all donors on #GivingTuesday and similar special days of giving. Now, the Girl Scouts of the USA is betting that building a network on LinkedIn of more than 50 million Girl Scout alums will promote girls’ and women’s empowerment, leadership, and advancement in the world. The platform will include inspiring personal stories from girls and alums and relevant statistics about female leadership.
Bringing All Resources to Bear on the Causes That Matter the Most
Laura Brownfield’s philanthropy exemplifies one of one of the most potent trends in women’s philanthropy today, that of a woman bringing all of her resources to support the cause that matters the most to her. In Brownfield’s case, that cause is vulnerable children – in her own community and in Ethiopia, more than halfway around the world from her Arizona home. Active board members of Hope for the Homeless, an NGO in Ethiopia that cares for abandoned and orphaned children, Brownfield and her husband saved the organization’s 501(c)3 status. Laura is deeply involved with sponsorships and the Brownfields have led donor tours to visit the programs on the ground in Ethiopia.
She is also working to fix the website of Mulligan’s Manor (yes, that kind of mulligan – as in golf, a “do-over”), a group home dedicated to providing a safe space for at-risk LGBTQA youth from 12 to 17 years old. Her efforts include “trying to keep the pieces together” for this small nonprofit. Brownfield also brings her considerable passion and energy to the Trinity Opportunity Alliance which matches foster kids who are about to age out of the foster system with employers.
Following the sale of her husband’s business, the couple set up a donor-advised fund to support their philanthropic efforts. She combines her passion, time, talent, treasure, know-how, and sheer gumption to improve the lives of vulnerable kids at home and abroad. More and more women, from Agnes Gund to Laura Brownfield and beyond, have stepped up their philanthropic activity to include all the resources they can bring to support the causes that matter the most to them.
Growing the HeforShe Momentum
Reilly also highlighted the movement to welcome and include men as advocates for gender equality.
“I’m most excited when I see the larger levers of society moving – i.e., those people in positions of power who are speaking up and taking action to advance women and girls, particularly government and big business,” Reilly said.
One example of this is the recent HeforShe IMPACT Summit which featured the presidents of Finland and Malawi, Global Chairman of PwC Bob Moritz, and high-profile Hollywood celebrities Anne Hathaway & Winston Duke.
“So without being dazzled by the star power, I was really heartened that this movement has engaged men in positions of power to stand up and advocate for gender equality,” Reilly said.
As the calendar year turns to 2019, the most noticeable trend is tireless effort women are contributing to accelerate their philanthropy on behalf of the causes to which they are loyal, dedicated, and passionate.