We’ve come a long way since the days when women would contribute $500 to a cause and need permission to write a larger check from their husband. Women’s lack of knowledge and confidence about money also affected their giving.
“In the 1970s, there was little or no diversity in philanthropy and no infrastructure organizations that welcomed women,” said philanthropist Tracy Gary.
Thanks to the women’s movement, the creation of women’s funds and other networks that bring women together in community, Gary said she’s seen a “radical transformation in the socialization of people able to engage in philanthropy,” especially among women. She also credits women’s rising confidence with money, donor education and improved work/life balance as reasons more women are experiencing the joy of philanthropy today.
Gary has been instrumental in this evolution. Her 40-year career includes roles as a philanthropic advisor, field innovator and builder, social entrepreneur, mentor, coach, educator, consultant, activist and changemaker. To keep it simple: She’s been called the Janie Appleseed of philanthropy.
A distant relative of the Pillsbury family and heiress to a fortune that derived from GTE and the telephone industry, Gary’s own donor journey began at age 14 when she learned she would inherit $1 million when she was 21. At age 21, she resolved to give it away to rebalance the inequality she saw around her. Early in her career, Gary was determined to focus on the needs of women and girls as a result of the discrimination she saw in the workplace. (In the 1970s, Gary worked in a women’s shelter and found how hard it was to raise money for that organization.) To this day, Tracy gives away at least 30 percent of her income.
Building Women’s Philanthropy
Although Tracy had been well tutored by her mother in financial matters, she found that most women did not ask questions and some identified with the “bag lady syndrome,” fearful that they did not have enough money. When she founded the Women’s Foundation of California in the late 1970s, Gary started financial education programs for women with the intention of building their confidence in money matters.
As she became involved in the creation of many women’s foundations and the Women’s Funding Network (WFN), Gary focused on donor education as part of her strategy to grow women’s philanthropy.
“Donor education networks accelerate leadership, knowledge, and generosity,” Gary said.
Today, women’s foundations around the country, organizations such as Women Donors Network and Women Moving Millions, and giving circles are examples of the rich depth and breadth of women’s networks focused on philanthropy.
"Women are stepping up” and learning how joyful it is to give. Gary has found -- and the research affirms it -- that women love being in networks. When they hear the stories of their peers, they often say, “Oh, my, I could do that.” It’s more proof that peer-to-peer learning and the sharing of wisdom and leadership motivate and inspire women.
Tracy’s work with WFN also seeded the concept that donors and activists working together is an effective model. She urges women philanthropists to invite community activists to partner on their work and to walk “shoulder to shoulder” to address the challenging issues in their communities and reminds us that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way. One of Gary’s mantras is “lift as you climb,” an adaptation of a quote by Mary Church Terrell, an African-American activist (1863-1954) who advocated for racial and gender justice.
"And so, lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving, and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long. With courage, born of success achieved in the past, with a keen sense of the responsibility which we shall continue to assume, we look forward to a future large with promise and hope."
This statement beautifully summarizes Gary’s extensive career in women’s philanthropy and women’s philanthropy itself. As founder of 23 nonprofits and foundations; a member of 35 different boards in her career, and an advisor to countless organizations, Gary has helped to build the women’s philanthropy movement and she is not finished yet.
Advice for Other Women Donors
When asked about the greatest opportunity high-net worth women have today in philanthropy, Gary responded with, “Are we doing enough?”
Learn: Gary argues that “high-net worth women are still not spending enough time doing financial, investment, tax and estate, and legacy planning in order to consider how best to unleash and leverage greater opportunity for the causes they support,” Gary said. “This is lifetime learning and not a four-hour summer course.”
Connect: “Run, do not walk to get into a network,” Gary said. “Organizing or being part of a group of trusted, diverse peers to talk openly about our giving and money, and committing to making change, is the next bold step to our full empowerment!”
Take Action: Gary encourages women to “get out there and make the lead and matching gifts.”
To learn more about Tracy Gary’s mission to encourage intentional giving, take a look at her book, Inspired Philanthropy, another breakthrough contribution she has made to the field.