The Feminization of Philanthropy
According to information from Atlanta's Spelman College, the most recently published IRS Personal Wealth Table shows that women now control more than 43 percent of the nation's wealth. And the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy reports that women will inherit 70 percent of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth over the next 40 years.
In April, a panel of experts gathered at Spelman to address how women are leveraging this economic power to redefine philanthropy in the 21st century. "Funding the Future: How Women are Shaping Philanthropy" honed in on how women are changing philan thropy as heads of foundations, individual donors and major supporters of a variety of institutions and projects.
Among the speakers were Yvette Burton, CEO of the Arcus Foundation; Donna Hall, president and CEO of the Women Donors Network; Natalia Kanem, founding president of The ELMA Philanthropies; Vivien Labaton, director of strategic program initiatives at Atlantic Philanthropies; Gabriella Morris, president of The Prudential Foundation; and Alicia Philipp, president of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.
Dr. Alison Bernstein, former vice president of the Ford Foundation's Knowledge, Creativity and Freedom Program, led the panel. Here, she discusses some of the implications of this shift in the nature of philanthropy in the U.S.
FundRaising Success: Tell us about women's changing roles in the philanthropic sector.
Alison Bernstein: There are three strains that are important to acknowledge. The obvious one is women of wealth and their desire to control a bit more of the outcomes of their giving. That includes individual donors and also groups of donors.
[Then] you have to consider grantmaking by philanthropies that take women's issues as a core responsibility.
Lastly, there are organizations whose business is very, very large but have a serious intent to develop initiatives that focus on women.
FS: How will women's new economic power redefine philanthropy in the 21st century?
AB: The most tangible change will be more attention to issues of livelihood and whose income is really supporting the advancement of households or families. You can't look at issues of poverty without really understanding and taking into account the role of women. Two-thirds of all people in poverty are women and girls.
The biggest shift will be more attention paid to helping households and communities to advance through making sure that women have greater opportunities. I'm talking about in the U.S., but the same holds true for overseas, as well.
If you want to reduce poverty, you have to look at the status, education and health of women. That doesn't mean you ignore men, but [this shift] will ensure that women are not invisible in the problem solving around issues of poverty and social justice.
FS: As donors/foundation heads, do women have different priorities than men?
AB: I reject the idea that women are biologically different from men [when it comes to philanthropic priorities]. It has everything to do with socialization. Women as leaders of philanthropy are not just by nature going to be worrying about women and girls. But they are socialized to pay attention in ways that men are not.
It's not so much priority setting [that is different]; it's the strategies used to make a difference. Men are interested in reducing poverty, too. If you improve the status of women, men and boys are likely going to benefit, too. But for so long, the role that women played in the family was only confined to their reproductive role, not their economic role. It's terribly important that men and women of good will try to understand that poverty reduction requires a gender lens.
FS: So it seems as women come into more wealth and power, they're playing philanthropic catch-up. Will this trend continue?
AB: Things will change. In the younger generation, men in philanthropy are much more ready and able to see [the importance of women's role in society and in curing its ills] by virtue of their education and of seeing women in positions of power. The presence of women in almost every field of endeavor is having an impact on the younger generation of men and boys.
FS: What do nonprofit fundraisers need to know about engaging women as donors?
AB: Fundraisers need to be mindful of who they're trying to raise money from and what are the best arguments. An argument that is not cognizant of the status of women and girls is not going to play as well with women-run foundations. That doesn't mean they only want to fund issues around women and girls, but at least now there will be someone paying attention. FS