State of Philanthropy: Women on the Cusp of Transformative Power



Published on Linkedin Influencers on March 25, 2014. This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers analyze the state and future of their industry. Read all the posts here.

Philanthropy. The word means “love of humanity” and its origin comes from the Greek words “philo” (loving) and “anthropo” (mankind). In 2011, Americans donated nearly $300 billion to charitable causes, accounting for about 2 percent of the GDP, and employees of non-profit organizations account for nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. workforce. Giving drives a huge part of the US economy, and signs show that it will only get bigger. A powerful force that is driving both the growth and the shift in philanthropy is women. As women grow their financial resources, they are also growing their philanthropic impact, and this is resulting in big changes not only in the philanthropic sector, but in the broader business landscape as well.

It is estimated that by 2030, women will control nearly two-thirds of the wealth in the United States, whether this wealth is self-made or through inheritance. Previous studies on women of high-net worth, and a soon to be released report from The Center for Talent Innovation on the Power of the Purse, show that these women care a lot about using their financial resources to make a difference in the world. Savvy financial advisers understand this, and they are increasing the number of programs they offer to their current and potential clients that focus on how to effectively use your money to advance the issues you care about. Thankfully there is a lot of wonderful research available to those who want to understand the opportunity, mainly by The Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. (Other research here).

This trend is also affecting how non-profits are steering their development efforts. Universities, in particular, are creating women’s leadership groups, which invite women to give at a high level with the added benefit of experiencing unique learning and networking experiences. (see The Harvard Women’s Leadership Board ). Other NGOs are doing it as well. The Red Cross Tiffany Circle invites women to support the work of the organization while offering truly unique learning opportunities.

The rise of Giving Circles is also a huge and growing force. Colleen Willoughby is often given credit for starting this movement, which is well documented in this presentation by another leader in the field, Sondra Shaw Hardy. The core idea of Giving Circles is that a group of women want to have a collective impact on their local community and realize that their impact will be greater by working together rather than individually. I have watched this idea take hold in my own community of Park City, where less then a year ago we launched The Women’s Giving Fund. The goal was to have 1,000 women give $1,000 to create a $1,000,000 fund, which would then make grants that were voted on by the members. We are just 25 people away from our goal! Given that the full-time population of Park City is under 8,000, this is a huge accomplishment and a true testament to the power of this model.

The third big trend relates to women prioritizing women and girls in their funding. Though many forces may be driving this at the top is the the need. Just this year The Shriver Report produced an outstanding report that “examines the rates of financial insecurity among American women and the children who depend on them.” They estimate that 42 million women are living on the ‘brink’, which provides an opportunity for those of us who can and are giving, to help support those that are truly struggling to make ends meet for themselves and their families. This is matched with the fact that despite the incredible financial clout of women, there is a relatively small percentage of funding that is being directed specifically towards women and girls, even with the overwhelming evidence of its impact. The Foundation Center estimates that less than 10 percent of total foundation giving goes towards women and girls. This combination of greater visibility around the need, with the availability of powerful evidence that funding with a gender lens is effective, and the increasing resources women have, is truly shifting the landscape.

So where do these trends converge? I believe we are at a game changing moment where women are at the cusp of fully embracing their enormous financial and philanthropic power to accelerate positive social change. By anchoring this power in communities that provide education and networking, women are creating unprecedented opportunities for collaboration and collective action, and as women come to control more and more wealth, these opportunities are only going to grow more numerous. The financial services industry has the most potential to be disrupted by this shift in dynamics, but also what an opportunity for the them to expand their services by addressing and embracing what women want from their money managers and wealth advisers.

So here is my hope. I hope that everyone, but women in particular, use our financial resources with great intentionality to help make the world a better place for everyone, but with a mindfulness towards the unique needs of women and girls. Not to the detriment of men and boys, but because of the disproportionate and unique needs that women and girls face. Incredible research provided by the world’s largest development groups have proven that investing in women and girls with a holistic approach to their well-being really does change the world for the better, for everyone.

Here are a few additional resources to serve your interest in women’s philanthropy:
AWIDWatering the Leaves and Starving the RootsCatalytic WomenThe Girl EffectIndiana University Center for PhilanthropyThe Women’s Funding Network
Women Moving MillionsWomen Donors Network

Photo: Det-anan/Shutterstock

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