As 2022 begins, I have a special gift for you. It’s not something you can find in stores or online. Nor is it a gift you’ll want to return. Rather, after more than 25 years of working in and growing women’s philanthropy, I want to give you a state of the field. I write not just because it’s interesting. And not just because it’s been explosive.
I want to celebrate all that happened in women’s philanthropy in 2021! I also want to share what I see coming in the next few years because women’s philanthropy is a bright light that radiates a strong sense of hope amid all that we’re challenged with in our world.
I’ve organized my thoughts around the “5 Ts” because women’s philanthropy encompasses so much more than just money raised. It is because of women’s broader definition of philanthropy that I’m filled with so much hope and optimism.
The 5 Ts are Time, Talent, Treasure, Ties, and Testimony.
Time: Women give time to support the causes they care about. With constant crises around us, it feels like we’re running out of time. And yet with many women giving time to important issues, I saw an acceleration of ideas, approaches, and bold outcomes. It was inspiring to see progress made more visible with many hearts, minds and hands involved in change.
- Among my clients there was a three-fold increase of women giving time to provide input. 304 women gave 854 hours in dozens of focus groups and interviews across the country to share what they look for when considering increased support to institutions they care about. I heard them say adamantly, “It’s about time!” when asked why they agreed to participate. And based on the many practical and bold ideas offered, women underscored that their philanthropy is about far more than money.
- In this last year, some women’s philanthropy groups envisioned their next set of impact goals after achieving the prior set. 24 volunteers from the William & Mary Society of 1918 Task Force contributed 292 hours to consider and choose their new strategy for the next 5 years. Their audacious approach will further cultivate and embolden exemplary women leaders and philanthropists at William & Mary, and in their communities, the nation and the world.
Talent: Skilled, experienced talent makes a difference in solving long-standing societal issues. Twenty years ago, ten years ago, even five years ago only a handful of leaders were trying to figure out how to tap into all resources women can bring to the table with limited understanding of how best to do it.
What I’m seeing now is a rise of talent in two ways.
- One, many more experienced professionals in organizations are embracing women’s philanthropy seriously and effectively – the number of professionals dedicated fulltime or nearly fulltime to women’s philanthropy has almost doubled in the past year. Organizations are investing their financial resources and their leadership strategies around the principles of women’s philanthropy in ways that not only institutionalize the strategy but also ensure its sustainability. I’m so encouraged to see staff have additional resources at their disposal instead of working with scraps.
The Professionals in Women’s Philanthropy group meets quarterly via Zoom to share best practices, discuss what strategies work better with women, and learn from one another.
- What makes this even more exciting is that the talent of the women volunteer leaders who are helping to design the growing number of initiatives is coming from all ages, and all ethnic and racial backgrounds. This talent, which brings a vast richness of diverse thought, perspective, and experience, has been instrumental to the break-through ideas and rapid growth I’ve seen this past year.
“I look forward to seeing the growth of our Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy program, inclusive of women like me who come from diverse backgrounds of giving. I see the passion the next generation of women have for being all in with their philanthropy and I want them to understand how they can create impact at many different levels. The commitment from leadership, staff and volunteers with diversity not only with giving, but also with engagement and recognition of all alumni is important for the future of philanthropy. I see Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy becoming a powerful and influential community within NC State University and far beyond.”
Carme Williams, Leadership Council, Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy
Treasure: Philanthropy has for many years focused primarily on money, and financial resources certainly are incredibly important. The wonderful news is that women are loyal and generous donors and regularly give more than men. We’ve seen a visible expansion this year in the total and individual amounts given by women to any one organization and collectively across our country’s elections and nonprofit sector.
When I look across the expansion, I see that the amount raised is barely scratching the surface. Given the growth of women’s education, earnings and investments, the ongoing significant transfer of wealth, and the growth of new women’s philanthropy programs that meet women in ways that better resonate with them, it’s unsurprising to see so much coming in so much more easily from women, with predictions of much more to come.
- Late in 2021, Dartmouth College announced that 104 women had contributed $389M as part of the university’s Call to Lead Two additional initiatives raised significant support and attracted many new women donors.
- At James Madison University, a public university in Virginia, staff were astounded at the results of its Amethyst Circle – a first-of-its-kind women’s giving society at JMU. After 18 months of discovery, dreaming and design, the AC was launched in February 2021 with a goal of recruiting ten Founders at the $15k level to kickstart the initiative. Ten founders pledged in the first 48 hours! 10 months later, the Circle has 63 founders and 47 members at the $5000 level. These 110 members have contributed just shy of $1,000,000 in less than a year…during a pandemic and economic downturn!
Ties: Whether it’s cultural or for other reasons, women hold networks of relationships and trust with many other women. When the 6 principles of women’s philanthropy are implemented successfully, women bring time, talent and money, and significantly, they bring other women. Often, these other women are completely outside the radar of the institution doing the fundraising.
Every development professional knows how hard it can be to find new prospects. A network approach leverages each donor’s set of connections and effectively removes this challenge. This approach makes growth and expansion so much more easy, joyful, and effective.
- At James Madison University, the success mentioned earlier happened because of donor ties. When activated, the women’s network went into overdrive and accelerated the speed in which the women broke through the original goal.
- At Missouri State University, a woman who participated in an interview had reached out to her sorority sisters to inquire what it would take for them to also become involved in a new women’s philanthropy initiative. Through that outreach, the interviewee participant brought additional voices to the discussion.
Testimony: 2021 was the year where billionaire female philanthropists made headlines for their unprecedented giving, women donors decidedly influenced political activism and elections, and women donors voiced dissatisfaction at being overlooked. These stories were reported in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the New York Times, cementing and amplifying the impact of women’s philanthropy. Third party validation means less energy is needed to convince leadership to invest in women’s philanthropy, and a lot more energy is available for “of course this is part of our strategy.”
More importantly, testimony comes from the women. When women are involved and invested in the ways I’ve outlined above, they will provide honest feedback AND talk about their impact publicly, privately, loudly, and enthusiastically across their many networks.
Here are a few of the dozens of voices I heard across the year:
“Women matter. Showing them that is true is important. Giving them the attention they deserve, the resources they need, the access to make them successful and examples of women in leadership so they see themselves will increase their support.”
Elon University Focus Group Participant
“Women are more inspired to give, and to give more, when they think their gift will be transformative. They are looking for genuineness. They know when an advancement officer is just wanting their money versus when they are authentically valued.”
Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota Focus Group Participant
“Our success will come from women calling women. Otherwise, invitations and requests to participate will be tossed. Women will bring their network forward be part of a bold initiative.”
Missouri State University Interviewee
“There is a difference between being a donor and a philanthropist. I am a donor for a lot of organizations, but I consider myself a philanthropist for just a couple. When I am asked to share my time and talents, to be personally involved, and I’m a part of the impact, I feel like a philanthropist and I give more deeply.”
Member – W&M Task Force
As to the future, I anticipate that in the next two years, the growth of women’s philanthropy will accelerate. Despite the ravages of the pandemic, women stepped up, got more engaged, gave more, and demanded more. There will be more third-party stories and more professionals benchmarking and sharing with each other what works. All this will amplify the power of more women leading and giving at transformational levels across many issues.
We will also see an exponential growth in the number of institutions that are creating women’s philanthropy initiatives – all across the country. If your advancement office is not exploring how to be part of this growth, what is holding you back?
Women’s philanthropy is not a tactic; it is a movement. Women are raising their hands, using their voices, offering bold ideas, and creating more impact than staff ever imagined. And, when they do, seismic changes unfold, and more money is raised. Period.
The world has changed. Women’s philanthropy reflects that change. It’s clear that the principles of women’s philanthropy are not just changing institutions but affecting society in positive and productive ways. It’s critical that more organizations take on these principles if they hope to have an increased impact in a world that needs all of us at our best.