I recently caught up with a well-known fundraising consultant who has been in business for three decades or more. He asked about my work with women’s philanthropy. When I mentioned the significant increase in the number of organizations wanting to learn how to grow support from women, he quickly dismissed the efforts and said:
I do see the growth of women coming together but they give small amounts. It doesn’t add up to anything big. In fact, we should stop encouraging women to give in community or a giving circle – it is not worth the staff time to manage.
Not worth it? Really?
In three years, the 489 members of the Society of 1918, each giving a minimum of $10,000 annually, have collectively committed more than $530M to causes across William & Mary and have grown the percentage of women’s representation on leadership boards from 34% to 48%.
Indiana University began its Women’s Philanthropy Leadership Council (WPLC) in 2010 with the inaugural members giving $15,000 annually. Past and active Council members have collectively given $225M to the university across ten years, attracting many new donors thanks to members’ networks. Past WPLC members have gone on to serve on Dean’s councils, the IU Foundation Board of Directors, and as IU Trustees.
Lions of Judah members give $5,000 per year to support local Jewish Federations. This committed group has grown from a handful of women in the 1970s to 17,500 annual donors giving nearly $200M a year across all Federations. In addition, there are more than 3,800 Lion of Judah Endowments which equals pledged endowments in excess of $620 million.
These are not small amounts to the organizations. Each example demonstrates substantial new income, increased sizes of gifts, and even more importantly, a community of sustaining donors and leaders making a clear impact. The significant growth over time of donors, dollars and leadership illustrates my 6th and final principle of successful women’s philanthropy:
The work is evolutionary and profound.
Women’s philanthropy is not a “program” with a singular end game. Your first well laid-out women’s philanthropy strategy will indeed grow your prospect pipeline and early financial support for your organization’s mission; just ask the more than 40 organizations that I convene regularly who have launched their first strategy. However, across time you will integrate these better practices across your team and create significant cultural change where all donors are met as they prefer, not just a few. The organizations that are succeeding on this front have many more diverse partners, leaders and funding, to achieve the impact they seek to have on the world.
How does this cultural change happen? Certainly, it comes from the women themselves. As I’ve written, women bring more than only treasure to the causes they care about. So when you start paying attention to women, you also gain their time and talents as well as their networks and their ability to spread the word about the impact they are creating.
And certainly change comes from fundraisers. We all know the adage: “Change your behaviors, change your outcomes.” When we find ways to better connect to women in ways that resonate with them, new outcomes are a natural result.
Most importantly, it comes from a formidable way that women approach change: women often give in community.
Research shows that women like to give in community more than men. Not all women’s giving is in the form of giving circles or societies. However, when women are finally seen, appreciated and respected to provide support based on THEIR broad definition of philanthropy, not the narrow definition focused only on money, they often choose to create a community to achieve the bold changes they desire. The results can be extraordinary and sustaining.
The collective power of women’s philanthropy has been visible but underappreciated across our history. Women have come together across centuries to use their voices, networks, talents and financial donations to make social change in education, suffrage, human rights, reproductive rights and local community needs. Women give as a community to create long-lasting impact within or across nonprofits or social issues they care about.
Collective giving is not new. Nor is it done only by women. There are many examples of collective giving across our philanthropic sector.
Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott have created a small community of donors to provide significant philanthropic support to accelerate gender equality.
Blue Meridian Partners are pioneering a new philanthropic model. Significant funding partners pool their philanthropic resources which allows each partner to work more effectively and with greater impact then they could do on their own.
Solidaire is a community of donor organizers mobilizing their resources for racial, gender and climate justice. They believe that in social movements, people come together to transform their own lives and improve the lives of loved ones, neighbors and entire communities.
The consultant I spoke with would be wise to open his eyes to how the sector is gaining big results when organizations soften their formal training that all fundraising must be one-to-one. When they welcome women and all donors, they are accepting that historically underrepresented groups may not fit into our current unconscious habits of fundraising.
The consultant I spoke with wondered if women giving collectively would disrupt our fundraising practices.
Disrupt? No. We’ll of course keep current fundraising practices that resonate with some donors.
Expand and improve? YES. The powerful long-term impact of starting your women’s philanthropy strategy is that you will create profound cultural change.
When you embrace the collective approach women have been using across generations to make lasting change, you will evolve to a moment when you will have many more diverse partners, leaders and funding to achieve the impact you seek to have on the world.