Women Give More Than Ever, Yet Get Small Returns

Women are giving more dollars than ever to philanthropy and women head half of U.S. foundations, yet only 6.6 percent of the philanthropic dollars go to programs for women and girls. Experts hope, however, that change is underway.

Mary Ellen Capek

(WOMENSENEWS)-Philanthropy in the name of women and girls is on the cusp of tremendous growth. Women's economic independence is at an all-time high, female dotcom millionaires are beginning to consider giving back and the women who broke into the professions in the 1970s are beginning to gray and think about distributing some of their hard-acquired wealth.

In general, it's been nothing but blue skies for philanthropy during this second half of the decade. Americans gave a record $190 billion to charitable causes last year, according to a report this fall from the President's Council of Economic Advisors. Moreover, charitable giving, as a percentage of gross domestic product, has risen in recent years, from 1.7 percent in 1995 to 2.1 percent last year.

And women appear to be holding up at least half of the firmament.

A recent survey of women and men business owners showed negligible differences between how and why men and women give, and it showed that women with resources give just as much as men.

Men and women business owners give equal amounts of their time and money, personally as well as through their businesses, according to the study conducted by the National Foundation of Women Business Owners and underwritten by Merrill Lynch's Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Management.

Both women and male business owners have programs enabling their employees to give. Both learned from a role model at a young age about how to give, and both care about where they are giving.

Study Challenges Conventional Wisdom

“There was a myth out there that women are not involved philanthropically,” said Bruce Rosenthal, a spokesman for the foundation of women business owners. “The myth was that they give time and not money. What we see from this study is that women who own businesses are as philanthropic as men who own businesses.”

The study also indicated that when they do volunteer, women business owners are more likely than men to take leadership roles.

“You can't undervalue women in leadership positions, but you also can't undervalue how spectacular the accomplishment of women's volunteerism really is,” said Felicia Lynch, president and chief executive officer for Women and Philanthropy, an association of grant makers in Washington, D.C. “When you take into consideration women and the second shift, they are taking on a third shift by volunteering. The amount of volunteerism women are doing is spectacular.”

The study also indicated that among those of high net worth, women gave more than the men. But many new generation philanthropists made their fortunes fairly recently in the technology industry. In the world of dotcom millionaires, women are not yet making large contributions to any kind of cause.

“While women there do give,” said Lynch, of Women and Philanthropy, “women who give exceptionally are an exception. Still, I think there is extraordinary opportunity out there. When it comes to money, the myth that women don't give is true only as long as we accept it. If we internalize sexism and we don't go to women to ask them for money, we buy into it. Women's funds are so exciting because they break down that myth,” Lynch added.

That's the good news.

Women and Girls Not Benefiting From Women's Growing Largess

The bad news for organizations committed to nurturing women's and girls' economic independence, entrepreneurial spirit and professional development is that not enough of the money is going their way.

In 1998, only 6.6 percent of foundation grants targeted at a specific population were designated for women and girls. That amounts to $628 million out of a total of approximately $9.5 billion. This percentage is slightly higher than in the past, 2 percent to 5 percent, but it still appears to be remarkably low.

One reason for this, experts say, may be that women donors still are not earmarking their gifts to benefit their gender.

“Being a woman donor is not the issue,” said Christine Grumm, executive director of the Women's Funding Network in San Francisco. “The question is what commitment do we have to changing the status of women and girls.”

The staff at foundations may also lack a commitment to improve the lives of women and girls, even though they are the beneficiaries of women's generosity, says Mary Ellen Capek, a philanthropy consultant, author and academic.

Her research indicates that more than 50 percent of foundations are headed by females, and 75 percent of program officers are women.

Despite this strong female presence, the percentage of funds going to programs for women and girls has changed little.

Giving to Women's, Girls' Causes No Better Than 10 Years Ago

“The monies coming to women's and girls' organizations and foundations is not any better than it was 10 years ago,” said Capek. “There is still a lot of discomfort around feminism and gender equity causes.”

Several leaders in the philanthropic community argue that foundations must go even further than awarding grants to programs for women and girls, but begin to prioritize their giving based on how the issue affects women and girls.

Women and Philanthropy's Lynch uses the example of funds for environmental issues to explain this position.

“Who is affected most by environmental degradation?” asked Lynch. “Poor people. Who are the poorest people in America? Women and their children. If there is no way to see how a cause helps women and children, then why bother to fund that program?”

Adds Grumm of the Women's Funding Network: “When you help a woman, you help a family.”

“When you invest in women and girls, you get a bigger bang for your buck,” says Bess Bendet, director of the progressive Three Guineas Fund. “They reinvest in social capital, in education, in their social communities, in children and the environment.

While shifting the practices of large traditional, philanthropic institutions may be as difficult as turning the Queen Mary, the experts believe that the newly wealthy female entrepreneurs may be open to focusing their giving in new ways.

Newly Wealthy Women Need to Learn About Philanthropy

Bendet added that many recently wealthy women are young and do not come from wealthy homes where they learned to give philanthropically in a large way. They need to be reached, educated and encouraged, she said.

These women also are considerably more hands-on in their giving, Capek added. “They want to run their philanthropy as they run their dotcoms-venture-capital oriented, not as Band-Aids.”

Grumm suggests another reason many women haven't given generously to women and girls may be that they lack awareness and information about foundations targeting women's and girls' causes.

“Women are happy to participate,” said Grumm. “It is a matter of getting the story out.”

Women have made major accomplishments in womens and girls' philanthropy, she said, predicting significant growth in giving to women's and girl's causes.

“Women have increased their giving to women and girls, but we are at the beginning of that trend,” Grumm said. “It hasn't translated into big dollars yet, especially in comparison to the tremendous overall growth of philanthropy over the last few years.

“Growth for women and girls looks minimal, but in fact it is dramatic. We're giving close to $20 million a year away out of our Women's Funding Network to women and girls' organizations. That is double the $10 million we gave away five years ago.”

Elizabeth Randolph is a free-lance writer in New York.