Women Primed to Give Big — if Nonprofits Are Willing to ChangeJune 1, 2016
Author: Megan O’Neilhttps://philanthropy.com/article/Women-Primed-to-Give-Big-/236622?cid=cpfd_home
Photo by Kim Raff
IN HER NAME: United Way of Salt Lake's Zenia Frendt leads the charity's Women's Leadership Council, which paid to open this community center in an apartment complex that's home to many refugees. The center features a painting of its namesake, Hser Ner Moo, a Burmese girl murdered in the complex.
In late 2014, executives at United Way of Greater Los Angeles found a startling statistic in data from United Way Worldwide. Fundraising across the federated charity was mostly flat compared to a decade prior. Donations via women's affinity groups, however, had increased more than 170 percent. United Way's Los Angeles affiliate already had its own Women's Leadership Council. In name, anyway. "Donors didn't necessarily even know they were a part of it," says Rebecca Edwards, a major-gifts officer with the chapter. "They just got different stationery with their thank-you note." Ms. Edwards's bosses assigned her full time to breathe life into the group. She studied research on women's giving patterns and models at other organizations. She interviewed active donors and women she and her colleagues wished would give. She assessed the local competition, and she mapped out a five-year plan. The reboot of the council kicked off last summer, with 12 months of networking and volunteer events carefully calibrated to immerse women in the issues they will help tackle. Not even a year later, membership -- with its minimum $2,500 donation -- is nearing 230 women, including 100 newcomers.
Thank-you notes often go out addressed first, and sometimes only, to the husband.
Ms. Edwards's original goal? Thirty additional members. What is taking place in Southern California is just one case study in an expanding body of evidence that shows women primed to wield philanthropic power as never before. Their growing clout is the result of a supernova of demographic changes that distinguish 21st-century women from those who came before: greater earned incomes, more wealth, increased decision-making authority at home, and longer lives, just for starters. Still, academics and nonprofit leaders say groups like United Way of Greater Los Angeles remain the minority. Nonprofits have been slow to adapt to the new reality. Blocking the way for many are holdover sexism, entrenched and outdated fundraising tactics, inflexible software systems, and boards packed with men. The stakes are high. Virginia Merkel, an Indianapolis philanthropist who recruits women donors for the American Red Cross, calls it a "zero-sum game": "If you don't engage those women, somebody else is going to take their money."
Photo by American Red Cross
ON THE JOB -- AND GIVING: Dawn Bozeman works with emergency personnel to install smoke detectors. She is a member of a Red Cross women's-giving circle that raised $7.7 million last year, more than two-and-a-half times what it collected in 2007.
Women vs. Men
Philanthropy can seem like a man's world. It's mostly men making the eight- and nine-figure donations that grab headlines. Women, it would appear, simply don't earn enough money to matter much. There are just 22 women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, and women take home about 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. Yet things are changing as women make gains in education, the workplace, and finances. They control more than half of personal wealth in the United States, or about $14 trillion. With an average life expectancy of 81 years, nearly five years longer than that of men, they will inherit from parents and spouses trillions of dollars in the coming decades. And by some measures, women are already more generous than men. Research by the Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found that female-headed households give more than those headed by males at almost every income level. Women also give differently than men, research shows. They seek a deeper level of involvement in an organization or cause and have a special affinity for communal philanthropy. Witness the explosive growth in women's giving circles -- a model in which money is pooled and doled out collectively -- such as Impact 100. Founded in Cincinnati in 2001 with a $1,000 minimum donation, the group has grown to include 35 affiliates that spur millions in donations yearly. "For me, this is what defines women's philanthropy," says Jacki Zehner, chief engagement officer of Women Moving Millions, a donor community that pushes women to give at least $1 million to women's causes. "It is not about sitting on your own pile of money and deciding who is worthy. It is about being in partnership with the organizations you give to and giving in community with others."
Models for Revenue
The academics and nonprofit leaders who study women's philanthropy have brandished these ideas and statistics for years, if not decades. And some have turned them into action. United Way of Salt Lake launched its Women's Leadership Council in 2005 with a bit of flair, staging the inaugural gathering at a landmark downtown restaurant that caters to the city's male power brokers. Early members paid for a community center in an apartment complex in South Salt Lake, home to a large refugee population. Services included English and parenting classes, homework assistance, and mentorship. Today the council has 225 members, including 47 of the original 60, says Zenia Frendt, the charity's director of leadership giving. The minimum donation is $1,500. Last year the council raised $460,000, for a total of $2.6 million since its inception. "There is no question that this is a successful model for increasing revenue," Ms. Frendt says. In recent years, the council's work has expanded. Women donors pay for staff at South Salt Lake schools who connect poor children and families with health and other services. The philanthropists also support, and take direct part in, a mentorship program for at-risk teenagers that is being used as a national model.
"If you don't engage those women, someone else is going to take their money."
"I have found that when our women feel included in things, when they feel invited to things, when they feel thanked and welcomed and appreciated, they will be there and have your back," Ms. Frendt says. Women have become a key part of the larger growth strategy at United Way Worldwide. They are the charity's fastest-growing donor segment, according to a spokeswoman, and 165 United Ways now have women's groups. Another major charity, the American Red Cross, started its women's giving effort in 2006. The Tiffany Circle, which requires a $10,000 annual donation, is named after the stained-glass Tiffany windows at the charity's national headquarters in Washington, commissioned for $10,000 by women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line as an act of reconciliation after the Civil War. Ms. Merkel, the Indiana philanthropist, started recruiting Tiffany Circle members in 2008 while serving as board chair of her regional Red Cross. She describes it as a calculated move. Many of her fellow board members were donating about $1,500 a year. The Tiffany Circle was a way to boost gifts and give women donors more cachet with the organization.