I recently had the pleasure of presenting at an event focused on the power of women’s philanthropy. My charge was to report on the national and local data which tracks how women give, and then extrapolate themes and how they play out in the day-to-day giving of families with whom we work. Digging into the history and data on this topic, there were a few surprising findings of both past and current trends related to women’s giving. There were dozens of examples from the late 19th and early 20th century of women whose passion for giving and giving back set the tone and pace for others to follow. Clara Barton, for example, found her passion for giving back from directly assisting soldiers on Civil War battlefields. The result was the creation of the American Red Cross. Harriet Hemenway used her social position to save birds from being killed for hat decorations. The result: a ban on trade in wild bird feathers and the founding of Massachusetts Audubon. You can read all about it in one of my favorite children’s books, She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head.
So like many areas where women’s involvement is often not at the forefront of popular understanding, the history and current trends related to women’s philanthropy is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. The research and trend analysis is led in large part by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly School of Family Philanthropy at Indiana University. Their research shows that women continue to be powerful forces in charitable giving and volunteerism. Single and married women give more than married men. Young single women today give slightly more than their counterparts of 40 years ago, and young married women have greater influence on the decisions about charitable giving, and give more when they influence those decisions, than their counterparts did 40 years ago. Women’s giving is more typically issues-driven, and they are more likely to give to education, the environment and basic needs. The trend linking volunteerism and philanthropy remains strong as well. Nearly 30% of all women volunteer and represent more than half of the 4.3 billion hours of annual service, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service. Women are also statistically more likely to focus on transmitting their values to the next generation through both their giving and their volunteerism.
So what does this mean for the modern, day-to-day practice of philanthropy? Many women talk about an “ah-ha” moment that crystallized their passion for philanthropy. Whether it was volunteering with a local organization, seeing their children get excited about community service, or experiencing a challenging life event themselves, many women can pinpoint a specific moment in time when they made their decision to get involved and give back to an organization and a cause.. Women want to talk with their families, especially their children and grandchildren, about their values and how they express those values in their giving and volunteering. Women are saying “yes” to nonprofit board service and leadership, where their voices in governance, program development and fundraising are critical. Let’s not forget the power and history of women’s giving, and as we prepare to honor the women in our lives for Mother’s Day, we can continue to use the examples of women in philanthropy across all generations to inspire us to innovate and serve those most in need. We Can Do It!
It is hard to ignore the political and social debate at the national level under the new administration. We have given a lot of thought to the role of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector in light of the significant changes in leadership and governance at the federal level. As policies relating to the role of government are reviewed, what is the role of philanthropy in the national discussion? How will charitable giving be affected? How will vulnerable and underserved communities fare? Regardless of your politics, it is clear we are in an uncertain environment when it comes to issues of importance to many donors.
Many interested in philanthropy have carefully considered how to respond, if at all, to these changes. Below are some strategies we have developed to assist donors with whom we work. There is no “right” or “wrong” approach, so we hope this will begin the conversation. While some donors may choose one specific strategy, many will likely choose a combination of these strategies at various times over the coming weeks, months or years.
- Continue to focus on your current priorities. Many donors have a clearly defined set of giving priorities. They often develop these priorities over time to support: organizations in whose mission they strongly believe; to support leaders in whom they have confidence; and/or to support a set of strategies that have proven particularly effective for the scope and range of their giving. Donors may choose to double-down with the organizations and issues about which they care most. Particularly if those issues are ones likely to be affected by changes in federal policy, donors may want to calibrate their giving accordingly.
- Respond to urgent needs. In uncertain times, there are bound to be urgent needs that emerge at a moment’s notice, to which donors wish to respond. In cases of natural disasters, they are for urgent relief situations. In the face of immediate changes brought about by new federal policies which may affect services or practices for underserved populations, donors may step in to address urgent and time sensitive needs, campaigns or events.
- Respond to long-term or slowly emerging needs. Many donors are motivated by urgency to meet current needs in real-time. Longer term needs take time to unfold. For example, the process by which the federal budget gets proposed, vetted by Congress, approved and allocated is lengthy and involved. Allocating funding to the states from federal programs takes even more time. Reserving a portion of your giving budget for medium and long term needs can help insure that the nonprofits a donor supports will be at the table for the long-haul.
- Explore new strategies. Sometimes continuing “business as usual” is not sufficient to meet the perceived escalation in need among many in the nonprofit sector and in vulnerable communities. This may mean giving to new organizations. There are also strategies to achieve your charitable mission that go beyond cash contributions. These include loans, program and mission-related investments, and creation of alternative giving or action vehicles (for-profit companies, advocacy organizations, or others).
- Support advocacy. Many foundations and donors shy away from funding advocacy around a particular public policy goal. There are limits to the types of advocacy in which certain philanthropies can engage or support, and donors should consider those limitations when examining the role of advocacy and policy work in their philanthropy. Despite that, donors are exploring how to use their voices in new ways to help achieve their vision of social good.
- Continue to educate yourself about the issues and how government works. Many of us have a working knowledge about the governmental process, including how bills become law and how federal and state governments allocate public resources. But we could likely use a refresher on many of these issues. Take the time for a Civics 101 refresher. Study modern American history. Make sure you know how government at the local and state level works, and understand the interplay between our national and local levels of government. Go to resources you trust on the issues you care most about.
- Participate in government. Setting politics aside, informed voters and advocates yield informed policy. Every citizen can make his or her voice heard. Interacting with your elected officials in a respectful and constructive manner is a hallmark of our democracy. You might even consider running for an elected office yourself. Attend a public forum held by your elected officials, go to a town committee meeting, and observe government firsthand.
Being deliberate about your charitable giving, and making decisions about where you can have the greatest impact is not a one-time event. Revisiting and evaluating your strategies is always a good practice. In changing social and political times, it is even more important. Donors can make a difference, and having a well-developed and strategic approach to giving in unsettled times will extend the impact and reach of your giving.
The holiday season and the approaching new year is typically a time of reflection, filled with expressions of gratitude, consideration of the year past and goal setting for the new year ahead. This year’s reflections and predictions have seemed more intense than in past years, given the highly charged Presidential election and its aftermath. Repeated conversations with colleagues and clients have affirmed that philanthropy will continue to be a place for positive civil discourse, for supporting society’s greatest needs, and for making sure the vital “third sector” continues to play a role in our nation’s democracy. How this is implemented will look different from donor to donor. Some philanthropies will choose to continue advocating for social change in the issues they care about; others may “double down” in their giving to causes that may face cuts in public funding; still others may want to find a new approach or stick to very local level giving. There is no one way, no magic answer. But at this time of year it would be a wasted opportunity not to highlight a few trends and bright spots for 2017.
- Young people are being engaged in philanthropy at a rapidly growing pace. They understand the world in which they live and the challenges that exist, and they want to do something about it. And fast. They think they can do a better job at it than their parents’ generation. How is that different from any other generation, you might ask? They are networked and connected and are prepared to use their time, treasure and talent right away. They also are engaging at a much younger age than many of their predecessors. And they have an impressive breadth of technology to help them, but have not forgotten how important person to person contact is. Browse through www.youthgiving.org or www.positivetracks.org and you’ll walk away inspired and cheering for the so-called Generation Z.
- Many families use the holidays as a time to talk about their family history and values. A recent New York Times article highlighted the myriad ways to engage teens and youth in giving, not just in making decisions on where to give but also in highlighting the ways families have been recipients of others’ generosity. As you sit around your holiday table, take a moment to ask your elders and your juniors what they care about, and brainstorm where you have common ground and what you might do about it. The answers may surprise you.
- Nonprofit leaders, particularly those working at the local level, know the needs in their communities or issue areas, and remain committed to meeting the needs of their constituents. While possible constraints in federal funding will likely challenge their work in health care, education, the environment and other social welfare fields, continue to listen to them as they articulate their needs in the coming year.
- The current state of national politics has resulted in many donors looking at their priorities anew, determining where they want to have an impact and what they want their legacy to be. Governmental regimes and tax codes may change, but you can take control of your legacy by making thoughtful, strategic and deliberate plans for your charitable giving and legacy.
Though we may be in winter when the days are short and cold here in the northeast, the earth begins its tilt back toward the sun, and with it brings the promise of a new year.