By Jeannie Infante Sager, director, Women’s Philanthropy Institute
Each year, when the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) releases its Women & Girls Index (WGI), we wait to see how far the needle has moved on giving to women’s and girls’ organizations.
In this year’s report, we saw some progress in terms of year-over-year growth. Yet support for women’s and girls’ organizations still remains a small subset of total philanthropy in the U.S.: 1.9 percent.
The newest findings unleash a sense of urgency for giving to women’s and girls’ causes. They are also a reminder that donors to women’s and girls’ causes must continue to grow in terms of number and scale. And as giving to this subsector continues to expand, we are learning more about the patterns that unite donors. Aided by WPI’s body of research and personal anecdotes, below is a roadmap that helps peel back the curtain on characteristics of and future directions for donors to women’s and girls’ causes.
Why choose women’s and girls’ causes?
Donors who support women’s and girls’ causes expressed motivations in terms of their personal experiences—driven in part by their own history with gender discrimination, pay inequality, and more. Many donors are also united by the belief that funding women’s and girls’ initiatives leads to societal progress. As famed donor Melinda French Gates shares: “When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everyone else.”
High-net-worth women donors echo sentiments about personal experiences and a belief that funding women is a “nexus for many other issues, including poverty, climate change and wealth inequality.” These donors are also interested in taking risks to bet big on women and girls. They have a preference for going upstream—funding systemic change rather than direct service.
Beyond writing a check
There are numerous ways that donors are creatively supporting women and girls. Research on women’s fund and foundation donors reminds us that many donors want to do more than simply write a check. Participating in activities that enable more engagement is an important aspect of advancing women’s and girls’ causes.
From serving on a nonprofit board to volunteering to simply sitting down and talking with a friend about why this kind of giving matters, this group of donors has adopted a holistic, engaged approach to supporting women and girls.
The value in shedding “anonymous”
Choosing to give anonymously is a personal decision for donors to any cause. But social norms research underscores the potential impact that visibility may bring to this subsector. Messages about rising levels of giving to women’s and girls’ causes resonate with all donors—both men and women. In other words, when you talk about your investments in women and girls, you may inspire someone else to follow suit.
Today, there are more ways than ever for donors to be “visible” with their giving. Sharing on social media, speaking at a conference or dinner, and asking nonprofits how you can champion their causes all can help inspire others to contribute.
Moreover, the type of message a donor relays matters. Focusing on the rising popularity of women’s and girls’ causes (for example, “Philanthropic support for women’s and girls’ organizations surpassed $8 billion in 2018”) increases people’s intentions to donate to those causes, compared to focusing on current levels of giving (for example, “Philanthropic support for women’s and girls’ organizations represents a small share of overall charitable giving: 1.9 percent”). This tactic is equally effective for women and men donors.
At the end of the day: give
Raising the 1.9 percent of charitable giving that goes to women and girls can feel like a massive summit to scale. Changing that number will not happen overnight, but will only shift when we are inspired and motivated to create real change around gender equity.
My advice for donors? Follow what excites you, wrestle with the entrenched challenges of our time, and reflect on your own desires for the world you want to see. Donors to women’s and girls’ causes have laid the foundation for a highly engaged form of giving. Continue to lead by example.