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July 19, 2021

The Rise of the Female Philanthropist

Post By:
Abigail Axelrod-Wunderman
Founder and Chief Insight Officer
Useful Views Philanthropy
Guest Contributor:

"There are lots of resources each of us can pull from our safes to share with others. And something greater rises up every time we give." – Mackenzie Scott

Ever wonder what it would be like to be a philanthropist? Being a philanthropist is more than simply giving money away, and even more so for female philanthropists. Google the keywords "female philanthropist" today, and there is an overwhelming amount of searchable content to read. Where you might have thought there would be only a handful of female philanthropists, you will find hundreds making headlines – and again, these individuals are not just opening their wallets; they are sharing skillsets, business resources, and more. With so many incredible stories about how women are leading the way in business and philanthropy, the only question left to ask is, "how do I become a philanthropist?"

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Once you Google the keywords "female philanthropist," you can scroll through the many articles that pop up. For example, Philanthropy Women CEOs and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors explain the power of women's voices in philanthropy. Any one of the "top ten" lists or leading news articles talks about the rise of the female philanthropist – take a look at Forbes or Times. Of course, there are many articles about mega-wealthy female philanthropists like Priscilla Chan, Susan Dell, Melinda Gates, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, or Mackenzie Scott. However, you also find these articles weaved in with female leaders in both the private and public sectors, proving you need awareness and a voice to become a philanthropist in your community.

Thanks to Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Lilly Family School of Philanthropy's Women's Philanthropy Institute, ongoing research gives insight into how women from all populations and households give. Here are some fast facts to check out about women in philanthropy.

Now, yes, men also engage in philanthropy. There are, and continue to be, many recognizable grants and donations made by male philanthropists, married and unmarried couples, and families. One is not better than the other. However, what is happening in the philanthropic space is that women are more likely to give more broadly, leverage their funds by joining a giving circle, donate online to a charity, or be the leader in their household when it comes to philanthropic planning.

The Charitable Decision-Making Process

Women Give 2021 report provides much of the quantitative data to prove how women change the philanthropic landscape. The report also provides insight into how the general population looks at the charitable decision-making process. This data is so powerful. It is even influencing how nonprofits look to engage with a new pool of donors. Nonprofits are now targeting women online and in-person to become philanthropists for their cause.  

Now, when you look at how the world has changed in the last 15 years and how women have stepped into more public decision-making roles, it is not a surprise that philanthropy (or the social sector in general) is also heavily impacted by the work women are doing to support their communities. Overall, research shows women participate in more and more decisions, both in the public sphere and at home. Women are also increasingly present and prominent in the workforce. These changing patterns have affected many other areas of society, ranging from labor force participation to marriage. For example, long-term trends have shown a rise in the number of households headed by single women, an increase in the age of first marriage, and a growing tendency never to marry.

Another area influencing charitable giving from women is how many women-owned businesses are sprouting up. While women-owned firms only made up 20% of all firms that employed people in the United States in 2018, the numbers are growing. According to the Census Bureau's Survey, there were over 6,800 more women-owned firms in 2018 than in 2017. So, we have more women-owned businesses than ever before, and we see an uptick in women leading the decision-making in their households. What's next?

What Women Can Do to Become Philanthropists

I'd say the next step for a woman (business owner or not) who wants to be a philanthropist is to become philanthropic. Start with some research and get involved in a small project within the focus area that interests you. The great thing about philanthropy is that it can start small and grow over time. I love this quote from Mackenzie Scott (former wife of Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos): 

"There are lots of resources each of us can pull from our safes to share with others. And something greater rises every time we give."

This is the idea of compounding in philanthropy. And each time you give more of your time, energy, and resources to a cause, your impact becomes more powerful.  

There is a myriad of ways to involve yourself in philanthropic work or charitable gestures. But because there is so much out there, you should do your research before committing large amounts of time, money, or other resources. Sometimes your research goes something like this:

  1. You find a nonprofit or giving circle online.
  2. You begin talking to someone affiliated with the organization.
  3. You volunteer with the organization for a few months and then decide it is not the right match for you.

And that's excellent research! You investigated, asked questions, experienced the services that nonprofit provides, evaluated, and then re-calibrated. Well-done. Investigating what nonprofit fits best with your skills, interests, and maybe even lifestyle will lead you to build more prolonged, more rewarding relationships with your philanthropy, thus turning you into a savvy philanthropist.  

Start Small but Start Somewhere

Here are some ideas for where you can start your journey to becoming a philanthropist:

1. A portion of your time

Giving a small portion of your time is a great place to start as it helps you identify how much time you really have to give to growing your philanthropic endeavors. Maybe it is volunteering your time at something like the beautiful Delray Beach Children's Garden. This hidden gem of Delray is always looking for volunteers to teach classes to young children. Or perhaps, you'd like to check out a once-a-month beach clean-up or grab a group of your friends and plan your own beach clean-up. Check out Ocean Blue Project in Boca or the many opportunities to clean up beaches throughout Palm Beach County. Whatever your initial interest area is, find a nonprofit that has a similar focus and try a volunteer project. Those initial interactions with an organization will teach you a lot about the people, place, and purpose of the entity. This is exactly what you want to know about an organization before you give even more of your time and maybe eventually money.

2. Giving circles

One example is my own. After moving to Florida, I spent the first year and a half searching for a network of female professionals. I wanted to get integrated into the community more deeply while building stronger relationships with female philanthropists, business owners, and entrepreneurs. I started searching for nonprofits that focused on bringing women together around a shared cause. I attended different fundraisers in my area and joined coworkers at various events. Then a good friend of mine invited me to join her at a cocktail party for a nonprofit giving circle she had just joined. I met women from all walks of life – from attorneys and bankers to bloggers and environmentalists to mothers and grandmothers – these women had come together to raise funds every year towards a shared vision of improving a nonprofit in Palm Beach County through one large grant ($100,000). I had such a great evening, I joined the membership (which is $1,100 per person every year) about a month or two after. You'd think from there it was all great, but that is not exactly what happened. The first year of my membership, I only attended one event. Most of the events did not match my work schedule and were often too far away for me to make in time. When it came time to renew my membership, I was so close to parting ways. I expressed to a few women I had wanted to get more involved with the organization but did not want it to be solely through attending events. And just before I walked away, one of the Board Members invited me to join the Board. I thought, "wow- I've been looking for this kind of opportunity." It would give me a chance to grow my professional skillset of being on a Board while also networking with like-minded, driven women. So, I stayed with the organization. Now I'm in my second year of being on the Board and about 3.5 years into working with this Giving Circle, Impact the Palm Beaches– I'm in a groove with the organization. I have gotten to know many incredible women, and I continue to be amazed by the level of commitment (purely time and energy) these female philanthropists give to their community. I share that whole story to say Giving Circles are not for everyone, as some take up more of your time than others, and it may take a while (a year or two) to fully determine if this type of philanthropic work is the right match for you. However, if you want to become deeply rooted in your local community while growing your philanthropic work, I certainly recommend looking into these types of membership organizations. 

3. Leverage Funds with Other Small Business Owners

True, this is a more complex way to start your philanthropy. However, it could also make it more enjoyable and less scary if you build your philanthropic giving with another business owner who shares the same values. Perhaps this means you both are in the same industry, or maybe you are in two different sectors, but you happen to be neighbors, renting space right next to each other, and you've developed a friendship. Sometimes working alongside another like-minded person can grow your philanthropy creativity!

Becoming a philanthropist does take time, but anyone can become one. And now, there are so many advantages to aligning your business with the social sector. How cool would it be to one day google "female philanthropist" and see your name or business pop up because of the leader you've become in your community? Now is the time to become the philanthropist you've always wanted to be.