By Lois Buntz / Guest Column
In the next several decades, women will have access to more wealth than at any other time in history. They will earn and inherit wealth and have tremendous capacity to be philanthropic.
Currently, 47 percent of the nation’s top wealth holders (considered those with assets of $2 million or more) are women, according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The Boston College Center on Philanthropy and Wealth estimates that women will inherit 70 percent of the $41 trillion transferred over the next 35-40 years. And according to the 2014 study, “All In for Her,” U.S. women have the capacity to give more than $230 billion a year.
The development of women’s philanthropic funds began with the women’s funding movement. In the 1970s, a small group of foundation officers conducted a survey and discovered that only 0.6 percent of foundation funds were designated for women and girls.
In the 1980s, multiple women’s organizations joined forces and built a collaborative network. The Women’s Funding Network became the parent organization, and today consists of 140 funds, $465 million in assets and disburses $60 million a year. This growth in philanthropic funds was fueled by the creation of Women Moving Millions, Helen LaKelly Hunt’s 2005 campaign to raise $150 million for programs that benefit women and girls.
This explosion of wealth seems unreal and unimaginable. How can women have access to so much and still struggle with age-old issues like wage inequality, domestic violence, sexual harassment, reproductive rights and poverty?
One reason is the continued lack of investments in programs that directly benefit women and girls. In 2009, The Foundation Center and the Women’s Funding Network revealed that overall foundation giving to these causes had remained at less than 7.5 percent over the previous 15 years.
Secondly, there is adequate evidence that women are underrepresented in positions of power. Only 4 percent of women serve on corporate boards, only 6.4 percent are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and only 105 women hold Congressional seats. When policy decisions get made, women are still in the minority.
Over the past six months, I have interviewed local and nationally recognized women philanthropists, including Abigail Disney and Helen LaKelly Hunt, directors of women’s foundations, authors and founders of women’s organizations. Their stories are an inspiration. These women care about their communities, invest their time, talent and treasure, and want more women to be philanthropic – especially to the causes that impact their lives.
Gender-based philanthropy is not new, but the development of specific strategies to reach women donors is evolving and opportunistic. Thanks to the work of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University and a $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers are documenting how women give and what makes their patterns of giving different from men.
2018 is proving to be a turning point for women. Their voices and concerns are being heard, their actions are being noticed, their unity is growing and they have resources to use. The challenge will be how to use this power wisely.
Gloria Steinem said, “Like art, revolutions come from combining what exists into what has never existed before.” Women have the opportunity to change the cycle of violence and poverty, close the wage gap, impact public policy and influence the local, national and global economy.
Every philanthropy program, wealth manager and nonprofit should be paying attention. The world of wealth will be populated with many women, young and old.
The CBJ’s Women of Influence awards are an outstanding example of exceptional, talented and inspiring women in the Corridor. These women lead organizations, serve on boards, volunteer and contribute in record numbers. They represent academic settings, nonprofits, health care, small businesses and corporate sectors. These women are the change makers.
Congratulations to the phenomenal women honored this week and those recognized over the past 13 years. Let’s use our current and future resources wisely, advocate for all women, celebrate our accomplishments and make a difference in our community and the world.
Lois Buntz is the former CEO of United Way of East Central Iowa and owner of Lois Buntz Consulting. She is writing a book on women and philanthropy.