The power of women’s philanthropy

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.