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Women in Philanthropy

By Angie Joens


March is designated as Women’s History Month but honestly there are so many amazing women to celebrate we need more than a month—am I right?! Women influence every part of our lives—whether it is social and civic justice, education, artistic expression, health, business, and even philanthropically.


I first learned to give watching my grandmothers, mother, aunts and other important women in my life. I saw how generously and easily they shared their talent, time, wisdom, and treasure. I was encouraged to do the same from very early on and have continued during my lifetime to keep giving back in all ways meaningful.


In my career as a fundraiser and non-profit leader I have seen how women give differently than men. Women give collaboratively and collectively. We control more than 85% of the household spending. We control more than $22 Trillion. We earn more, inherit more, and live longer. If we are married we make the majority of the household gifting decisions. If we are single we give more than single men.


This data comes from Kathleen Loehr’s amazing book Gender Matters: A Guide to Growing Women’s Philanthropy. And if you want to learn more check out the research being done at the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. Much of their research is funded by Melinda Gates and there are dozens of research reports on the website all available free of charge. In fact, the 2021 Women Give report just came out last week.


I love that our industry is taking time to both understand how and why women give because that helps us be better prepared to ask for money and steward these important gifts. We cannot keep doing things the way we always have done them and expect to get the same or better results. If women control the majority of the spending and philanthropic decisions then we need to change.


One way some organizations are addressing this financial power shift is by building women and philanthropy committees, women’s giving circles, hosting events by women for women, and so much more. I am proud to have been involved in creating and envisioning two women and philanthropy programs during my career – one at Iowa State University and now at UC Davis.


What makes these programs work is dedicated women who give that want to inspire and motivate other women to give. At UC Davis our Women and Philanthropy committee has created a mission and vision statement and has guiding principles. We have begun our outreach with a series of events featuring UC Davis female faculty, researchers and executives sharing their expertise in areas of health, art, research and more. Our goal is to show donors that giving of all sizes can have an impact on our campus. And it is working - our most recent virtual event drew over 500 women.

We also look for opportunities to feature women’s giving all year round using all of the marketing tools in our toolbox. In fact, this week we sent our first-ever Expect Greater campaign impact update—and it is one good story that features four amazing women who made significant gifts to the campaign. Our leadership is proud to feature all women in this first impact update because they know and believe that it is women who will make this campaign a success.



But to see this shift happen industry wide it is going to take all of us to recognize that things have changed. That women think differently about their giving. That they want, need and expect better from the charities they choose to support. Change happens when we not only see the need for change but we dig in and learn more about why it changed and what it means. We have to do our due diligence to learn more about our women donors. We need to look at the data and see what is behind the numbers.


Let’s start talking with them and find out why they give to our organizations. Let’s ask them what we can do to get them more engaged and involved. Let’s put them on our board and committees. Let’s provide a space for conversations and take action. Let’s show our women donors that we see them and appreciate them.


What has your organization done to recognize or celebrate women in philanthropy? Let us know in the comments below!