Giving It All Away: How Philanthropy By Female Leaders Changes The World

Melinda Gates is considered the most powerful of female leaders in philanthropy in the world.

Melinda Gates is considered the most powerful of female leaders in philanthropy in the world.

Philanthropy is what makes the greatest missions in the world possible. But what makes for a great nonprofit? And how do female leaders in nonprofits change the world?

Writing in Linked In, Jacki Zehner, chief engagement officer and board chair of Women Moving Millions, says that 10.7 million people work in the nonprofit sector. She adds: “One of the greatest myths about nonprofit organizations is that because these entities don’t aim to turn a profit, money isn’t the driving force. Wrong.”

“Nonprofits aspire to change the world and better society, and they do this by providing health services, education, awareness, advocacy for positive social change, and much more. Admirable ambitions for sure, but providing these services and programs is rarely cheap,” Zehner writes.

“Nor are the salaries of the extremely talented people who deliver them, and rightly so. If we want the best talent working in this sector, we simply must be willing to pay for it. Yes, even in the world of nonprofits, money still makes the world go round, and every nonprofit knows full well that in order to survive and thrive, effective fundraising is the key.”

Notably the most powerful of female leaders in philanthropy in the world, Melinda Gates (who in addition to being half of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as co-chair, with a net worth herself of $70 billion), heads her own unit, Pivotal Adventures, focusing on women’s economic empowerment. The Gates Foundation has given away $36.7 billion in grants worldwide since its inception.

Writing in Inside Philanthropy, Kiersten Marek states: “All this paints a picture of a different level of action and leadership from Melinda Gates on women’s issues. How much this shift might ultimately reshape the priorities of the world’s largest private foundation remains to be seen, but clearly, some changes have already been put in motion over the past year or two. We expect more going forward.”

Another major news announcement in philanthropy for female leaders was a recent $90 million investment from the NoVo Foundation, by co-founder, Jennifer Buffett, daughter-in-law of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Writing in Forbes, Kate Vinton states, “The $90 million investment–which the foundation claims is the largest commitment of its kind made by a private foundation to date–will be used for both policy efforts on a national level and grassroots advocacy. The foundation will be speaking with young women of color and advocates around the country over the next year through regional learning sessions to help decide how best to invest the funds and will announce the funding process in early 2017.”

Jennifer Buffett released this statement: “Inherently, girls and young women of color already hold incredible power and potential. This work is about dismantling the barriers that prevent them from realizing that potential and leading us toward a truly transformative movement for change.”

Leading a mission-driven nonprofit does not always earn the female leader unanimous praise, as Tara Mohr writes in Motto.

Mohr, the creator of the Playing Big leadership program for women and author of Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead,  writes: “Watching these women leaders early in my career, I was made aware of another assumption I held: That if influential, smart people have negative feedback on your approach or style, you should pay attention and change yourself, incorporating their feedback.”

Yet, what she was witnessing was another set of solutions from female leaders she respected.

“These leaders operated in a different way: They cultivated relationships with the influential and smart people who loved their existing approach and style and didn’t feel obligated to make changes based on everyone’s feedback. They expected to have some people in their camp and others very much not in their camp, and they realized they could be stunningly successful despite having vocal critics.”

Women are keenly adroit at working in the nonprofit sector and leading in philanthropy, writes Stacey D. Stewart, U.S. President of United Way Worldwide in Huffington Postrecently.

According to Stewart, “They speak up, unite and take action on issues that hit closest to home by giving, volunteering and using their voice to make change. Whether it’s helping with literacy in Lafayette, Louisiana, teaching leadership skills in Philadelphia or supporting out of school time success programs in Winston-Salem, United Ways’ women leaders are the drivers behind positive change in their communities. In some cities, they’re achieving what many would have thought was impossible.”

She cites a recent study from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University that found “women are more likely to give to charity than men—and they give more to every charitable subsector with few exceptions—even though they earn less than their male counterparts.” She also states that “women are also more likely to volunteer than men, with 27.8 percent of women volunteering, compared to 21.8 percent of men.”

Stewart says philanthropy in female leaders is a natural fit. “At United Way, we’re seeing unprecedented numbers of women investing their time, talent and hard-earned paychecks to build stronger communities. Since 2002, our 70,000 women leaders have raised more than $1 billion dollars to help those in need in more than 160 communities across multiple countries, including the United States, France, Jamaica, Canada and Mexico.”

Feminism and philanthropy—perhaps we could coin the phrase femanthropy?

Feminism and philanthropy amount to big dollars nationwide and globally. Perhaps we could coin the phrase femanthropy?

According to Enid Ablowitz writing in the Boulder Daily Camera: “Women will likely control over $30 trillion in North America by 2030 and will inherit an estimated 70 percent of the intergenerational wealth transfer over the next few decades. Women give over 60 percent of donations in the U.S. and nearly twice as much as men. Women give more than men in almost every income category. Women are predicted to make charitable gifts exceeding $550 billion annually within the next decade.”

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About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon