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Empowering Women in Philanthropy

Introduction | Funding Bias Decreases Women's Opportunities | Philanthropy Ignores Women's Increasing Impoverishment | The Roots of Sex Bias in Funding | Defunding Feminist Programs | The Feminist Difference | The Feminist Challenge | Resources

Defunding Feminist Programs

Funding for programs that serve women and girls suffers from assaults by conservative groups and cuts in government funding.

Attacks from the Right

Through highly organized efforts, conservative groups are persuading corporate foundations and other large charitable organizations, such as the United Way, to stop funding progressive programs - particularly those supporting women's reproductive rights.

In 1989 the Roman Catholic Diocese in Spokane, Washington, asked the United Way to halt its support of Planned Parenthood clinics that provided abortions. When the United Way refused, the diocese organized a boycott of the United Way campaign in that area.

Similar efforts were launched in Hawaii, where the United Way agreed to stop funding Planned Parenthood clinics, in Sarasota, Florida, where the United Way withdrew support from all but Planned Parenthood's educational services, and in Wichita, Kansas, where the United Way stopped funding the YWCA.

While the amount of money that the United Way gives to Planned Parenthood is very small (2.7 million dollars - less than .12% of the total amount distributed by United Way in 1990), the right-wing onslaught has forced Planned Parenthood to increase its fundraising efforts. Meanwhile, Catholic Charities received 47 million dollars and other Catholic family services agencies received 37 million dollars from the United Way in 1990.

Anti-abortion groups have also promoted boycotts of 17 corporate sponsors of Planned Parenthood, as well as the corporate supporters of other charities supporting a feminist agenda. The nonprofits under attack include the Children's Defense Fund, the Ms. Foundation, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, and People for the American Way. The right-wing groups are encouraging corporations to fund a variety of conservative projects instead.

According to Robert Bothwell, Director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, "Scuttlebutt indicates that some corporations are rewriting their grantmaking guidelines to more easily allow them to say no to women's rights and other progressive nonprofits."

Cuts in Public Programs

Donations to non-profits have become particularly important with recent cutbacks in state and federal aid to human services. According to Lester Salamon, an expert on non-profit finance, a significant portion of non-profit groups are experiencing serious strains that threaten their long-run viability.

The cutbacks in federal support of non-profits have forced many groups to charge higher fees for services. A subtle shift in the basic structure of the private non-profit sector may therefore be under way, Salamon says. Agencies in the health, arts and educational areas - which can appeal to paying customers - are gaining ground, while non-profits providing social services, advocacy and aid to the poor are falling behind.

In 1988, Catholic Charities - the fifth largest non-profit in the United States - received 396 million dollars in federal governmental funding while Planned Parenthood received only 106 million federal dollars. Public family planning funding has not kept apace with inflation in the past ten years, let alone increased to meet the escalating needs caused by growing poverty.

(Empowering Women in Philanthropy, The Empowering Women Series, No. 3; A Publication of the Feminist Majority Foundation, 1991.)