print Print    Share Share  

Empowering Women in Philanthropy

The Feminist Challenge: Nine Ways to Increase Support for Women

Ending the gender bias in philanthropy needed to fund women's rights and services will require action on several fronts. Institutions that fund nonprofit programs must be made more sensitive to gender bias and must rectify it. Public funding for women's programs must be dramatically increased.

Individual women and feminist donors must target their donations for women's programs and advocacy work. To do this feminists must organize and take direct action.

Strategy 1: Administer the Feminist Test

Philanthropic groups must be pressured to close the gender gap. Feminists must withhold donations that discriminate against women. Make sure your dollars are empowering women rather than perpetuating inequality. Examine who makes the decisions at nonprofits and ask whether women and girls are equally benefited by those decisions.

Strategy 2: Put More Women in ChargeThe next step is to give women a greater role in deciding how charitable donations are allocated. Clearly, it is important to put more women on the boards of the foundations and charities that provide the funds for nonprofit groups. Begin by investigating the philanthropic institutions in your area. Find out how many women they have on their boards and how their board members are selected. Then find feminists within your community who would like to serve on these boards and help them get those positions. Or, consider running for a board position yourself.

Strategy 3: Expose Sex Bias The gender gap in charitable giving is not widely known or understood. Too many of the major charities hide behind the position that they are ostensibly meeting the needs of women and girls through their broad-based programs.

Most foundations, public charities and nonprofits do not keep track of the number of women and girls that they serve relative to the number of men and boys. Nor do they track the percentage of their clients who are people of color.

National research projects concerning this question are now underway. The National Council for Research on Women is conducting a project with the National Network of Women's Funds and Women and Foundations/Corporate Philanthropy that explores the processes by which grantmaking allocations are set.

You can start a research project of your own at the community level. Organize a group of feminists to ask local chapters of national agencies and community-based non-profits for detailed information about their services and their clients. Your group can then demand that agencies provide feminist-based programs for the women and girls in their area.

If the agencies prove unresponsive, go to the media. Making public gender bias among the charities in your community will provide you with critical leverage in instituting change. The last thing a non-profit needs is unfavorable publicity that would diminish its donor base.

Strategy 4: Consider Legal Action Sometimes, legal action is the most effective way to make change. Cases were brought successfully against Boys Clubs in California and Michigan in the late 1970s and early 1980s to get them to open up the doors to girls.
Little League was also successfully sued in the 1970s to win admittance for girls. And educational institutions at every level were sued to gain equal treatment for girls and women.
Strategy 5: Earmark Your Donations Women who make donations to "broadbased" interests should earmark their contributions for feminist programs. Your donation can make a difference! More than 80% of the philanthropic support for nonprofit groups comes from individual donors like you.
You may already be making gifts to universities, hospitals, or other institutions. Earmark your gift toward a specific program that supports services or advocacy for women and girls. Here are some examples:
  • Target donations for feminist advocacy programs such as the National Organization for Women.
  • Target a gift to your alma mater for a women's studies program, women's sports or campus child care facility.
  • Earmark a donation to a hospital for breast cancer research.
  • Specify that your gift to a community center be used to fund a program for battered women.
  • Contribute to feminist family planning clinics that are being harassed and are fighting to stay open.


Strategy 6: Find Out Where the Money Goes It's not enough to know that your donations are targeted toward programs that help women and girls. You must also make sure that those programs incorporate feminist goals and philosophies.
Strategy 7: Support Feminist Advocacy Programs You can also help by directing more of your dollars to feminist nonprofit groups. These groups provide a wide range of essential services to women and girls.

Give special attention to advocacy programs that advance the political, social and economic status of women. According to the American Association of Fund Raising Counsel, only 4% of all philanthropic contributions goes to groups that promote social equality of all kinds. This means, of course, that only an infinitesimal share of the donations find their way to advocacy programs that help women and girls specifically.

In addition to making your own gifts, ask your employer to add some of these groups to the fund-raising drives they sponsor. And challenge the community groups to which you belong to make donations, too. Here are some of the many groups that need your help:

National Women's Rights Organizations
  • Professional Women's Groups & Caucuses
  • Women's Labor Groups
  • Organizations Serving Women of Color
  • Women's Studies Programs and Centers
  • Commissions on Issues Affecting Women
  • Feminist Publications and Media
  • Global Women's Groups
  • Women's Services such as:
    • Rape Crisis Centers
    • Battered Women's Shelters
    • Family Planning Clinics
    • Women's Legal Defense Funds

National Groups Supporting Feminist Issues such as:

    • Child Care
    • Disabled Women
    • Displaced Homemakers
    • Economic Equity
    • Educational Equity
    • Family Planning
    • Homeless Women
    • Lesbian Rights
    • Older Women
    • Violence Against Women
    • Women in Arts
    • Women in Poverty
    • Women in Sports
    • Women of Color
    • Women Prisoners
    • Women's Health
    • Young Women

Strategy 8: Increase Individual Donations from Women While the women's community must break through the gender barriers of more traditional charities, individual women or feminist donors must finance their own social, economic and political power. Encourage your family, friends, and co-workers to target their giving to women's empowerment.

A 1991 report by the National Society of Fund Raising Executives (NSFRE) indicates that many women would give more if they were asked to do so.

To date very little research has been done on what motivates women to give to nonprofits and how to tap women as a financial resource. Anecdotal evidence compiled by the NSFRE indicates that women like to know exactly how their donations will be used and assured that their gifts are used wisely. Many also want to hear about the results.

According to the NSFRE, many women tend to volunteer their time to an organization before they make a financial commitment.

Strategy 9: Start Planned Giving Women of means must be encouraged to target a greater share of their wealth for programs that serve women and girls. Planned giving can help make the most of feminist dollars. There are a variety of income and estate tax laws that feminists can use for planned giving strategies to maximize donations.

In addition to cash donations, it is possible to donate securities, real estate, and personal property and receive significant tax benefits that make it possible to give an even larger donation. A feminist nonprofit group can also be the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or bequest.

Property can also be put in a trust that will provide the donor with income while alive or provide a charity with income until the donor's death - at which time the property returns to the donor's heir.

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