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Empowering Women in Philanthropy

The Roots of Sex Bias in Funding

Donations to charities and other nonprofit la groups totaled more than $123 billion in 1990, according to the American Association of Fund Raising Council (AAFRC). Yet the record reveals that women's programs are consistently underfunded.

Most Foundations Bypass Women's Needs

The Grants Index, published by The Foundation Center, attempts to trace allocations made by the nation's largest public foundations. These allocations represent about half of all money given to nonprofits through foundation grants. From 1981 - 1989, foundation giving increased 600%. Yet the total dollars going to programs serving women and girls grew from a minuscule 2.9% in 1981 to only 5.1% in 1989.

About one third of the foundations surveyed made no grants to programs that specifically served women or girls.

Part of the reason for this discrimination, the nonprofits say, is that many grants are based on what the recipients have been given in the past. This perpetuates traditional gender biases: Because programs for women and girls have historically been underfunded, foundations justify continually shortchanging women.

Pressure needs to be placed on private foundations and public charities to measure the diversity of their clientele and eliminate allocation biases where they exist.

Foundation Boards Lack Women

The gender bias in non-profit funding is not surprising given that men usually make the allocations. As is often the case, the persons with the fewest resources have the least representation in how future resources are assigned. Philanthropic decision-making bodies have made but small progress in opening their doors to women, and even less progress in opening those doors to women of color. Here are some telling statistics:

  • According to a 1990 report from the Council of Foundations, 71% of foundation members are male. A similiar bias exists among foundation directors. At 14%, women are better represented among chief executive officers of foundations, but they tend to head the smaller foundations. The largest independent foundations are headed by men.
  • Ninety-four percent of foundation board members are white, according to the Council. While the nember of women who serve on foundation boards has increased somewhat over the last decade, board representation among persons of color has not. A similar gender and racial disparity exists among university trustees.
  • A 1990 report by Women and Foundations/Corporate Philanthropy found that 23% of foundations surveyed had no women or people of color as trustrees. Furthermore, women of color made up only 5% of all foundation trustees.

Men Control Individual Giving

The source of individual donations is another root of gender bias in non-profit funding. According to The Independent Sector, most individual donations, the bulk of philanthropic giving, come from older,white men with above-average incomes and education. These donors favor groups that are more conservative and offer greater benefit to men and boys.

Men made an average philanthropic contribution of $1,204 in 1989, according to Independent Sectoor. By comparison, women contributed an average $683. Men also give a greater share of their income. The average man gave away 3.1% of his income to non-profit groups, while women gave 1.8%.

There is one key reason why men give more to non-profit groups. Of course, men have larger incomes and more discretionary money than women. For every dollar the average white man makes, the average woman makes about 68 cents.

Women are not only paid less money than men, but they frequently do not control the mony they have. Women who live with men often feel they must seek approval from their partner for discretionary spending. Many widows and divorced women have their money controlled in trusts and/or divorce settlements. Meanwhile, single women swell the ranks of the poor.Simply put, most women have smaller amounts of money to contribute.

Yet increasingly women are taking more and more control of their money. Women comprise forty-five percent of the workforce and today are paid a median average of $19,816 for full-time year-round work.

Women Donors Are the Mainstay of Women's Programs

Despite male economic dominance, feminist and women's programs generally are supported by individual women far more than by male donors. For example, over 85% of the National Organization for Women's and the Fund for the Feminist Majority's donors are women. In fact, over 60% of direct mail gifts generally to women's oranizations come from women.

Older women have been the mainstay of women's organizations. According to Independent Sector, women tend to donate more of their income to non-profits as they grow older. In 1989, women over the age of 65 gave 3.4% of their income in 1989, compared to 2.4% for those aged 55-64 and 1.8% for those aged 35-44.

It is essential, however, for giving to increase among wealthy older women because there appears to be an inverse relationship between income and giving for both women and men. Women with household incomes of less than $10,000 gave an average 5.4% of their income in 1989, compared to the 1.0% dominated by women with incomes between $40,000 and $49,000. The percentage slowly increased with income, to 1.7% for women with household incomes of $75,000 or more.

Younger Women Are the Fastest Growing Group of Donors

Women under age 45 today are the fastest growing group of donors to progressive and feminist groups, and their generosity tends to be greater than that of young men. According to a recent survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, newly empowered younger women are forming "the financial core of the progressive movements that are leading us into the next millennium."

Two out of five young women contributors give to six social action groups or more, and two in three give more money that they did five years ago. Half of these donors say they intend to give even more in the next five years.

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