There are many ways to donate to the cause. But exactly how can you use your checkbook as a transformative tool for women worldwide?
It’s a tragic paradox. Experts agree that the most effective way to solve global problems is to invest in women, but social initiatives that focus on women actually receive less than 7% of all philanthropic funding worldwide.
Fortunately, we are beginning to see the potential to turn this around, and women funders are leading the way. In the US, for example, women have been steadily increasing their assets over the last 30 years, and they are giving more than ever before. In 2005, their giving surpassed men’s by $5 billion. As their control over the nation’s wealth continues to grow—it’s expected to be 60% by 2010—their giving clout is set to increase too. And, with Internet technology enabling person-to-person giving at a lightning pace, citizen philanthropy is soaring. Taken together, there has never been a riper moment to activate a quantum leap in funding for women and girls.
Here’s how you can do your part to unleash a flood of funding to the women’s movement:
Align your checkbook to your inner compass
Take out a blank piece of paper and imagine that you are president of the largest foundation in the world charged with giving to women’s empowerment. Freewrite for 15 minutes and get in touch with the kinds of solutions you would happily invest in if no one were looking over your shoulder. Is it the direct, personal giving that lights you up—changing the life of one female entrepreneur with a grant or microloan that will enable her to become financially independent? Or are you a macro-thinker—wanting to fund systemic change and enable lots of people to make a difference through a large campaign? Perhaps you are drawn to a combination of strategies and would like to have a diverse funding “portfolio.” Wherever you fall, it’s perfect. The world needs it all, women need it all, but as one person you can’t give it all. If each and every one of us intentionally syncs our giving with our inner-knowing, we’ll be more likely to collectively create big change.
Check your attitude
Approach gift-giving with an open, flexible, and celebratory attitude. Listening to, dialoguing with, and trusting women’s groups that are on the ground doing the work can help us achieve new heights of collective power. As we usher in a new era of transformational giving, it means shifting away from a traditional top-down mindset. Open yourself to the thrill of new learnings and true partnership, and appreciate all the benefits you will receive from standing shoulder to shoulder with others to achieve a shared goal.
Get to the grassroots
The majority of women’s groups worldwide are so small they are often not even on most funders’ radars. It is these groups, often working with scarce resources in challenging and threatening political climates, that are conducting some of the most effective social change of our time.
According to a recent landmark report by the Association for Women in Development (AWID), which surveyed nearly 1,000 women’s organizations in over 94 countries, two-thirds are extremely small, with annual operating budgets that are less than $50,000. This size can become a catch-22 for grassroots groups because funding agencies typically won’t give them large grants, rationalizing that small groups can’t absorb it with their limited capacity and infrastructure. Yet, with limited capacity and unstable funding, women’s groups find it a struggle to plan well for the future, and without developed infrastructure and communications, it is difficult to access donors. Reaching these groups may not be so simple, but it is critical that we do so.
Consider giving to a start-up with a great idea for social change. It’s true organizations like this don’t have much of a track record, but if it’s innovative and visionary—and has a strong plan—you will have more of a chance to make a big impact since you are getting in on the ground level. You will be able to take part in a fascinating journey as the idea takes root.
If you thrive on personal connection, consider developing a direct relationship through your giving. Whether you give to an individual in your own backyard or foster an online connection with a group across the globe, it’s entirely possible to bypass the middleman. The payoff can be intimate connection and friendships. You might even experience the fulfillment of being a part of a school, media project, or healthcare clinic from start to finish. This type of giving often requires a greater time investment to get to know the program and do your own due diligence, but the time you invest depends on your own personal threshold. Stephanie Clohesy, philanthropy consultant, says, “If something tugs your heartstrings and it looks good, it’s low risk to you, and you can afford to do it, save yourself the time and effort and send the check.” However, she recommends, if you are giving a large amount of money, and hitting a higher personal risk-factor, then you should verify the group is legitimate through some trusted source, either a colleague who has first-hand experience with the group, an affiliated NGO, or—if it is US-based—by going to Guidestar, a database of nonprofit organizations. All organizations that make over $25,000 a year have to file a 990 tax form, which is listed on Guidestar, and there you can at least look at the basics.
Aggregate your giving power
Join or start a giving circle with friends and colleagues—it will give you the pleasure and comaraderie of joining up with other women in your local community to make a big impact. Learning and leveraging are cornerstones of collaborative group giving. Whether you meet once a month or once a year, have 3 or 300 members, most circles provide a space for self-education and discussion, as well as flexible and fast collective giving. The giving circle phenomenon is rapidly expanding in the US, doubling in number from 2004 to 2006, with now over 400 circles in nearly every state in the country, according to a recent study by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. In the past four years, giving circles have given nearly $100 million to charity. Women are fueling this explosion with our special hunger for social networking and community building. If you decide to start a giving circle on your own, find a partner organization or foundation with which you can create a special fund to deposit monies that are designated for your group.
Go beyond the stats
Get a real understanding of where an organization is in its life cycle and ask questions to make sure its spending priorities match its stated goals. Don’t simply evaluate the percentage of its funds that goes toward programs versus administrative and fundraising expenditures. While it is generally accepted that an organization’s administrative and fundraising costs should not exceed 25% of its total budget over a five-year period, there is no hard and fast rule. Many worthy groups—in particular young organizations or mature organizations that are expanding their work—may have higher than average ratios because of their momentary growth. Additionally, if you only want your funding to go to programs and not to salaries or rent, think twice: You may be doing a disservice to the organization’s ability to be flexible and carry out its work. AWID’s study found that most of the funding accessed by women’s rights organizations is for “projects and not core-funding, which means that in many instances organizations are not able to set their own priorities.”
Make any pledge—no matter how large or small—for a few years in a row to help the organization’s operation gain stability. Inconsistent, unstable funding is one of the most stressful obstacles that women’s groups face from year to year, according to AWID’s report. Many groups spend so much energy to re-raise funding each year that they operate in survival-mode, and it undermines their own strategic planning, expansion, and effectiveness. Even groups with sustainable revenue plans often take 3-5 years until they can break even. A multi-year pledge is an unparalleled (a.k.a. superstar) statement of your commitment for the long haul and can be an enormous boost, especially to small organizations.
Read the fine print
Look at the details of what you are giving to before you actually donate any money. Some large corporations and NGOs are doing what is called ‘Pink-washing’—jumping on the bandwagon of women’s empowerment with flashy ads and rhetoric but failing to put the funds raised into women-specific or women-led programming. Visit the organization’s website or ask questions to make sure that the bulk of your contribution or purchase is truly supporting a program that focuses on women’s or girls’ empowerment.
Be a bridge
Act as an intermediary to help a group access more resources. AWID found that many small international women’s groups have trouble tapping into funding that might be available to them because they are isolated and lack infrastructure, technical know-how, and language skills to access it. Find out if you can be of assistance in other creative ways such as helping to research or proofread funding proposals, to develop marketing and communications materials, to build a website, or to hold your own fundraiser to spread the word.
World Pulse Recommends: Giving to Women’s Funds
Across six continents, foundations are emerging that invest in women-led solutions in their communities and nations. The beauty of giving to a women’s fund is that your contribution will be dispersed by those who are uniquely qualified to identify and solve problems in a local context. With over 125 foundations worldwide, women’s funds are highly effective at getting money to women at the grassroots. These growing funds have banded together to form the Women’s Funding Network, now collectively investing $50 million a year in women and girls. Some notable places to give include the Global Fund for Women, the Appalachian Women’s Fund, the African Women’s Development Fund, and the Mongolian Women’s Fund; however, there are many more. In addition, you can give to the Urgent Action Fund, which specializes in providing rapid response grant-making to women human rights defenders and organizations that are under imminent attack. Visit Women’s Funding Network to find places to give.
Women Moving Millions
Surprisingly, wealthy women give at a lower percentage than middle-income women and families. That may be changing with a new effort to mobilize women to give gifts of $1 million or more to women’s funds. Helen LaKelly Hunt, co-founder of the new initiative Women Moving Millions, says the idea came to her after she learned it was mostly men who funded the suffrage movement. “We sat on the sidelines of suffrage. Yet, women everywhere need us,” she says. “I knew we had to get strategic.”
LaKelly Hunt and her sister have joined with over 57 donors in seven countries to give more than $110 million to women’s funds. The group is on track to raise $150 million by April 2009, an amount that will send the total given to women’s funds in the last 20 years crashing through the $1 billion mark.
“This is the first time in history that women are funding women in a major way,” says LaKelly Hunt. “It is a new pulse of women who are giving big and bold, who have never given a million-dollar gift before.” But this movement isn’t an exclusive one. LaKelly Hunt is hoping that this turning tide will stimulate more women’s giving across all levels.
by Malaika Durban