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A New Generation of Girl Philanthropists Inspires

March 11, 2016

Violet_giving_circle_for_PhilanTopicAs seniors at the elite Marlborough School for girls in Los Angeles, Olivia Goodman and Alana Adams are getting a top-notch education, preparing to attend renowned universities, and looking forward to long and rewarding careers.

They know they are fortunate. But they're also painfully aware of what lies beyond their private school campus. They know that, just a few miles away, there are schools that lack basic supplies and where teenagers try to focus while the sound of gunshots can be heard outside.

That's why, in 2014, Goodman and Adams joined the student-run Violets' Giving Circle, part of the Women's Foundation of California's network of six collaborative giving circles. Recently, Goodman, Adams, and nineteen of their schoolmates announced they will award a total of $40,000 in grants to four Los Angeles-based organizations that support educational access and opportunities for women and girls. The organizations are Homeboy Industries, New Village Girls Academy, Women in Non Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER), and WriteGirl.

The Violets not only are inspiring, they are emblematic of a rather startling development in giving. At all income levels and ages, women in 2016 are more likely than men to give to charity — a dynamic that researchers refer to as the gender gap in charitable giving. Indeed, in one study, baby boomer and older women gave 89 percent more to social causes than men their age, while women in the top quartile of income gave 156 percent more than men in that cohort.

Researchers have a few hypotheses as to why this is the case. One is that women tend to be more altruistic and empathetic than men because of the way they are socialized with respect to "caring, self-sacrifice and the well-being of others." The Violets, who are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the group this year, are just one example of how the gender gap in charitable giving applies to girls as well.

Take Alana Adams, who, when asked why she joined Violets, said: "Part of it was that sense it could have been me." Adams grew up in Boyle Heights, a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood where only a small percentage of young people go on to college. She also saw how her mother's students struggled to attend and finish school — her mother is a public school teacher in South Central Los Angeles. "There was just the sense that there's a lack of justice," she said. "Why was I afforded these opportunities? Everyone should have the same chances I've had."

Compassion, self-sacrifice, empathy for others. I hear all three in Alana's answer, and that's what I hear from other teenage Violets. They're aware of the opportunity gap that exists between their communities and other neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and they’re working to close it.

These young women are far from apathetic. They're educated, aware of systemic inequities in our education, political, economic and social systems, and actively involved in contributing to the solution by raising thousands of dollars via an annual fundraiser. And they put the money they raise back into the community by awarding grants to amazing grassroots organizations that are working to support girls and women. In fact, over the last ten years, the Violets have awarded more than $200,000 in grants.

The charitable giving gender gap is the only positive gender gap I can think of, and it gives me hope to see women "pay it forward" in such great numbers because, today, only seven percent of all philanthropic dollars in the U.S. go to support women and girls' issues. It also gives me hope because girls and women are in line to inherit 70 percent of the $41 trillion in wealth that will be transferred inter-generationally over the next forty years.

I believe the Violets' Giving Circle and groups like it are the future of women's philanthropy. In particular, I see women drawn to the three C's that giving circles provide:

Community — women philanthropists tend to feel most comfortable when they are invited to gather with like-minded individuals to learn, make decisions, and leverage their giving power.

Collaboration — women thrive when they are able to partner with grassroots organizations and community leaders to support the needs of local communities (as opposed to imposing their own ideas on those communities).

Courage — women are looking for philanthropic spaces where they can be both strategic and empathetic, where they can make smart grantmaking decisions with their heads and lead with their hearts.

Surina_khan_for_PhilanTopicRegardless of age or income, we can all follow the Violets' lead. I believe that every women is a philanthropist — or a philanthropist in the making. And by pooling our collective resources, we can transform the face of philanthropy in America and create lasting change for our communities.

Surina Khan is CEO of the Women's Foundation of California.

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