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Holiday Cheer: The Story of Women Moving Millions

December 27, 2008

(Michael Seltzer is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. His recent posts include the A to Z Guide for Uncertain Times and the A to Z Grantmakers' Guide for Uncertain Times.)

Women_handsIt has been a sobering few weeks on Nonprofit Street, what with news, on a regular basis, of dramatically reduced and, in some cases, wiped-out endowments (JEHT, Picower Foundations) and nonprofits struggling to stay afloat. In such an environment, the story of Women Moving Millions is a source of hope to all who work in the nonprofit sector.

Recently, WMM, a campaign launched by the San Francisco-based Women's Funding Network and philanthropists Helen LaKelly Hunt and her sister, Swanee Hunt, passed the $110 million mark, well within striking distance of its ambitious $150 million goal. To date, sixty-five women from around the United States as well as six other countries have made contributions of $1 million or more to one of the network's 130-plus member organizations. Those organizations work to secure economic and social opportunities for women around the world and are the first line of support for thousands of community-based organizations that seek to meet the daily needs of women and their families.

In New England, a woman made a million-dollar contribution anonymously when she first learned of the campaign though a news article. In Dallas, a donor who planned to give $250,000 to the Dallas Women's Foundation decided to increase her gift to $1 million after she learned about Women Moving Millions.

To what can we attribute the success of the campaign, especially against the backdrop of a deepening global recession? And what insights might we glean about the growing phenomenon of women's philanthropy? Here are a few observations:

1. Women now control more than 50 percent of the nation's wealth. According to the Federal Reserve, women now control 51.3 percent of the private wealth in the United States, compared to 7.2 percent in 1860.

2. Women's giving is relational. Women Moving Millions co-chairs Helen LaKelly Hunt and and Chris Grumm, president and CEO of the Women's Funding Network, knew from years of experience that women are more likely to give in concert with other women rather than in isolation from each other. The genius of Women Moving Millions is its creation of a self-identified donor community.

3. Women are especially attuned to the challenges that confront those with limited financial resources. It is not unusual for women to identify with those who are less fortunate. Indeed, poverty has been a major priority for women's funds, with 80 percent of the funding from such funds targeting women with little or no income.

4. Women have been at the forefront of social change. Extraordinary women throughout history have worked to ameliorate human suffering. Think of Clara Barton, who tended to the sick and dying on the battlefields of the Civil War and whose efforts led to the creation of the American Red Cross; Jane Addams, who established one of the first settlement houses in the country in Chicago in 1889; or Osceola McCarty, a local washerwoman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who became the University of Southern Mississippi's most famous benefactor.

5. Women give in different ways than men. Having their names on buildings is often the least important consideration for women donors. Often, in fact, they prefer anonymity and/or seek more intangible rewards from their giving.

Washington-area billionaire Sheila Johnson has poignantly referred to the isolation of large wealth as "the lonely room at the top." Women Moving Millions has recognized that women donors profoundly appreciate the opportunity to band together and is greatly enriching our understanding of the giving potential of high-net-worth women.

Helen LaKelly Hunt, a scholar of the 19th-century women's movement, has written that never before in the history of the world have so many women funded other women. Hunt's (and Chris Gumm's) leadership of Women Moving Millions is creating a new paradigm that has the potential to change philanthropy forever, one that is truly democratic, with women of wealth in equal partnership with women leaders at the grassroots.

Chris Grumm has noted that when a woman is economically secure, her family is economically secure. And when families are economically secure, communities are secure. By extension, investing in women can advance the security of entire regions and nations. Women's funds provide the sustained investment stream that continually sparks and reinforces positive social change. By energizing connections between donors, change-makers, and women on the front lines, they are creating the infrastructure for a safer, more just, and secure world.

Once Gloria Steinem asked a group of women at a fundraiser, "How many of you would be pleased to be known by your check stubs?" The leaders and donors involved with Women Moving Millions can be proud of what they have accomplished and how their children and grandchildren will remember them.

Related Resources:

Web site devoted to marketing to women

PBS program aired in 1999

Generous Giving (See section on Women)

Learning to Give, Women & Philanthropy, Tricia Tomson Graduate Student, Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University

Women Moving Millions, News Blaze, Sept. 18, 2008

Women's Funding Network

-- Michael Seltzer

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