This is a guest post by Sara Hall of New Philanthropy Advisors.
By Sara Hall
Picture this scene: A warm, sunny kitchen in the green foothills near San Francisco. A forty-something year old mom wearing jeans leans over her cup of coffee in earnest conversation with her guest and her college-age daughter, also in jeans. At the center of the table is a loaf of warm banana bread. The guest is Laura Peterson, founder and leader of Hands to Hearts International, an organization that trains orphanage workers and village women’s groups in early-childhood cognitive development skills. Laura has flown down from Portland for the day to meet Sasha and her daughter, who are potential funders for HHI, and she’s telling stories: how she started, the lessons she’s learned, how her strategy had evolved, how many children her work has touched. Sasha is listening to her guest, making notes, asking all the right questions—not just important questions about the who, how, and where, but also about budget, board constituency, plans for going to scale. There is plenty of talk; plenty of laughter; a fair amount of banana bread consumed.
This scene took place a week ago. Last January Sasha was a self-described beginner. A woman highly intelligent and emerging from the most time-consuming years of mothering her three children she had told me, “I want our family philanthropy to be like a fourth child. Something we all take care of and make part of our lives.” Since January she and her daughter had been reading every article, book and link I sent their way. She had accompanied me to a series of events and meetings where she heard speakers and met non-profit leaders. Had begun to develop a mastery of concepts and players in her “space,” the needs of vulnerable children. Her daughter was equally excited and energized and she began orienting her college experience toward her developing interest in social change work. In a few days the whole family will begin packing for a month of volunteer work in Kenya. Their excitement is palpable.
If traditional philanthropy has often taken place at polished mahogany tables around which somber-suited men and women design sound, prudent philanthropic programs for their clients, this scene reflects a yearning by some donors for an approach more deeply integrated into their lives.
Who is drawn to the kind of high-energy learning, networking, and relationship-building Sasha is engaged in? In my experience it is women, especially women like Sasha, who are starting a new chapter, who enjoy not only financial resources but also a sense of mission, and who wish to make their philanthropy a important focus for their families and themselves.
If, according to Sarah C. Libbey in last week’s Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund report, “women are shaping the future of philanthropy,” we need to pay attention to what is unique about the way women approach their giving, and what support women need to fulfill their philanthropic goals. The clues are there at Sasha’s kitchen table.
Tomorrow: Six Principles of Women’s High-Engagement Philanthropy