By Sara Hall
“It’s about community,” philanthropist and Women Moving Millions founder Swanee Hunt says about what makes women’s philanthropy different in a recent article by Lynn Sherr entitled “Can Women Save Philanthropy”.
Men and women donors have always had a desire to make lives better—whether in a domestic violence shelter in Chicago or a refugee camp in Kenya—but Hunt suggests that women donors are more likely to express this desire to make a difference by connecting with a wide network of committed participants. They want to do more than write checks; they wish to build relationships. In her study of gender differences in leadership style, Alice Eagly of Northwestern University describes a key difference between men and women. “Women are transformational leaders while men are more likely to be transactional leaders. Transformational leaders are those who serve as role models, who mentor and empower….” Pattie Sellers of Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit cites what she sees as classically female leadership traits, “Flexibility, adaptability, collaboration, communication, and empathy.”
The Six Principles of High-Engagement Women’s Philanthropy are derived from my own experience of women donors. Incidentally, the term “high-engagement” is probably redundant—I don’t seem to know any women donors who aren’t high engagement! And this list isn’t mine alone–Ellen Remmer, CEO of The Philanthropic Initiative, echoes many of my points in her August 2008 talk, “Realizing the Power and Potential of Women’s Philanthropy”. She and I see the same “transformational” approaches, whether it is at Sasha’s kitchen table, or in the stories of countless women connecting and making a difference around the world. Here they are:
1. Women are passionate about their cause and they often come to it through an intense and meaningful personal experience.
2. Women act as connectors as well as grantmakers, linking partners, allies, advocates, and grantees. Building relationships and networks is a key component of women’s philanthropy.
3. Women are willing to start at the beginning, allowing their energy for the mission to propel them through the earliest learning stages. They become deeply engaged in the process of learning, are willing to be perceived as novices, and tend to be open not only to ideas, but to getting things done in unconventional ways.
4. Women’s philanthropy combines rigor with intuition. At an Association of Small Foundations lunch workshop in Los Angeles last week the attendees, all women, talked about how they balance due diligence with intuition, especially intuition about a grantee’s leadership qualities. “You can’t use metrics alone,” they said. “You have to use your judgment about people.”
5. Women are not only willing to mentor and share, they seek opportunities to do so. They engage the community of other philanthropists, grantees, and partners, and share their stories to inspire and guide others.
6. Finally, women use their philanthropy to enrich family life and promote connection—within the family, with the larger community, with the world. So their family philanthropy is not only a means to pay a debt to society and reinforce a family’s personal values and culture, but also a way for their children to have a direct experience of giving to the larger community, an experience that helps them become more fulfilled adults.
Tomorrow: What Kinds of Support Do Women Philanthropists Need?