What Kinds of Support Do Women Philanthropists Need?

This is a guest post by Sara Hall of New Philanthropy Advisors. See her prior posts Kitchen Table Philanthropy and Six Principles of Women’s High-Engagement Philanthropy.

By Sara Hall

What kinds of structures and expertise do women need to support their desire to be engaged and rigorous in their grantmaking, as well as financially astute in their use of giving vehicles?

A headline in last week’s Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund Report “High Income women…want guidance from a financial professional on charitable giving, and use vehicles such as donor-advised-funds, charitable-remainder trusts, and private foundations.” These findings clearly point to the invaluable role of the “mahogany table” professionals I mentioned in my Kitchen Table Philanthropy blog on Tuesday.

But the question to which study participants responded was “Which of the following methods did you use in 2008 to donate to charity?” listing various giving vehicles, not “What kinds of support do you need to be more effective donors?”. Financial, legal, and tax advisors are the only advisors many women are aware of so it makes sense that it is to them women turn for guidance. They have a comprehensive view of their clients’ financial picture and guide them to appropriate giving vehicles, an important tool in a financial management toolkit.

But once a woman donor has such a tool—a donor advised fund, for example—what does she do with it? Who guides her as she embarks on her philanthropic mission? I’m reminded of Bill Somerville’s advice to grantmakers in his wonderful book Grassroots Philanthropy, “Take risks. Move quickly. Get out of the office and into the field.” Grantmaking is a creative and engaged process. Somerville, president and founder of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, tells us that good philanthropy is about forging enduring partnerships with outstanding individuals. In terms of serving highly-engaged donors, the skill set that can connect a donor with such outstanding grantees, steer her toward networks of like-minded partners, and help her craft meaningful grants is quite different from the skill set required to manage her assets and help her select an appropriate giving vehicle.

How to satisfy both needs? What about a new model, a sort of HMO for a woman donor that draws on the expertise of wealth advisors for financial health, and on a philanthropic guide to support her in the exploration of potential grantees and crafting of grants? The philanthropic guide can be an independent consultant who partners with a wealth advisor, or a philanthropic advisor at an organization like Tides Foundation or a community foundation. This team offers a woman coordinated care within the context of an ongoing relationship. The “relationship” point is important, because women want more than information. They want the specific expertise a trusted wealth advisor offers—solutions and answers—but they want more from their philanthropic guides. Yes, they want information, but they also want to be empowered to engage in their own mission. Women don’t want an advisor who takes the field trip for them, who meets with a rich community of players and participants, and reports back. A woman wants to put on her sunscreen and go herself, with her advisor as facilitator in an unfolding philanthropic journey. So for a woman, connecting with someone who guides and supports in addition to providing specific expertise is crucial to meeting women donor’s needs.

If, as Swanee Hunt said about women’s philanthropy, “it’s about community,” I believe it’s about concentric circles of community, starting with the donor, her family, and her closest advisors, and spreading out to the world in a web of fruitful relationships and partnerships. This is the kind of “transformative leadership” I referred to yesterday in Six Principles of High Engagement Women’s Philanthropy.

Supporting women philanthropists means bringing all the right people to the table—both the mahogany table, and the kitchen table.

One Comment

  1. Lisa Walker says:

    You make an excellent point about the value of a “philanthropic guide.” I know Sean has recently written about the need for this on an individual level too. I am a member of the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers (NNCG), which has a searchable directory of knowledgible and experienced consultants who are vetted by the leadership of NNCG.
    The NNCG membership is comprised of consultants whose expertise is in philanthropy and making grants. Here are the links to NNCG’s website and directory, which could be a helpful resource in one’s search for a “philanthropic guide”:


    Thank you.

    – Lisa Walker