Purse Power

Vivian Manekin and Jodi Dunn, Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle

Philanthropy is important, and not just by save-the-world standards. It’s also big business in the United States — nearly $400 billion big.

But while most big business is still male-dominated, it’s women who are changing the face of charitable giving.

“You could make the argument that women are becoming the most important group in who controls the giving,” says Michael Nilsen, vice president of communications and public policy with the Arlington-based Association of Fundraising Professionals.

And research is proving him right. Women are more likely not only to give, but give more compared with their male counterparts. Here are just a few impressive statistics — indicative of a trend going on for years, according to the studies done by the Indiana University’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute, among others — that show women are the financial heroes of charitable giving:

+ 64 percent of donations are made by women.

+ Baby boomers and older women give 89 percent more than men of the same age.

+ Women in the top quarter of incomes give 156 percent more than men in the same category.

+ Women are nearly twice as likely to say charitable giving is “the most satisfying aspect of having wealth.”

“Campaigning and fundraising are my life,” says Linda Hurwitz, current chair of the board for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and former chair of National Women’s Philanthropy for the Jewish Federation of North America, among other major fundraising-related positions. Fair assumption: If it’s related to raising money in the Jewish community, Hurwitz has probably been involved. “If you asked me to describe myself in one minute or less I’d say I love to learn, I love to give and I love to love. I call myself a philanthropist, not only because I give a lot of money —though I do — but ‘philanthropy’ means love of mankind. And I truly love people.”

For the word nerds: Hurwitz is right on the money (so to speak) about the etymology of philanthropy. It comes from the Greek “philanthrōpos” meaning, literally, “man loving.”

Hurwitz has been doing fundraising work for Jewish-related causes for decades. She says when asking for donations she sometimes tailors her approach in small ways based on gender. With men, for instance, she would say, “If I’m able to give $10,000, you should be able to.”

With women, she adds, it’s about the emotional impact. Women often want to know how their money will make a difference and know the story behind what the money will be doing.

These are the basic, general differences heard most often from the local fundraising professionals with whom STYLE spoke. Women, they say, want to understand how the money will be spent and frequently have a desire to be hands-on with the process or organization.

“Most of the women I come into contact with are happy to write the check, but they’re also happy to get their hands dirty,” says Tamara Zavislan, president of AFP’s Maryland Chapter and director of development for the Homeless Persons Representation Project in Baltimore. “They want to be involved.”

But, when talking gender differences in giving, there was always this same caveat: In the end, it’s about the individual.

“Over the years, my style has gotten less gender-specific and more person-specific or group-specific,” Zavislan says, a sentiment echoed by Hurwitz and others.

Being prepared and getting to know the individual, she adds, is always the most effective way to engage people in giving.

But that’s not to say she hasn’t noticed changes in women and giving over the years. “From my work as a professional fundraiser — and I’ve been doing this for 20 to 30 years — what I’ve seen change is women taking a more upfront role in philanthropic decisions,” Zavislan says. “They are actively involved, not taking a back seat as they used to.”

This is another thing the research bears out. Households either led by women or where women are influencing the giving decisions are both more likely to give —and to give more. And there was a 10 percent increase in couples’ charitable decisions being “women-influenced” among the millennial and Generation X families compared their counterparts four decades ago.

There are other generational differences. According to a Fidelity Charitable study, millennial women are more likely to prioritize expanding opportunities for women and girls while baby boomer women tend toward finding cures for diseases. Younger women also are more into crowdfunding campaigns and matching programs, while older women have their younger counterparts beat on more traditional forms of giving like sponsorships and financial donations straight to nonprofits.

“There are as many differences between women in different generations as (between) women and men,” Nilsen says.

Zavislan herself is involved in another type of organization that women have used to change philanthropy — the giving circle. A giving circle is made up of a group of people, frequently women, who all contribute a chunk of money per year. That money is pooled, and the group then decides by vote which organizations to grant the money to. According to early data from a study by the University of Nebraska and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, there are more than 1,300 active giving circles across the country, double the number from eight years ago.

The Harford County Women’s Giving Circle, the one to which Zavislan belongs, is under the auspices of the Community Foundation of Harford County (where Zavislan was executive director prior to her role at HPRP). The circle has about 100 members each giving $550 — $500 for the grant-making fund and $50 for general administrative needs.

“I call it collaborative giving,” Zavislan says. “They’re pooling not only their financial resources, but their community resources and emotional wisdom.”

The Harford County giving circle is just one of several in the area. Anne Arundel County has a giving circle and so does Howard County. Catonsville and Columbia do, too.

The Baltimore Community Foundation has several. “It’s a huge movement,” says Jodi Dunn, one of the co-chairs of the Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle, which has about 430 members, making it the biggest giving circle under the auspices of BCF. “A lot more attention should be paid to it.”

Members of the Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle give $1,100 per year with $1,000 of that going into the grant fund, giving them close to half a million dollars to put into grant making aimed at improving the lives of women and girls. The average grant awarded by the circle is $20,000, Dunn says. Since the circle was started in 2001 with just 52 women, it has put $4.8 million into the community.

“I think what members love about the grant-making process is to go out into the community and meet the grantees,” Dunn says, adding that a lot of women even start volunteering for organizations to which they give grants.

The appeal of a giving circle is twofold, agree Zavislan, Dunn and Dunn’s fellow co-chair Vivian Manekin. First is the impact — $500 or $1,000 is a great donation no matter what, but combined with the contributions of potentially hundreds of other women, that money could fund a whole initiative or program; the increased impact is exponential. Second is the social aspect: All three said they love going to giving circle meetings.

“I think one of the things that appeals to me is that even though I’ve lived here for years, it’s an opportunity to meet other women I would never meet otherwise,” Manekin says, adding “it’s a new sort of found empowerment.”

For a lot of the women heavily involved in the fundraising world, the impact of helping others keeps them coming back.

“It’s women helping women,” says Harriette Wienner, former chair of the Jewish Women’s Charitable Fund, a giving circle through The Associated and current chair of Chapter Two, a program with The Associated aimed at getting female empty nesters involved in the community. “It’s so empowering. And I think it’s a way to participate collectively in helping the world. If we’re not going to help us, who will?”

Even more than that, Wienner and others say, being involved in charitable giving is revealing strengths and skills they didn’t know they had.

“I never thought that when I jumped into The Associated I would become this leader,” Wienner says.

Linda Hurwitz had a similar story. She now chairs an organization that raises nearly $40 million a year and it was being a part of these organizations that helped her realize that she was good at fundraising, she says, that she could, in fact, be a leader in it.

“You always, always get more than you give,” she says.

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here