FYI Blog

Women Are a Force in Philanthropy

This is part one in a two-part series on women in philanthropy. Read part two here.

Finally the data is proving what many of us have known all along: women are shaping the philanthropic landscape. Women are not only making their own fortunes, but many are inheriting wealth through the intergenerational transfer, and they are exercising leadership in family philanthropy, shaping how wealth is being given away. Furthermore, women are emerging as leaders and catalysts for philanthropy today, bringing people together for great causes.

The list of strong women philanthropists includes Melinda Gates, Priscilla Chan, Susan Dell, and MacKenzie Scott, who often use data-driven approaches (be still my data-loving heart!) to tailor their giving.

For decades, the power of women in philanthropy has been overshadowed, overlooked, undervalued, or simply not recognized. But, the modern woman philanthropist is asserting independent and collaborative leadership in how they and their families are making charitable contributions.

Women have every reason to feel great about giving back. A study by Dunn, Aknin, and Norton titled, “Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Using Money to Benefit Others Pays Off,” describes the science that proves that we are hard-wired to be generous. And this study shows that women experience greater life satisfaction when they increase their giving (vs. men who see this bump when they become donors). Michel Norton has a wonderful TEDxCambridge talk in which he shares his research on how money can buy happiness — when you don’t spend it on yourself.

“We make resolute statements
with our charitable giving.”

In addition to feeling happy, women should also feel empowered.

I bristle when I see publications use the phrase “quiet power” to describe this phenomenon. Women in philanthropy are making an impact – and we should be bold about it. Some of us are in the public eye, and others choose to give privately or even anonymously. Our financial means vary widely. But all of us make resolute statements with our charitable giving. By choosing particular causes, we assert our priorities and our vision for a better world. We empower our charities to be impactful, and we rightly hold them accountable to their missions. Philanthropy is not a quiet power; it is a roaring engine for change.