FYI Blog

Women Are a Force in Philanthropy

Allison Porter - 2015 New HeadshotBy Allison Porter ‘89, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Posted with permission from Stoneleigh-Burnham School Bulletin.

“Philanthropy is not a quiet power;
it is a roaring engine for change.”


Finally the data is proving what many of us have known all along: women are emerging as leaders in philanthropic impact. 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.

Inside Philanthropy recently announced its list of the 15 Most Powerful Women in U.S. Philanthropy, and it reads like a “who’s who” list of strong women. It includes Melinda Gates, Susan Buffett, and Susan Dell, who, despite their uber-famous names, often donate outside the limelight in which their husbands, fathers, and other male counterparts operate.

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.

The research is in.

Forbes magazine recently reported that, according to Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, women will inherit 70 percent of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth transfer expected over the next 40 years. Furthermore, women tend to donate more of their wealth than men do.

The Lily Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University released Women Give 2012, which looked at the effect of age and gender on charitable giving and reported that women at every income level give to charity more often than men do. Moreover, women tend to donate more money on average than their male counterparts. According to the report, “Even though women, in general, earn less than men, have less money in retirement, and outlive their spouses, this study demonstrated that Boomers and older women are more likely to give and give more to charity than men.”
And 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. In fact, many studies show that people who spend money on others report greater happiness. 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.”

Moving beyond “quiet power” to impact the lives of women and girls.

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.

Frequently, charitable giving by women, directly or through women’s funds, focuses on improving the quality of life and opportunity for girls and women. Women have long understood that the key to building and raising up communities is through empowering and educating their women, and philanthropic investments in women and girls can fuel positive change in communities around the world.

This is something every Stoneleigh-Burnham girl – myself included—can relate to, and is reflected in our strategic positioning.
“With its history of fostering the development of strong individual female identities, its small and inclusive multi-cultural environment and its dedication to understanding how girls best learn and grow, Stoneleigh-Burnham School guides emerging women to become active agents of their own destiny.” – SBS Strategic Vision, 2011.


“Giving to Stoneleigh-Burnham School
is an investment that ensures the future of all-girls’ education.
It allows us to change the world one girl at a time.”

Make philanthropy a priority.

Years ago, I made Stoneleigh-Burnham my personal philanthropic priority simply because I knew that if I gave to SBS, my contribution would ensure that many more girls have the SBS experience and that my gift would really make a difference. The areas that I care most about supporting through my contributions to Stoneleigh-Burnham are renovation and capital projects, improving faculty salaries, and enhancing student experience.
As donors, we want to make sure that we are making smart investments through our giving, that organizations will use our money wisely, and that our gift – no matter how big or small – will make an impact. As a woman and an SBS alumna, I have an incredible opportunity to make a tremendous impact to ensure the future of all-girls’ education. What’s your philanthropic priority and how can you make a difference?
Bio: Allison Porter ’89, Chair of the Stoneleigh-Burnham School Board of Trustees, is a business owner, fundraiser, and philanthropist. She is president of Avalon Consulting Group, a full-service direct marketing fundraising agency in Washington D.C. She lives in Annapolis, MD, with her husband Greg Barranco and sons Luca and Alex.