Diversity in Fundraising: Women Leading Philanthropy

The Diversity Session at the AFP International Conference this year focused on Women in Philanthropy. This was the first time the session had revolved around that aspect of diversity, and the session was very well attended.

The session was introduced by Brenda A. Asare, Alford Group’s President & CEO. A panel offering insight into their own experience as female philanthropists and researchers in the field included:

  • Una Osili, Director of Research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
  • Sylvia Brown, Principal of Brown Capital Management, Inc.
  • Ann Allston Boyce, President of the board of The T. Rowe Price Associates Foundation

The trend our firm has seen, and that many researchers and practitioners have seen, over the past decade, is that women are becoming more influential in charitable giving and leveraging their power to influence philanthropic decision making. This trend guided the conversation for the panel, which focused its energy on helping attendees understand how women are changing the philanthropic landscape, how to shape strategy to effectively engage women philanthropists, and how to cultivate and steward women donors for maximum impact in their organizations.

In the past, most organizations focused their fundraising efforts on male donors, given the traditional assumption that women were not making philanthropic decisions for their households. As women have begun to increase their rates of college enrollment, women enter the workforce and into higher paying jobs, and as women increasingly outlive men, the philanthropic sector has begun to see an increase in the visibility of female participation as major donors. Whether by accumulated wealth through their own work, or inherited wealth from family or spouses, female donors are having a significant impact on philanthropic initiatives. And more frequently, couples are making philanthropic decisions together.

Women give in many ways. Researchers are finding that across income levels, there is a real interest in philanthropy among women. But it’s not just through treasure that women are looking to contribute – women are increasingly becoming involved through their time and talent. Women are present in leadership for philanthropic organizations, helping to lead fundraising campaigns, plan events, and offering their expertise on governing and auxiliary boards and as staff.

Dr. Una Osili, a member of the panel, oversees research into how and why gender matters is the Director or Research and Chair of the research council of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

“There are some really powerful examples of the dynamic role women are playing in philanthropy. A few examples include Women Moving Millions, the American Red Cross’ Tiffany Circle and Indiana University has a Women’s Philanthropy Council. In order to cultivate women donors, organizations have to think about how female donors might differ – how do they want to give, what do they want to give to, does being part of a network impact their giving?

“Establishing philanthropy through gender lines and understanding motivations is relatively under researched. As women play a more visible role, especially in leadership around the world, there is more interest in asking what are some things about my organization that can reduce barriers for women being involved? What is working elsewhere and how can I apply that to my own organization?”

The challenge of identifying how women want to engage in to the philanthropic landscape corresponds to the challenge of addressing diversity in philanthropy more broadly.

Dr. Osili says that “one size doesn’t fit all. When engaging with diverse communities, ethnically, religiously, multi-racial and multi-cultural donors, similar to female donors, you have to determine what are the barriers – how to ask, how to cultivate, what language and style is important to them. You have to use new approaches to bring new donors in – what worked in the past might not work for donors with different backgrounds, beliefs or cultures.”

She continues, “The broader message about women and diversity in philanthropy is that as the world become more connected and we interact much more with people of different backgrounds and characteristics, there are more opportunities to engage different types of donors – but you have to adapt to make your organization more inclusive of different types of donors.”

Alford Group has been a sponsor of the Diversity Session and the Diversity Art Showcase at the AFP International Conference for 16 years. We hold a strong commitment to diversity as one of our core values, and continue to encourage conversation about diversity in the nonprofit sector through many different lenses.